“Who am I?” is a frequent question that crosses the minds of many at one point or another, even going so far as to question their own identity.

A key piece to understand the complexity of this question and what makes us what we are is the self-concept.

It is fundamental for our personal, social and professional development to create a positive self-concept of ourselves.

Self-concept and self-esteem go hand in hand to a large extent, but they are not the same.

Therefore, below, we will know in depth about this important topic of psychology.

What is the self-concept?

The self-concept is the image or idea you have of yourself and everything that constitutes. Your ideas, thoughts, actions, how we categorize ourselves and much more. The self-concept is, then, a descriptor of yourself.

The self-concept is made up of all the self-schemas about ourselves. Who we are, the way we act, what we believe or think and what we don’t, the way you would act under hypothetical circumstances and much more.

The self-concept forms, together with self-esteem, self  awareness and Thesocial self, the person’s being. The latter is made up of our past selves (who we have been), current selves (who we are), and future selves (the ideal self, who we want or not to be).

Elements of self-concept

The identity that the individual adopts forms the self-concept, or at least a large portion of it.

This identity can be influenced by external and internal factors, as we will explain below.

Personal Identity

As we have already mentioned, the self-concept is the product of the agglomeration of everything we think and believe about ourselves.

Our idiosyncrasies, attitudes, thoughts and works. As the individual grows they may also develop more analytical and specific capacities and interpretations of oneself.

For example, a child might be categorized as “smart” or “creative.” For an adult, this self-schema becomes more complex: “I can learn faster using audiovisual techniques.”

Social identity

The society and culture that surrounds us affects our self-concept profoundly.

As the child grows, he acquires a sense of social identity: how others see him, whether he is part of a group or rejected by one, what role he plays as his own individual in a social group, and much more.

All these are questions that continue to grow, accentuating during adolescence. In fact, adolescents tend to experience an intense sense of self-consciousness, especially when surrounded by others.

That is, adolescents tend to overestimate the attention that others pay to their actions or words. This belief can modify the behavior of the person and even the concept they have of themselves.

Self-concept characteristics

The self-concept, although different in each person, can present a series of characteristics present in the majority of people.

Below, we mention some of the most relevant.

It can remain stable over time

The concept or idea that we have of ourselves stabilizes after going through the first ages of psychosocial development.

Once an idea takes root in our minds, especially about who we are, it can solidify and endure through the years, for better or worse.

This internal idea can be seen in conflict with external influences that call into question the concept we have built of ourselves.

can constantly vary

Carl Rogers , the pioneer of this great theory, described our being in two large components, the actual or real being and the ideal being.

The first is the concept of ourselves. The second is the concept that we would like to have of ourselves, it represents the ambitions and achievements that we seek to achieve.

The space between them represents the changes in our being that we must or want to achieve.

Our beliefs or perceptions are influences from outside, which are internalized. In turn, this can be modified by influences that conflict with our being.

In such a way, the identity or the image that people have of themselves is not hermetic, it is under constant remodeling throughout life.

It differs from self-esteem

Self-concept and self-esteem are different. The first is how we describe ourselves, the second is an evaluative component, based on our opinion about what we are and are not.

For example, a person could be described as an introvert. That is the self-concept that he has of himself, based on emotions and past interactions. Feeling bad about being an introvert and unable to freely interact with others is self-esteem.

Has unclear boundaries

Asking who we are is always a difficult question to answer. The human being is a multidimensional being, populated by ideas, feelings, contradictions and much more.

The self is under constant change, and it is difficult to appreciate how much of ourselves is ours or the product of the influence of others.

The self-concept of oneself expands or contracts, depending on our thoughts or criteria and how these evolve.

It is related to self-awareness

Self-awareness is the awareness of our awareness. Knowing that we are our own individual, flesh and blood, differentiated from another person.

At 18 months of age, the infant is already aware of his own beingtag. As he grows, language and cognitive skills develop that allow him to discover himself in simple ways (tall or short, hair, eye or skin color).

Eventually, the person acquires a complex and organized self-descriptive capacity, called self-schema. The agglomerate of them is the self-concept.

However, the recognition of the person as a cognitive and thinking being (of the ‘self’), different from his fellow man, is the pillar where the description of the ‘self’ is developed.

In such a way, that self-awareness and self-concept are closely related.

Interact with the environment

How others perceive us tends to affect us or modify our self-concept.

If others think someone is annoying, that person’s perception of themselves could be negatively impacted. Therefore, self-concept and interpersonal relationships form a cycle.

Rogers argued that the being is born from the influences of third parties, especially during the stage of critical development in which the child or adolescent begins to build an image of themselves and how others see them.

Of course, this is not a conscious and active process, but a passive and prolonged one. Similar to osmosis, where the person acquires different or conflicting perspectives on their being and that of others.

Factors that determine self-concept

These factors are based on what we think of ourselves and how, in many cases, people’s opinions influence the development of self-concept.

Attitude or motivation

Motivation is the set of processes that involve the interest of doing or not doing certain things, or whether or not they do in a certain way according to their own convenience or the common good.

For example, the motivation to quit smoking, for one’s own well-being and / or that of the one around us.

Motivations are necessary in everyday life, they make us ambitious in terms of achievement, creating goals and enjoying achievements. To some degree, they give satisfaction and meaning to our lives.

