Relationship and Self-Driven Influences on Goal Characteristics for Problematic Events: Components of a Cybernetic Cycle

Article excerpt

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Identity is a theory of self that is created and maintained through actual or imagined confirmation from significant others (Schlenker & Weigold, 1992). In dating relationships, a person's sense of identity, or self, is strongly influenced by the expectations of a dating partner (Swann, De La Ronde, & Hixton, 1994). Dating partners also help to define shared expectations of appropriate relational behavior (Montgomery, 1993; Wilmot, 1981). Ideally, individuals act in line with these understandings; yet inevitably an event will occur where one person acts in a manner that violates expectations. Sheer and Weigold (1995, p. 592) noted that "(s)uch events thus constitute a threat to the images that actors wish to maintain for themselves and others."

Jones, Kugler, and Adams (1995) implied that the most damaging events in relationships are those that explicitly harm or disappoint a significant other. However, it may be just as threatening for a person to perceive post-hoc that he or she has done something that has changed the way that a relational partner thinks of him or her. Samp and Solomon (1998) labeled this type of situation a problematic event. Problematic events include uncharacteristic personal failures such as self-presentational errors (Schlenker, 1980), embarrassing behavior (Metts & Cupach, 1989; Miller, 1992), faux pas (Harris, 1984; McLaughlin, Cody, & O'Hair, 1983), infidelity (Mongeau, Hale, & Alles, 1994), or regrettable messages (Knapp, Stafford, & Daly, 1986). More generally, any situation in which the offender perceives that his or her actions have negatively impacted the way a relational partner thinks of him or her can be considered a problematic event. As such, these situations may threaten the offender's sense of identity in his or her relationship.

Although problematic events may exist only in the eyes the offenders, Samp and Solomon (1999) observed that offenders generate a variety of communication goals that constitute a multi-faceted goal orientation for managing problematic events. Although that investigation did not examine what drives the production of particular goal characteristics, motivation theorists contend that goal-directed behavior is guided by introspective processes related to the self (e.g., Bandura, 1989). Further, it is likely that those aspects of self that are related to the offenders' identity in his or her dating relationship should be particularly salient contributors to offenders' goal orientations after problematic events. Accordingly, this investigation will examine self and relationally-relevant processes as the mechanisms that influence offenders' goal orientations after problematic events. To do so, the next section describes how the self influences goal selection. Then, the variety of goal characteristics relevant to the problematic events context are reviewed. Hypotheses concerning the relationship and self influences that should affect goal characteristics after problematic events are then advanced and examined. In turn, this investigation should provide insight into how individuals manage identity-threats generated by their own behavior.

THE INFLUENCE OF THE SELF ON GOAL GENERATION: THE CYBERNETIC CYCLE

The self is an introspective, yet reflexive cognitive structure that contains all of the information that defines an individual and informs behavior. The particular content areas of the self can be thought of as self-constructs. Self-constructs reflect a person's perceived traits and beliefs with respect to a particular domain. For example, a relationship self-construct includes all of an individual's beliefs and attitudes about the many relationships in his or her life, as well as the notion of relationship in general (Brown, 1998). A variety of scholars suggest that the self-constructs that define a person's self have an instrumental influence on decisions to pursue certain goals (e.g. …