Vestibularneuritis was a condition that has been a part of my life for the past 3 months.
By definition, vestibular neuritis (VN) is a disorder that results from a viralinfection that causes an inflammation in the nerves connecting the inner ear tothe brain (Cleveland Clinic, 2017). This lack of communication between myvestibular nerves and brain has led me to experience symptoms of vertigo,dizziness, nausea and great amounts of frustration. It is without a doubt thatthis condition has had an impact on many aspects of my life, however, I wouldlike to focus on one specific area that my VN has affected the most: school. Throughoutmy university career I have been very motivated and found excitement indeepening my knowledge, but unfortunately my VN started to interfere with my dedicationfor school. With multiple exams and deadlines quickly approaching, I began tofeel overwhelmed by the thought of having to make it through school whiledealing with my VN symptoms.
As a result, my high ambitions slowly began todisintegrate and I found myself starting to utilize the concept of self-handicappingto compensate for my lack of motivation, even though my condition was nowherenear debilitating. Self-handicappingis a form of impression management that refers to actions people take tohandicap their own performance in order to provide a subsequent excuse fortheir anticipated failure (Berglas & Jones, 1978). When an individualshares a physical or mental weakness prior to their performance, if they do infact fail, people will attribute their failure to the external attributionrather than to internal attributions.
This method is mainly used as an attemptto preserve self-esteem and maintain a positive image when an individual isuncertain about their ability to successfully perform a certain task (Kassin,Fein, Markus & Burke, 2013). On the other hand, if the individual succeeds,others will think highly of them since they were able to perform successfullydespite their physical or mental limitations. Therefore, self-handicapping isconsidered an ingenious strategy because the self becomes insulated fromfailure and eased from the pressure of succeeding, at the same time as allowingthe individual to enjoy the task rather than worrying about how well they willdo (Deppe & Harackiewicz, 1996). My VNmakes concentrating on school work a challenging task but it is not adebilitating condition and with hard work and determination, I would still beable to push through my symptoms and succeed in school. However, over the pastfew weeks I have used the excuse of my VN to guard myself from potentialfailure when I felt that I had the lack of ability to perform successfully.
Forinstance, I had to present an oral presentation for one of the classes I amcurrently enrolled in. I have always considered public speaking a strength ofmine, mainly because those who have sat in on my previous presentations havegiven me very positive feedback. Thus, when it was time for this oralpresentation, I felt I had a standard to live up to. I had to do exceptionallywell in order to keep up my reputation and maintain my self-confidence inpublic speaking. Unfortunately,I did not have the motivation to prepare for this presentation and felt quiteunorganized walking into class on presentation day.
I felt like I was about to failand perform poorly. Therefore, I engaged in self-handicapping and prior tobeginning my presentation, I explained to the class that I have been dealingwith VN and that my symptoms are making it challenging for me to present. Iinstantly felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as I explained mycondition to the class because I now felt that there was no pressure to deliberatean outstanding presentation. Furthermore, if I did in fact perform poorly, thestudents in my class wouldn’t associate my failure with internal attributions,instead, they would associate my failure with an external attribution, my VN. As Iexpected, throughout the presentation I found myself stuttering, fidgeting, andscrambling through my notes; it was clear to me that this had to be one of myworst presentations yet.
However, because I self-handicapped I knew there was agreater chance that the students did not change their positive impression of mypublic speaking ability, thus, they still saw me as the person I wanted them tosee me as despite that my performance was an absolute disaster. This wasevident because when it was time for me to receive feedback, there were no harshcomments regarding my performance style. In fact, any slightly negative commentI received pointed solely to my VN rather than any internal attributions. Forinstance, one student explained how I did relatively well for having to dealwith VN. In other words, my performance was not the greatest but for someonedealing with VN it was considered “well”. This demonstrated that myself-handicapping strategy allowed me to maintain a positive self-image as itcaused my classmates to attribute my failure to external causes.Asecond part of my project was to complete a research proposal that coincidedwith the oral presentation. Once again, I felt overwhelmed and did not have themotivation to push through the minor VN symptoms and as a result, I put inminimal effort in completing my proposal.
This paper was due on presentationday and thus, since my professor was there as I self-handicapped and explainedmy condition to the class, I was less worried about handing in my poorlywritten paper. I now felt that because my professor knew about my VN that I hadan excuse for my lack of motivation to write a strong research proposal. Inother words, I felt like I had guarded myself from any negative judgements thatthe professor would make of me after reading my proposal. My fear of theprofessor thinking that I am careless or incompetent quickly diminished becauseI now gave him an external factor that he could attribute my poorly writtenpaper to.
To mysurprise, I ended up receiving a grade that I was quite satisfied with on myresearch proposal. My friends later commended me of this grade and wereimpressed that I was able to do so well considering my condition. Thissuccessful grade and praise fed my self-esteem and led me to believe that I donot need to put in great amounts of effort in writing future researchproposals. However, according to the self-handicapping concept, in thelong-run, this self-sabotaging behaviour would lead to an increased amount offailures (Kassin et al., 2013) In other words, I eventually would get a lowgrade on my research proposals if I kept using the excuse of my VN to cover upfor my lack of motivation. Myaforementioned experience provides an excellent representation ofself-handicapping when dealing with a medical condition in a schoolenvironment. My experience showcased how individuals may be inclined toself-handicap when they feel they are incapable of succeeding, which in turn,allows others to attribute any failures to external factors, such as a medicalcondition, rather than attribute failures to the individual’s internal factors.
The physical weakness that I would share with others allowed me to make anexcuse for my anticipated failures and eased the pressure of having to succeedon my presentation and research proposal. In my case, the use of theself-handicapping strategy led to two different outcomes. First, Iself-handicapped my oral presentation which in fact was an unsuccessful performance, but because I guarded myself andused my VN excuse I did not feel judged for deliberating a poor performance. Secondly,I self-handicapped my research proposal but in this case I ended up getting asuccessful grade which boosted my self-esteem and caused others to think highlyof me, leading me to believe this behaviour can be repeated in the future.Understanding the two different outcomes that self-handicapping can result inand the different effects it has on the individual is important in order tofully comprehend this self-protecting strategy. In conclusion, my case study isrepresentative of why individuals choose to self-handicap and the consequencesit comes with.