The Quest for Personal Significance


Another topic I was interested to learn more about is what drives terrorism? At the 119th American Psychology Convention there were several lectures on terrorism and I attended one of them, here are my notes:

In most cases, terrorism is not a psychological disease; it’s not conditioned by economic factors or political oppression. Personality and situational factors are related to terrorism. Key words are dogmatism, rigidity and dependency.

Behavior is goal driven, and it could be explained by:

1.Psychological state – the tipping point (black widows of Chechnya)

2.Theologies (sacred values)

3.Social networks

Slippery slope, love, risk and status, unfreezing, group grievance, personal grievance…

Some need to do more about emotions. Humiliation is significance suffering.

So is it all about emotions or meaning or beliefs?

Action and opinion pyramid:

– At the top of the opinion pyramid – people who feel they have to act,

– In the middle – those who have opinion (they justify),

– And in the bottom – those, who have no opinion.

At the top of the action pyramid are the most violent, then activists, then supporters, then in the bottom those who do nothing, and it is all conditioned by beliefs and attitudes.

The quest for personal significance:

– Loss of significance (loss of honor, exclusion, humiliation,)

– Threat of significance (loss, kamikaze)

– Significance gain (quest for immortality)

You feel part of the group and regain significance due to collective shift:

– Personal failure and collectivism

– Less fear of death if collective

– If failure then identify aim interdependence

Insignificance issue is when you feel sinful compared to your values/beliefs.

Right after that lecture I went to the Crime and Punishment museum, I liked the exhibits, but what I thought the museum needs is deep analysis on why people commit crime, especially murder. The majority of killers are not psychologically sick, more often they have experienced some trauma in the past and were not able to recover, as they lack resilience, so they suffer and try to get revenge, or in their words to gain significance. That would also explain instances of teenagers killing their classmates – lack of personal significance according to their values.

Let’s now go back to suicide. From Martin Seligman lecture, we remember that suicide is linked to the lack of meaning in person’s life. What about depression? It is the same. When you have nothing that drives you and fulfills you, nothing that makes your day worth living for, you lose interest in life, and everything turns in black and white movie that you have no control over, you are just a by-stander hoping it all passes soon.

So there are four main components people may struggle with and need help:

  1. Values/Beliefs – should be achieved through education
  2. Resilience – need to teach resilience at schools, as we all in our lives encounter some problems, even traumas, but we need to know how to overcome them
  3. Personal Significance/Meaning – need to teach how to recognize and engage in meaningful activities in our lives
  4. Social Support – need to create and teach social support groups

So the moral of the story: don’t commit suicide or kill others, just discover your life’s meaning, and believe me, it is not that difficult to do, you just need to start searching.

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