Social cause

A Social-Cognitive Theory Perspective of Jenny


Individuals who experience a traumatic event are often plagued by negative self-views that can turn into negative behaviors. Diehl and Prout write that sexually abused children often exhibit cognitive distortions as well as negative self-attributions. These same distortions and attributions develop in these children due to the timing in which these events take place in their lives. Often the child is not able to make sense of the abuse because they are not developmentally ready (Diehl and Prout).

In the case of the character that will be analyzed in this paper it is not distinguished if the character was sexually or physically abused, but the event is traumatic enough either way to bring about the same outcomes. Significant research has been done when it comes to children who are maltreated or abused. Out of this research it has been suggested these individuals often describe themselves in a negative light, have lower self-esteem, and incorporate beliefs of inferiority (Diehl and Prout).

The character of Jenny is one of a child who has grown up without a mother and has endured abuse since she very little. She takes this into her teen and adult years, until finally her decisions she has made in her life result in her death. Many determining factors of Jenny’s decisions were based on her childhood trauma and not having a good view of herself. She was never good enough for the one man who would give her everything positive and nothing negative, this is due to her own negative thinking.

Self-efficacy or self-esteem is the belief an individual has that they can perform a desired or positive behavior under certain conditions (Pachankis). Jenny is always wanting to do the right thing but as seen later on in this paper it is obvious the view she has of herself keeps her in bad situations. Swann, Chang-Schneider, & Larsen-McClarty suggest, since self-views play a vital role in guiding behavior, people will do their best to preserve these views and seek out validation of these views even if it is negative.

Section 2: Application of Personality Theory

Theory Description and Rationale

The explanation of personality based on basic thinking and cognitive capacities is what defines the social-cognitive theory. To utilize this theory one must look at the beliefs, goals, and standards, the competency to perform these behaviors, and relate them to the uniqueness and coherence of personality (Pervin, Cervone and Oliver). The theory also believes personality is based on social learning by observation and direct experience and that learned response patterns can lead to excessive self-standards and problems in self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy also has cognitive and behavioral elements. Swann, Chang-Schneider, & Larsen-McClarty compare self-efficacy to self-concepts by stating the same elements being present such as caring about personal attributes they deem to be important. Another view to be compared with these two are also that of self-beliefs, which are the general views of how an individual sees themselves and how they respond to others (Tamir et al).

The decision on a proper theory to use to discuss the character of Jenny was not an easy task. Both the phenomenological and social-cognitive theories could be utilized to discuss the personality of the character. Ultimately the positive support the character received and how it helped in her establishment of her self-schema and ideal self is what prompted the use of the social-cognitive theory. The ideal self the character was looking for, appeared to be the sole motivation for the character, thus making the social-cognitive theory more appropriate to use.

Character Description

Krause states the more emotional support an individual receives is associated with a greater sense of meaning in life. In Jenny’s case, she received emotional support only when she was with Forrest and because of her view of self she kept seeking the negative reinforcement because it was what she was accustomed to from childhood to adulthood. The “baggage” Jenny brought with her from childhood lent a hand in influencing perception and interactions in her surroundings (Anderson, Saribay, & Thorpe).

The character of Jenny was doing her best to evaluate what needed to be done in order to believe and become a good and positive person. Krause quotes Reker when he states, “the purpose in one’s existence, the pursuit and attainment of worthwhile goals, and an accompanying sense of fulfillment” is what defines fulfillment. Jenny was attempting to find meaning in her life and by doing so would enable her to become the ideal self she wanted. Throughout life, Jenny attempted to be a good person by singing, protesting, and getting involved in situations that were meant to be a good. The problem for her, rested in the environments where she chose to be good. Places such as a nude lounge, black panther parties, and various other movements where there were also acts of violence was not a place for her to be but she was attracted to them because she considered herself being good in a bad environment growing up.

Anderson, Saribay, & Thorpe suggest mental representations of people such as parents, friends, or significant others can alter the way in which we see others and those around us. These mental representations are an expectancy from the past that shapes contemporary interactions (Anderson, Saribay, & Thorpe). Jenny had mental representations of her environment growing up as negative and because of this when a new person came into the environment she took that mental representation and associated the situation with something in which she was more familiar.

As time goes on and she has more interactions with Forrest, she sees what it can be like to have a positive outlook, positive environment, and how to be a good person. The problem for Jenny however is, she is unable to process this information until it is too late. It took Jenny a long time to learn not to put herself in situations where she could be hurt, and to also notice this was one of her big problems. Because Forrest never gave up on Jenny each time she went to stay with him, she was given positive reinforcement for her good behaviors. She received love and attention from him while she was not drinking or partying and in the end this same positive reinforcement is what causes Jenny to realize it is time to become what she thought she always was, good.

