Alienation, Deindividuation, and Disillusionment: Differences and Development
Posted by Writers in Residence
You may believe many things separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, and while there are no doubt good arguments that can be presented in opposition – the reality is that only self-awareness distinguishes our behaviors from animals. This is no groundbreaking notion, but self-awareness opens the dark door to comparison, critique, and yes, higher consciousness. It is at the center of our higher consciousness that our ability to critique helps us realize we are distinct entities of an environment, that we are unique contradictions who need love, yet desire to stand apart.
Animals are not self-expressive. Aside from a muted “meow”, or high-pitched “hiss”, my cat cannot laugh, nor express himself through art, nor can he cry. As much as I may want to believe he has feelings, simply put, animals respond to instinctive drives, but lack self-expression. Perhaps this can be better illustrated the next time you and your cat are near a mirror. Place the mirror before it and it will behave as if its reflection is another cat altogether. It will sniff the image and look behind the mirror as if it realizes the barrier between itself and the “other” cat. At any rate, it’s worth a laugh or two. 🙊
While most of us grasp we are individually unique, some people have a difficult time indeed accepting this and blending in with others. This feeling of being out of place, is called alienation.
Instilling in one’s children a strong sense of self should be high priority for parents. This strengthens who they are, their unique qualities, and makes them less susceptible to pressures.
When one feels alienated, it can largely be traced back to a lack of confidence, an extreme introspection, or hyper-awareness. The feeling of alienation can lead to, among other things, depression, isolation, and a debilitating preoccupation with conformity.(1) A most common disguise from such discombobulation is to dull the senses with alcohol or other psychoactive substances. This is the slippery slope: when one believes one can and needs to detach from oneself, whether by drug or psychological trick, bad things happen.
The process and state of losing one’s sense of individuality is termed, deindividuation. It is likened to a person “in a crowd of surging mob violence, and being swept up by the chaos” also participates in the mob behavior. It’s as if being deep in a crowd, that anonymity protects the individual from responsibility of action and consequences of choice (2).
Typical, hard-working people looted businesses in the L.A. riot of 1992. Swept up by the pandemonium, everyday people grabbed electronics, food, and clothes, rationalizing the items would have likely been lost to other looters anyway. This concept, deindividuation, is not lost on history nor contemporary civilization. To promote deindividuation, governments issue uniforms to its soldiers. The sense of anonymity and conformity of purpose is symbolized through the uniform. Deindividuating shields the mind, the conscience, from whatever actions may arise. After all, military service implies fighting; and when nations fight other nations, death emerges from the smoke.
Disillusionment is the realization that something, some belief, was not as great as it initially appeared to us. Disillusionment is an awakening of sorts, a dispelling of illusions. It is during this process that we must remain grounded, that we have strong enough “selves” to push beyond our previous blindness. Where we don’t have strength, avoid the urge to hide in the shadows or in the anonymity of a crowd. Reach out your hand instead, express yourself by seeking help from others.
Throughout our lives, we should hope to continue to unravel the beautiful mysteries of life. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, we must learn to prefer truth and openness wherever possible. Though we should not don the banner of crusade, the most good comes from welcoming others, celebrating their uniqueness, and removing barriers to the gathering of truth. Using our self-awareness in a telescopic manner, as opposed to a microscopic view will allow you to better understand your purpose.
What do these ideas mean to you? What are your opinions?
1) Ankony, Robert C., “The Impact of Perceived Alienation on Police Officers’ Sense of Mastery and Subsequent Motivation for Proactive Enforcement”, Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, vol. 22, no. 2 (1999): 120–32.
2) Reber, Arthur, and Emily Reber. (2001). Dictionary of Psychology, 3rd Ed. N.Y.: Penguin.
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