Why Mattering Is So Important to Our Mental Health - Deepstash
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“Ugh! I Wish I Was Invisible!”

There may be times that you’d like to feel invisible, but for the most part, people like to feel that other people notice and care about them. If you’ve ever walked into a social gathering and waited five minutes for someone to greet you, then you know how painful it is to feel like you’re blending into the background. Alternatively, consider the agony you can suffer when you’ve sent a text to a friend, only to have it sit there “delivered,” but unanswered.

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“Hellooo! I’m Standing Right Here!!!”

When you stop and think about it, though, why should we care so much about whether people notice us or not? After all, the people who know us might be busy and preoccupied with other things. It shouldn’t make a difference, either, whether people who don’t know us acknowledge our presence. And, in reality, aren’t there those times when we’d be just as happy to get in and out of someplace without having to stop and talk to anyone?

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The Quality Of Mattering

In positive psychology, the quality of “mattering” is considered, in the words of York University’s Gordon Flett and colleagues (2022) to be “a key psychological resource.” Although we might occasionally enjoy the cloak of invisibility, Flett et al. propose that feeling chronically insignificant can become a “meta-pathology” that can interfere with the ability to obtain “optimal health and well-being.”

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Why Does it Matter to Matter?

According to Flett et al., rather than simply feeling invisible, when we suffer from what they call “anti-mattering,” we define ourselves as someone whose “personal identity is dominated by the sense of not mattering to others.” We adopt this identity as a shield for the specific reason of protecting ourselves from the stress of being ignored or regarded as irrelevant by others. The “anti” here, literally means “against” mattering, not simply being low in the feeling that we matter.

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A Shield That Harms Instead Of Protect Us

In the words of Flett et al., anti-mattering “should be regarded as a unique and specific vulnerability unlike any other risk factor.... [it] can become a cognitive preoccupation that is internalized and results in self-harm tendencies and an inability or unwillingness to engage in self-care.”

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A Shell That We Get Into Instead Of Out Of

The anti-mattering stance can come from many sources, such as facing constant rejection from potential romantic partners, employers, or even those rude people who never reply to your texts. However, Flett et al. propose that its most likely source can be traced to early childhood experiences of neglect by distracted and unresponsive parents. The hard shell around our need to matter eventually forms so that even the worst experiences of rejection will fail to penetrate.

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Hurdles Are Both The Obstacles And The Race

Unfortunately, the more resistant the shell becomes to rejection or dismissive treatment, the harder it is for others to get through to us. Rewarding relationships become that much more difficult to attain as others learn that it's easier just to stay away from you.

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The Anti-Mattering Scale (AMS)

To tap into the unique qualities of anti-mattering, Flett et al. set about to develop a new 5-item Anti-Mattering Scale (AMS). Across a series of studies using young adult and adolescent samples, Flett et al. first built and then compared their AMS to an existing "General Mattering Scale" (GMS) in its relationship to measures of depression, loneliness, and anxiety. You can best get a sense of what's at the heart of anti-mattering by testing yourself on these five items (rate yourself from 1=not at all, to 4=a lot).

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The “Anti-Mattering” Test

  1. How much do you feel like you don’t matter?
  2. How often have you been treated in a way that makes you feel like you are insignificant?
  3. To what extent have you been made to feel like you are invisible?
  4. How much do you feel like you will never matter to certain people?
  5. How often have you been made to feel by someone that they don’t care what you think or what you have to say?

Most of the participants in the undergraduate sample scored between 7 and 15 on this scale, with an average at just about 11.

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The “General Mattering” Test

Key to the idea of the AMS is that it's not just feeling unimportant (or low in mattering). These five items from the GMS (General Mattering Scale) show this nuanced difference. Rate yourself with the same scale as the AMS:

  1. How important are you to others?
  2. How much do others pay attention to you?
  3. How much would you be missed if you went away?
  4. How interested are others in what you have to say?
  5. How much do other people depend upon you?

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“I Am The Touching And The Untouchable.”

Participants tended to receive higher scores on the GMS than the AMS, with the average at 16 and the majority scoring between 13 and 18.

From these averages alone, you can see that it is more common for people to feel that they have a valuable role in the life of others than to feel that they are not worth anyone's attention.

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Does Being High on Anti-Mattering Matter?

Now that you’ve tested yourself on AMS and seen how it differs from GMS, it’s time to turn to the psychological consequences of turning away from others as a self-protective mechanism. As shown in the Flett et al. findings, the patterns of scores on key indicators of mental health, including depression, loneliness, and anxiety, showed that anti-mattering wasn't simply the opposite of mattering.

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The Double Jeopardy

Most importantly, the findings across the young adult and adolescent samples confirmed the predicted relationship between anti-mattering and loneliness as well as the incremental effect on depression of high AMS vs. low GMS scores. This pattern reflects, in the words of the authors, “ties between low mattering and a maladaptive early schema reflecting disconnection and alienation from others.” Combined, high AMS and high loneliness scores produce what Flett et al. refer to as the “double jeopardy of feeling alone and insignificant.”

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A Serious Matter

To sum up, feeling that we matter is clearly a contributor to positive mental health. Anti-mattering can become part of a larger identity in which we feel that we lack value to others, even contributing to a sense of marginalization. Although the York University findings established the negative consequences of anti-mattering among young adults and teens, this basic need appears to be one that can form an important cornerstone of healthy development throughout life.

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WILLIAM P. YOUNG

If anything matters, then everything matters.

WILLIAM P. YOUNG

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FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

Everything matters. Nothing’s important.

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

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CURATED BY

xarikleia

“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison

CURATOR'S NOTE

On mattering, not mattering, but, more importantly, anti mattering. Would we (still) wear the Invisibility Cloak if we knew we could never take it off again?

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