Inflated or deflated feelings of self-worth may be connected to mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, anxiety, and depression, report researchers.
“We found that it is important to consider the motivation to pursue power, beliefs about how much power one has attained, pro-social and aggressive strategies for attaining power, and emotions related to attaining power,” says senior author Sheri Johnson, psychologist at University of California, Berkeley.
In their study of more than 600 young men and women conducted at Berkeley, researchers conclude that one’s perceived social status—or lack thereof—is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses.
The findings support assessing such traits as “ruthless ambition,” “discomfort with leadership,” and “hubristic pride” to understand psychopathologies.
“People prone to depression or anxiety reported feeling little sense of pride in their accomplishments and little sense of power,” Johnson says. “In contrast, people at risk for mania tended to report high levels of pride and an emphasis on the pursuit of power despite interpersonal costs.”
Specifically, Johnson and fellow researchers looked at how study participants fit into the “dominance behavioral system,” a construct in which humans and other mammals assess their place in the social hierarchy and respond accordingly to promote cooperation and avoid conflict and aggression. The concept is rooted in the evolutionary principle that dominant mammals gain easier access to resources for the sake of reproductive success and the survival of the species.
Studies have long established that feelings of powerlessness and helplessness weaken the immune system, making one more vulnerable to physical and mental ailments. Conversely, an inflated sense of power is among the behaviors associated with bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, which can be both personally and socially corrosive.
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