Identity Satiation: Some rarely discussed phenomena can shed light on why the focus on identity and introspection has coincided with a rise of mental health issues, including identity disorders. (Brandon McMurtrie, 8 Mar 2024, Quillette)

This well-studied phenomenon—sometimes called “inhibition,” “fatigue,” “lapse of meaning,” “adaptation,” or “stimulus satiation”—applies to objects as well as language. Studies have found that compulsive staring at something can result in dissociation and derealization. Likewise, repeatedly visually checking something can make us uncertain of our perception, which results, paradoxically, in uncertainty and poor memory of the object. This may also occur with facial recognition.

Interestingly, a similar phenomenon can occur in the realm of self-perception. Mirror gazing (staring into one’s own eyes in the mirror) may induce feelings of depersonalization and derealization, causing distortions of self-perception and bodily sensation. This persistent self-inspection can result in a person feeling that they don’t recognize their own face, that they no longer feel real, that their body no longer feels the same as it once did, or that it is not their body at all. Mirror-gazing so reliably produces depersonalization and realization (and a wide range of other anomalous effects), that it can be used in experimental manipulations to trigger these symptoms for research purposes.

This effect doesn’t only occur with visual self-inspection, but with mental introspection too. I call this “identity satiation.” It has been studied for thousands of years and it is the basis of many Buddhist and other spiritual practices. It has long been understood that extended periods of introspection and self-contemplation result in a sense of identity-loss and a disorder known as “depersonalization-derealization” with eerily familiar symptoms. Depersonalization-derealization affects “your ability to recognize your thoughts, feelings and body as your own.”

It should not be surprising, then, that rumination—a persistent introspection and compulsive focus on one’s internal sensations, thoughts, or identity—is a hallmark of anxiety disorders of various kinds, including depersonalization-derealization. People who engage in compulsive introspection can become increasingly uncertain, anxious, and confused. […]

In other words, the proliferation of therapy culture and compulsive introspection, intended to encourage self-knowledge and mental well-being, may in fact be more like the poison than its antidote.

Psalm 27 as the Solution in the Struggle Over Self-Image (JOE COSATO, MARCH 04, 2024, Center for Faith & Culture)

In beholding our God, we will be captivated by his glory so that the troubles and pressures which surround us will begin to fade. When we are captivated by him, we become free to cherish, love, and delight in all that he is, forgetting ourselves and striving more and more for him.

This is the same path that Tim Keller urges us down. Avoiding too high or low view of self-image, Keller finds a middle way to wholeness and freedom: “A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person.”[1] Keller’s point resonates with Psalm 27, Freedom isn’t found in elevating or diminishing our self-image. Instead, freedom is found in forgetting ourselves! Freedom is had in being captivated by the beauty of Christ, rather than being held captive by the ideals we make for ourselves.