Utilize Reality-Based Standard for Well-being and Happiness

Connecting the mind with reality to create and sustain well-being and happiness

Posted Mar 10, 2019

Research on perfectionism has shown that some individuals prefer this type of inner standards to regulate their mental and interpersonal activities. Perfectionism consists of three forms, including self-oriented (striving for flawlessness), other-oriented (e.g., evaluating others by perfect standards), and socially prescribed (e.g., concern over mistakes and fear of negative evaluations) (e.g., Hewitt, & Flett, 1990; Stoeber & Yang, 2015). Except for the self-oriented perfectionism, the other two are regarded as directly correlated with psychological maladjustment. However, there are at least two neglected issues in examining personality disposition. For example, the higher scores in the scales are seen as indicating more unhealthy attitudes and behaviors, but the lower scores in the scales (e.g., careless about one’s mistake or others’ criticism) could also suggest maladjustment such as psychopathic traits. In addition, the perfectionism research seems to imply that only a portion of people set inner standards, but clinical observations and research have revealed that all people use various standards to guide their evaluations, explanations, decision-making and predictions of validation and invalidation in both the mental and interpersonal domains  (e.g., Sun, 2009, 2014, in press). This discussion argues that instead of decrying perfectionism, applying the reality-based standard by differentiating between the reality- and value-based standards (principles) plays an essential role for creating and sustaining well-being, empowerment, and happiness.

All people have their internalized standards

The contents of people’s standards, which vary with each individual, may include social desirability, morality, social status, category membership, wealth, beauty, youthfulness, physical, or other types of perfection, the belief about dominance, coercion and/or intimidation, faiths; as well as accurate, incomplete or distorted cognitions about rules governing human behavior, the social and the physical worlds. All people attempt to achieve their goals in life with the guidance of their internalized standards, because all individuals depend on accurately understanding one another, the changing psychological, interpersonal, physical, social and other systems to meet their needs for food, nutrition, love, knowledge, happiness, friendship, belonging, family, communication, mental health, physical health, and spiritual growth, among others. Our inner standards or criteria intend to mirror the rules governing the operations and interactions of our mental system and the external systems, with the expectation that conforming to the standards enables us to connect with and embrace right people and auspicious opportunities, and meanwhile, to avoid, disengage from, or transform detrimental or adverse physical, social or interpersonal conditions.  Although the mental standards, which function as the major aspect of our social cognition, are perceived, they are assumed to be objectively and equally valid for interacting entities (the self, others and contexts) (e.g., Sun, 2009, 2014, in press). In other words, all our intentional inner and outer communications involve conveying the perceived relations of the self and interacting partners with our standard(s).

The regulating processes typically include: (1) comparing the attributes/behavior of the person (e.g., self, others) with self’s criteria, (2), evaluating the relations (consistency and incongruity) between the attributes and the criteria, and (3) appraisals, explanations (to make sense of one’s experience), decisions, choices and other activities by using his/her violation of, or conformity to the criteria. For example, we use our deviation from our mental standards to explain our experience of invalidation or frustration. In contrast, we believe that conforming to the standards enables us to overcome any invalidation generated by the self, others, or adverse conditions. However, our conviction about the validity of our criteria cannot guarantee their efficacy in creating and sustaining balanced mental and interpersonal interactions.

Differentiating between the reality-based standard and value-based standards

People’s standards can be put into two types; the reality-based standard (true or false evaluation) and value-based ones (positive or negative; right or wrong evaluations).

Rather than representing a unilateral belief, the reality-based standard uses the matched interacting process as the measurement.  In particular, the principle views its violation as the result of mistaking false or distorted cognitions about the self, others, and environments as the accurate perceptions of the human reality, thus generating the experience of conflict and invalidation (e.g., avoiding salubrious opportunities but embracing damaging persons and situations).  On the other hand, conforming to the principle involves recognizing and engaging in the matched interaction by discerning and bridging the discrepancy between the mind and reality for the self and others; communicating in such a way that validates intentional connection and disconfirms misperceptions of the reality by the interacting partners.  The human reality refers to all the interdependent resources and conditions that may be accurate or false perceived, including the mental or actual activities (e.g., cognition, intention, emotions, motivations, and communications) of interacting individuals, contexts, time, space, and situations.

Inaccurate or distorted awareness can be transformed into relatively accurate cognition through the interaction of intentional activities and evolving human reality, because our cognitive structures consists of mental representations of the self in relation to human reality and the rule(s) governing human interaction, but all individuals operate on a level of awareness or incomplete cognition of interpersonal situations and each other’s mental reality. Our cognition that regulates psychological activities is a developmental system, capable of changing to a more accurate or higher level about reality. The mind intends to understand, predict, and balance mental and interpersonal experiences, thus it must reexamine its relation with reality when it encounters invalidating interactions (Sun, 2009, 2014, in press).

Value-based standards

The validity of value-based criteria in generating and maintaining mental and interpersonal well-being depends upon how closely they are based on reality. Applying value-based standards with misperceived reality can lead to mental and interpersonal conflicts, or at a minimum, no effect.

For example, mental conflicts may result from (a) mistaking social desirability, morality, social status, wealth, beauty, youthfulness, physical, or other types of perfection as the laws of administering human interactions and (b) misattributing the experience of frustration or invalidation to the self’s problematic attributes (e.g., physical defects, undesirable category memberships, and/or personal mistakes) that have violated the value criteria, and (c) engaging in self-blame, and/or related incapacitating appraisals.  However, the true cause of the experienced misery and frustrations involves a mismatched interaction between the mind and interpersonal reality and is not due to a personal deficiency in breach of a value-based standard.

Interpersonal tension may also stem from dealing with disagreement or conflict by imposing one’s unilateral values based on dominance, coercion or moral condemnation, which at most can bring about compliance but not psychological acceptance and respect. Additionally, conforming to some value-based standards may produce irrational fear that debilitates the person in making authentic communications and connecting with right people and situations, thus either missing auspicious opportunities or unable to evade, deflect, or transform ominous occasions and conditions. 

Why the validity of value judgments depends on an accurate understanding of human reality

1. Value-based standards are used as a substitute for the laws governing the reality of interaction.

Regardless of the positive or negative values people use for self-regulation and interpersonal guidance, they do not represent the actual reality of interaction, neither can value appraisals (e.g., right or wrong) of an event verify if it is true or false. In essence, accepting the validity of a judgment or statement dwells on its consistency with reality whereas rejecting the validity of a message comes from viewing it as false.

2. Values are valid for interacting partners when the perceived fact is accurate for both. However, in most human interactions, either side or both suffer some unawareness of the discrepancy between the mind and reality. Internally-valid value judgments may be totally invalid in explaining or guiding either the self’s actions or evaluating, explaining, or changing others’ behaviors, if the perceiver's cognition about the self’s or the interpersonal realities is false, inaccurate or distorted.

In conclusion, all individuals have internalized standards that are used for evaluating, explaining, adjusting and predicting mental and interpersonal experiences and activities. Applying the reality-based standard by differentiating between reality- and value-based standards is essential for creating and sustaining well-being. This is because unawareness of the mismatch between the mind and human reality is responsible for conflict whereas recognizing and bridging the discrepancy between the two interacting systems generate and sustain harmony.