On the contrary, the lack of motivation is relevant in all areas, both personal, academic and work. It leads to decreased performance or even failure.

We must motivate ourselves to be the ideal self. Set a goal, strive to achieve it, change your strategy when you don’t see the expected results, or even change your motivation, but it’s important that you never lose it.

Skills or abilities

Our abilities, and how developed or not they are, also influence our creation of the ideal self.

During the first two decades of the individual, self-schemas about their personality, school performance, and even abilities are adopted. These self-schemas dictate what categorization we impose on ourselves.

A person who invests his leisure time in reading and writing could see himself as a “writer”, associate behavior related to it, and improve the development of these qualities.

Body image

Body image is the appreciation that each person creates in their mind of how their body looks.

Body image and physical appearance are not the same, since a person with a physical appearance that does not fall under certain aesthetic parameters can feel good about themselves and their body image.

On the contrary, there are people whose features fall into the canons of beauty but they do not look like that in their minds.

Said beauty standards, both feminine and masculine, change according to times, countries and cultures. Our mind must focus on finding attributes of our body and highlighting them, to feel good about ourselves.

As we can see, self-concept and body image go hand in hand, as they develop over time and adapt to the changes that the body goes through throughout our lives.

external appreciations

In many cases, the appreciations of the people around us influence the self-concept we have.

These external appreciations have the ability to help us grow as people by noticing something that we, from our point of view, do consciously or not, which could be improved or not done depending on the case.

In short, these appreciations can act as triggers to better exploit our abilities or personality, while they can also inhibit them.

We must be aware that external appreciations, depending on their emotional effect and scope, can elevate or destroy us for this reason; only we decide to accept these opinions or not, and they will have value if we grant them.

How is self-concept built?

As we have mentioned, self-concept is a cognitive process that changes throughout the individual’s life, even from the moment the baby recognizes himself as his own being.

However, it does not mean that it is static. How we see ourselves can be changed by external influences that affect our inner being.

Find meaning in life

“It is not enough to ask about the meaning of life, but you have to respond to it by responding to life itself” –Victor Frankl.

As conscious beings we feel the need to know what our purpose in life is.

As we mentioned before, motivations are essential and can lead us to find meaning in our lives. Small details that fill us with satisfaction are key to discovering our vocation.

Setting goals, projects, objectives helps us to know ourselves more, to find something that we like and to make it the engine of our life. By continuing to feel motivated we can create a positive self-concept.

Develop and believe in skills

Our brain is an incredible machine that allows us to learn new things and perfect them with practice.

We can define skills as “the ability to do something well, using the knowledge we have on a subject and apply it making the best possible decisions.” For example, develop skills in the kitchen or pastry.

Skills can be social, academic, or occupational. As human beings we are constantly changing and learning daily.

Developing a skill about something you love takes time, but perseverance and dedication trump talent. The mind controls the body, so we must believe in our abilities and feel proud of them.

However, we must be aware that we can always improve, accept advice and learn to differentiate negative criticism from constructive ones.

Staying motivated to learn, develop and believe in our abilities, considering that we are doing something productive, is fundamental to building a positive self-concept of ourselves every day.

Be willing to change

Our being is influenced by external factors, but it depends on us how we internalize the information we receive.

You may run into a situation where you feel bad for not having studied or read enough. After an introspective review, you conclude that you are not educated enough (observe how self-concept and self-esteem play a very narrow role).

It is up to you to modify this aspect of your life. Reorganize your routine to read more, investigate more effective ways of learning, memorizing or applying this knowledge in practical ways.

Modifying your habits generates a change in your life and how you describe yourself (self-concept) and, in turn, modifies how you feel about it (self-esteem).

Share with the environment

Our being is in constant interaction with the environment. It subtly modifies our ideas, thoughts and actions.

Just as there is opposition to external influences. Argumentative and conflicting people will have difficulty accepting how these aspects impact interpersonal relationships with others.

However, despite all this, the environment surrounds us and it is difficult to isolate ourselves from it. Learning to build a positive self-concept of yourself, using your own criteria and evaluating that of others, is key to building a positive image of yourself.

Stay optimistic and positive

How we see and feel about ourselves changes every aspect of our life, be it actions or thoughts.

A negative image of you hinders the growth and self-realization of your potential as a person.

Being aware of your attributes, strengths, limitations, what represents a danger to us and what it is not are tools to carve a healthy and complete image of us.

Set goals

Goals are incentives that promote growth. However, they represent a double-edged sword.

Long-term goals are important to maintain focus, but don’t obsess over them. Big changes in short periods of time are unrealistic and lead to disappointment or frustration.

Short and medium term goals are more realistic and achievable. Improving 1% of yourself daily to achieve tasks after days or a few weeks are more feasible, but imperceptible in the short term.

However, they are cumulative. Meeting goals daily for three weeks provides more benefits and rewards, fostering motivation to continue with the routine and achieve big goals.

Be productive

It goes hand in hand with the previous point. The change you achieve daily is not born out of nowhere, it is directly proportional to the effort printed.

Building a realistic schedule and according to your stated goals, are small modifications that redirect your day to day to build your ‘ideal self’ slowly, but progressively and consistently.


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