Character Analysis


The structure of Jenny’s personality based on her interactions with others was very negative. Most social interactions with all men, from her father to the various men she was with was negative. Forrest was the only one in her life that had a positive effect on her. While Jenny’s goals in life were meant to be good, she chose the wrong situations to present them in. In order to make sense of the bad things that had happened in Jenny’s life she attempted to more good things to even her out, whether they were actually or not.


The process for Jenny to be able to maintain a positive self-image was to do things she thought were for the greater good. Things like protesting, singing songs, and joining peace groups allowed her feel as though she had a positive self-image and was starting to become closer to her ideal self. Jenny however had more work cut out for her then she thought, because Jenny also had a negative self-image, it made it harder for her to maintain the positive one. Through Jenny’s abuse, she developed this negative self-image because she could not understand how a good girl deserved to be punished in such a way. Since she did not change the type of men she was with or the events she participated in, she was keeping her negative self-image present making it harder for her to work on the positive one.

Growth and Development

Through Jenny’s develop she has not had enough experience in evaluating the goodness of others or the events surrounding her. While she does know the difference between good and bad, she has not had enough good situations to observe and then be able to judge between good and bad events or actions. Once she is able to see what should be going on in her environment by spending time with Forrest, she is able to see this is the direction she needs to go and the area that needs to be developed in order to have a positive outcome to her life.


The psychopathology of Jenny’s personality was learned by negative experiences over her lifetime. The negative experiences started with her father and then went on over the years with various other men and each time this happened she reinforced the negative experiences. Because Jenny did her best to leave a situation when it went bad, we can see she knew the situation was not good from the start and should be one she should avoid. Unfortunately for Jenny, the dysfunctional expectancies she had, put her in a place where she would eventually create the same situation she was running from in the first place.


Change for Jenny involved stopping her current behavior and adapting a new one. During Jenny’s time at Forrest’s home, she experienced positive reinforcement in her new behavior as well an example by Forrest in what good behavior looked like. By choosing to change her behavior of drinking, partying, doing drugs, and having sex with many men, it gave her a chance to receive love and support from Forrest. This positive reinforcement for Jenny helped prove to her that she was able to be the person she wanted to be and the consequences of those actions of those actions and choices were not negative but positive and pleasant.

Internal and External Factors

Internal factors that influenced Jenny’s personality were her emotions and ideas she had in relation to herself and how they motivated her to act or make choices as she did. The self-schema of a good person guided Jenny’s view of the world around her. According to Pervin, Cervone, and Oliver self-schema can motivate people to process information based on self-enhancement and self-verification. For Jenny, she was biased toward seeing herself in a positive light so not anything negative that happens is based on her choices but on the choices of others. In looking at Jenny’s self-verification, it is easily seen by her actions and decisions that keep her in a negative environment. An explanation for this is seen in Swann’s view. It is suggested people will seek out information and social feedback even if it confirms a negative self-schema (Pervin, Cervone, and Oliver).

Jenny may have also had some genetic factors that affected her behavior. Mustanski et al. have conducted research on genetics and disposition and have found genetics can influence personality, sensation seeking, impulsivity, and social deviance. Since her father was clearly abusive and appeared to be a drinker as well, his impulsiveness and social deviance was evident. In looking at internal psychological states things like goals and self-efficacy beliefs are main determinants of behavior (Vancouver, More, & Yoder)

External factors influencing Jenny’s personality, were her interactions socially within the environment in which she lived. Also contributing to her self-schema and how she viewed the environment was the development of knowledge structures. The different social and interpersonal experiences Jenny faced developed a self-schema that was different from those around her. Since Forrest was the only person she had that was positive in her life, her experiences drove her toward a negative self-schema. This would be the only way she might be able to understand the abuse she received throughout her lifetime.

Another external factor Jenny had to deal with was the stigma of being an abused child. She did her best to hide what was happening to her but it did not help her self-esteem. Pachankis proposes individuals with a concealable stigma may have a lower self-esteem, will not seek out groups who have a similar stigma, and may prevent them from disclosing and attaining support from others.


In conclusion, Jenny started in a negative environment that fostered her low self-esteem. By continuing to stay in these negative environments, she was reinforcing the negative self-schema she led herself to believe. Jenny had an ideal self that included being a good person and this is what she strived for in her life. Erikson suggests self-schemas are important to our formulation of possible selves and what we expect about the future is dependent on how we see ourselves.

As Jenny could no further she was able to take a step back and look at her life in a new way. She learned to deal with her emotions and behavior and put it behind her. Forrest played a large part in helping Jenny see the negative self-schema she had formed, by showing her how good he thought she was and providing a positive experience in her life, Jenny was able to stop the negative cycle.

In all Jenny still could have used some kind of therapy or counseling to deal with her feelings about her abuse. Within those sessions giving her a chance to utilize the guiding fictions of the Adlerian approach, she would have been shown how to change her negative self-talk and develop a higher self-schema.

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