Tajfel and Turner (in Wetherell, 1996) suggests that people’s sense of themselves transforms in group settings. First of all, the base of people’s self-definition changes and personal identity gives way to social identity. They argue that in many situations we react to others in terms of our identity as a unique individual with a particular personality, likes and dislikes, skills and talents, attitudes and opinions. This self definition can continue into groups and may be dominant if we strongly disagree with the group, the flipside is that we can begin to perceive ourselves as a member of a social group and we then take on the characteristics of that group, allowing our own personal characteristics to take a back seat. In short, they are asserting that if an individual agrees with and identifies with the group, then the group identity becomes more important than their personal identity. However, in some cases, even if people disagree with the group, they might not be strong enough to stand up against the group and thus their personal identity will still be overridden by the group identity. As we label ourselves as a member of a particular group, our sense of who we are and what we are like as an individual changes. (Wetherell, 1996:33-35)
When a person begins to categorize her/himself in terms of a group, then their self-esteem becomes bound up with the fortune of the group. Tafjel and Turner also suggest that in order for people to think well of themselves, they then need to have a positive view of the group that they are identifying with. In sum, the person’s self-perception and how he/she feels about themselves is directly linked to what is happening in the group. Personal identity is overshadowed by group identity in many cases. (Wetherell, 1996:34)
The influence of a group on a person’s self concept may not necessarily be a bad thing. Obviously a part of life is for people to belong to different social groups. If we become afraid that social groups will override our personal ideas of the self then we will end up living in isolation. It is important to hold on to your own idea of your self and to use this positively within a group. The group, while contributing to your selfhood should not be the sole means of your selfhood.
We can see an example of how groups can negatively influence people’s ideas and perceptions of the self when we look at how teenagers are influenced into doing things that they don’t really want to do just because of peer pressure. In the case of experimenting with drugs for instance, many teenagers find it difficult to remain strong in their own beliefs and ideas about drugs and they easily give in to what is expected from them by their social group. On the other hand, there are many cases where social groups can play a positive influence on a person’s self perception and self-esteem.
Make a list of the various social groups to which you belong. This can include things like, political groups, sports clubs, religious group, parent’s association, professional association, cultural group, book club, women’s group, work group, etc…basically any social group that you can think of, if you are not sure if a group can be regarded as a social group then you can put it in anyway.
Now think about and answer the following questions:
1. Was it easy or difficult for you to write down the social groups that you belong to?
2. How aware are you of belonging to this group, that is, does belonging to this group play a big part or small part in your life?
3. How do you think the different groups effect the way you see yourself?
4. Was there any time, in any of the groups that your personal identity was overshadowed by the group identity, if yes, what do you think the reasons for this are?
5. Have you ever experienced any conflict in any of the groups because the group ideas and beliefs clashed with your personal ideas and beliefs, if yes, what did you do in this situation?
Reference for this post: Wetherell, M. (1996). Identities, Groups and Social Issues. London: Sage