How Self-Concept Shapes Our Personality & Why You Should Know It

Author : Shreya Mukherjee

Sense of self or Self-concept is the oldest yet the most important matter for not only an individual but also the society at large. Philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, economists, and so on (Satre, Descartes, Maslow, Carl Rogers, Erickson, Cooley to name a few) – numerous disciplines have contributed to the ideas of the development of self, perception of oneself in relation to themselves and others, and its behavioural, affective and cognitive aspects.

Self-efficacy researcher Roy Baumeister defines self-concept as follows: “The individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes and who and what the self is.” Self-concept, in the simplest words, answers the question “Who Am I?”. Self-concept develops from childhood through adulthood and is shaped by socialization and external factors starting from the very formative years. Self-concept is not innate, it is learned by the individual and developed and changes over time with different experiences, it is dynamic. Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, suggested that left to their own devices, human exhibit positive movement toward becoming fully functioning persons. He proposed that self-concept includes three components: Self-Image, Self- Esteem and Ideal Self. Self-image is the way we see ourselves. Self-image includes what we know about ourselves physically, our social roles, and our personality traits. Self-esteem is how much you value yourself. Ideal self refers to how you wish you could be. According to Carl Rogers, self-image and ideal self can be congruent or incongruent. Similarity between the self-image and ideal self means that there is a fair amount of overlap between the two. A minimal gap between the two will allow self-actualization - the condition that emerges when we reach our full potential and our self-concept, self-worth, and ideal self all overlap. A big mismatch between the self-image and ideal self means there’s a discrepancy between one’s self and one’s experiences, which leads to the cognitive dissonance that hinders self-actualization. Rogers believed that incongruencies in self-concept have their earliest roots in childhood because most people grow up in an atmosphere of conditional positive regard. If parents establish conditions on their affection for their children, children begin to distort their memories of experiences, that generate anxiety and are forced to deny the existence of certain desires and impulses as a result of which self-concept is badly damaged. They begin to use defence mechanisms like denial or repression in order to feel less threatened and anxious. Unconditional love, on the other hand, helps to foster congruence. Children and adolescents who experience such love feel no need to continually distort their memories in order to believe that other people will love and accept them as they are. In client-centred therapy, therapists place the patients in an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard. People who are self-actualized do not allow society’s standards to influence their actions; they are considerate to the needs of those around them but not dependant on others.

The current generation is constantly placed in an environment of conditional positive regard and pressure to excel and conform according to other people’s expectations. In such an atmosphere it becomes difficult but all the more necessary to help the young establish their strong sense of self. For example, unless one excels in academics they will be constantly reprimanded by parents and humiliated by their peers and teacher; this socialization process would suppress their other interests.

Everyone is expected to possess multiple skills by the time they reach a certain age. If one lacks a strong sense of self, the pressure to fulfil the demands of others and society will impact their lives negatively. Because such people are dependant on the reaction and approval of others they face constant anxiety of rejection and abandonment. Their interpersonal relationships and interaction will be affected by an inferior self-image and self-esteem themselves. It will become a major setback in their path towards achieving positive goal.

Speaking from a sociological perspective, an individual’s sense of belonging and identity in social group is dependent on their socialisation. If the values of the group suppress the development of self-identity, it hampers the individual in the long run. They will face dissatisfaction and cognitive dissonance. It may be noticed very often, that when adolescents or adults move out of their parental homes for college or work purposes, they experience a change in themselves, for better or for worse. Say an adolescent with dominant or overbearing parents starts to live independently while going to college, they will be exposed to a new group with new expectations. Self-concepts are ever changing and when a change in social group or external environment takes place, the individual will inevitably alter their self-concept. Once the individual takes the initiative to alter or further develop their self it is a step towards self-actualization. If a person who believes they are no good at singing without having tried it, begins practicing with a group of friends and realises they are not as bad as they initially thought themselves to be, it will positively change their self-concept. If the new social group that they become a part of surrounds the individual with an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard it will enable the further development of self, somewhat away from the previous constraints of conditional rewards. An individual may have multiple social roles at any given point, and the ‘self’ may vary in each situation depending on the kind of experience it has.

The development of self-concept though an important factor, is more often than not neglected by many parents while they do what they think is right for their child. If the caregiver does not exercise a positive and unconditional love and rewards for the child in their formative years , it will most certainly lead to rough adolescent years. During adolescence, one becomes more conscious of themselves and their peers and surroundings. Culture and social identity become clearer aspects to them. It is vital that they are able to receive positive feedback at this time and are able to make progress towards their desired goals. Unfortunately for many, societal pressures always get in the way of their advances. If the individual has not been in exposed to methods of coping with the stress, they will most likely start to lose or underdevelop their ‘self’. Their self-esteem and image take a blow as they start to lose confidence and become further away from their ideal self. The onus to remedy (or try to) such a situations falls not only on the individual but on the society as a whole. Each person is unique and takes their own time to develop themselves. Pressuring them into becoming something they are not only causing cognitive dissonance within the individual but also reduced productivity and satisfaction. A person may have become a doctor because their parents refused to let them practice music, which provided them with a sense of belonging, and deemed it unworthy of reward- they will develop coping mechanisms temporarily but in the long run, might face internal conflict and dissatisfaction. Thus it is extremely important for parents, teachers, and those who have an influence on others to bear in mind not just their wants but also the other person’s needs. Without self-concept and sense of belonging one cannot achieve mental stability.