Here we will examine social cognitive theory with respect to personal factors that may influence personality development. These personal factors are numerous and varied and consist of both positive and negative influences. For example, a family who is supportive and allows a child to learn without judgment versus a family who is authoritarian and judgmental affect the personality development of the individual, one in a positive way the other in a negative way. “The basic idea of social-cognitive theory is that beliefs, goals, and standards—as well as competencies for performing behaviors—contribute to the uniqueness and coherence of our personality” (Cervone & Pervin, p. 463, 2010). The effect of two negative personal factors will be examined; sexual abuse and substance abuse, with respect to how these factors influence the individual’s beliefs, goals and standards.
“Children’s understanding and interpretation of abuse-related and other stressful life events has been found to influence thoughts, beliefs, perceptions of support, and coping mechanisms (Friedrich, 1990; Spaccarelli, 1994)” (Daignault & Hebert, 2008). This would indicate that sexual abuse has an impact on the self schema of the child and would result in a negative self concept that would be negatively reinforced. As a matter of fact in the same study children who were sexually abused had issues in academic performance, cognitive skills and social problems as a result of the sexual abuse. These results would seem to confirm the idea that “people even seek self-confirmation when they have negative schemas, that is, a person with a negative self-schema will seek out information and social feedback that confirms the negative self-schema, becoming in a sense his or her own worst enemy” (Cervone & Pervin, p. 468, 2010). The effect of childhood sexual abuse can have an inter-generational effect. “Women who have not adequately recovered from childhood sexual abuse are more likely to have children who suffer from incest” (Baker, 2001). The cause of this inter-generational effect may be due to modeling of the child on the Mother’s behavior. Recovery from sexual abuse would involve the change of the self schema of the individual. To affect this change it would be required to change the individual’s beliefs about themselves, their goals concerning recovery and life and even the standards by which they evaluate themselves. It would be assumed that the competencies that the individual has acquired to cope with life (life skills) would also need to be altered. In many of these areas there would be a great deal of resistance to change.
“Behaviour is termed ‘addictive’ when it meets two conditions: (a) the strength of its reinforcement (e.g. reward-seeking or withdrawal avoidance) makes self-regulation of the behaviour very difficult and (b) the failure to regulate prevents the achievement of the person’s or society’s goals—in other words, the behaviours are maladaptive” (Webb, Sniehotta., & Michie, 2010). In this definition we see some of the primary tenets of social cognitive theory – self-regulation and the setting and achieving of goals (self-efficacy). Self-efficacy states that people choose what challenges to undertake, how much effort to expend, how long to persevere and whether failures are motivating or de-moralizing. Self-regulation deals with the concept of delayed gratification. This is the concept of putting off something good to get something better. Both of these concepts play a large role in the ability of a substance abuser to recover from the disease of addiction. Therapies using social cognitive theory center on the idea of beliefs and behavior as a reciprocal learning process and that the process occurs through self-monitoring, self-guidance via standards and corrective self reactions. “Self-efficacy beliefs are deemed to be constructed from four sources: (i) enactive mastery experiences (e.g. a personal quit attempt), (ii) vicarious experiences (e.g. modelling the experiences of another), (iii) verbal persuasion (e.g. a close friend expressing faith in one’s abilities) and (iv) physiological and affective states (e.g. bodily feedback)” (Webb, Sniehotta., & Michie, 2010).
In this section, it has been shown how social cognitive theory and specifically the concepts of schemas, modeling, self-regulation, and self-efficacy are applied to the personal influences of sexual abuse and substance abuse.