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Who Am I Without You? How a Romantic Breakup Affects Self-Concept

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When a romantic relationship ends, an individual’s self-concept is vulnerable to change, according to research in the February issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Self-concept is defined as a person’s sense of “me.” Romantic partners develop shared friends, activities and even overlapping self-concepts.

Using three studies, the researchers examined self-concept changes that can occur after a breakup. They found that individuals have reduced self-concept clarity after a breakup. This reduced clarity can contribute to emotional distress. The loss of the relationship has multiple psychological consequences, including the tendency for individuals to change the content of their selves and the feeling that their selves are subjectively less clear and even smaller.

Finding that there is a prevalence of self-change experienced when a romantic relationship ends provides a testament to the power of loss that impacts one’s sense of self.

“Not only may couples come to complete each others’ sentences, they may actually come to complete each others’ selves,” write authors Erica B. Slotter, Wendi L. Gardner, and Eli J. Finkel. “When the relationship ends, individuals experience not only pain over the loss of the partner, but also changes in their selves. This research is the first to demonstrate the unique contribution of reduced self-concept clarity to the emotional distress that individuals experience post-breakup.

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 36, No. 2, 147-160 (2010)
DOI: 10.1177/0146167209352250 this version was published on February 1, 2010
Who Am I Without You? The Influence of Romantic Breakup on the Self-ConceptPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Erica B. Slotter
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA, ericaslotter2011@u.northwestern.edu

Wendi L. Gardner
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

Eli J. Finkel
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

Romantic relationships alter the selves of the individuals within them. Partners develop shared friends and activities and even overlapping self-concepts. This intertwining of selves may leave individuals’ self-concepts vulnerable to change if the relationship ends. The current research examines several different types of self-concept change that could occur after a breakup and their relation to emotional distress. Across three studies, using varied methodologies, the authors examined change in both the content (Study 1a and 1b) and the structure of the self-concept, specifically, reduced self-concept clarity (Studies 1 through 3). As predicted, individuals experienced self-concept content change and reduced self-concept clarity post-breakup. Additionally, reduced clarity uniquely predicted post-breakup emotional distress.

Key Words: self/identity • romantic relationships • breakup • self-concept clarity • emotional distress

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Written by huehueteotl

March 13, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Psychology

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