We all have an idea of who we are—our self-concept. This mental picture has a profound influence on our actions, relationships, and lives. Our self-concept is shaped by our experiences, environment, and choices. There are three types of self-concept that make up our identity: actual, ideal, and social. Understanding how these self-concepts motivate and determine our behavior is the first step to gaining insight into ourselves and others. The journey of self-discovery is challenging yet rewarding.
We must have the courage to see ourselves as we really are, accept our imperfections, and still choose to grow. Our identity is always evolving, but the foundation is built on how we view ourselves. In this article, we explore the three self-concepts that shape your sense of identity and provide guidance on how to develop a healthy and balanced view of yourself. The path to purpose and meaning in life starts with truly knowing who you are.
Table of Contents
Defining Self-Concept and Why It Matters
Our self-concept is made up of three core parts that shape how we see ourselves and navigate the world:
How we physically see ourselves. Do we view our body and appearance in a positive or negative light? Our self-image is influenced by many factors, including media portrayals, social comparisons, and messaging we receive from a young age. We must work to develop a self-image based on our character and spirit, not just our outward appearance.
How much we value ourselves. Those with high self-esteem believe in their abilities and think they deserve to be happy. Low self-esteem can hold us back from achieving our dreams and finding purpose. Some tips to boost your self-esteem:
- Practice positive self-talk. Speak to yourself with encouragement and praise.
- Do esteemable acts. Set small goals and acknowledge your wins.
- Accept yourself. Learn to appreciate who you are—flaws and all.
Our belief in our ability to succeed and accomplish goals Those with strong self-efficacy see challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles. They have an “I can do this!” mindset. To build your self-efficacy:
- Take calculated risks and step out of your comfort zone.
- Look for growth opportunities. Take on new responsibilities at work or start a hobby.
- Don’t dwell on past failures. Learn from your mistakes and shift your mindset toward future wins.
Our self-concept is always evolving. Make the choice each day to strengthen your self-image, raise your self-esteem, and boost your self-efficacy. You have the power to become your best self. You’ve got this!
Types of self-concept
Self-concept is the individual’s knowledge of who he or she is. It is a complex and dynamic system that is influenced by a variety of factors, including personal experiences, social interactions, and cultural norms. There are many different types of self-concept, but some of the most common include
1. The Actual Self: Who You Really Are
We all have an idea of who we really are deep down—our actual selves. This self-concept is shaped by our core values, beliefs, and personalities. It’s the person we are when no one is watching.
Our life experiences
Our actual selves develop over time through our experiences, interactions, and perceptions of the world. The events we go through, the people we meet, the places we visit, the things we witness—they all combine to mold our actual selves. With each new experience, our self-concept evolves.
To know your actual self, you must cultivate self-awareness. Look inward and examine what really matters to you. What are your key priorities, values, and principles in life? How would you describe your true personality, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies? Self-awareness is challenging, but it’s the only way to gain insight into your authentic self.
Once you have awareness of your actual self, the next step is acceptance. Learn to appreciate yourself for who you are, imperfections and all. Avoid self-judgment and criticism. The more you accept yourself, the more at peace you will feel and the less you will seek validation from others. Your actual self is perfectly imperfect, so embrace it!
Knowing your actual self gives you an internal compass to guide you in life. Stay true to who you are, continue learning and improving, but never lose sight of the person at your core. Self-acceptance and authenticity are the keys to well-being and happiness. Our actual selves make us beautifully human, with our flaws included.
2. The Ideal Self: Who You Want to Be
We all have an ideal self—the person we aspire to become. This self-concept is shaped by our hopes, dreams, and ambitions. Who do you want to be? What kind of life do you hope to build? Envisioning your ideal self is the first step to achieving it.
As we go through life, it’s easy to lose sight of our ideal self. Daily stresses and routines take over, and we get caught up in what we should do instead of what we want to do. But taking time to reconnect with your ideal self can reignite your motivation and passion. Ask yourself:
- What are my core values and priorities in life? What really matters to me?
- If I could do anything I wanted, what would I choose to do? What excites or energizes me?
- What kind of relationships do I want to build? How do I want to contribute to the lives of others?
- What new skills or experiences do I want to gain to become my ideal self? What’s stopping me from pursuing them now?
Once you have a clear vision of your ideal self, take action to bring that vision to life. Start by focusing on one area or one small step you can take each day. Over time, you’ll find yourself getting closer and closer to becoming your ideal self. But remember, your ideal self is always evolving. Continue to revisit your hopes and dreams, and make sure you’re still on a path toward becoming the person you most want to be.
Together, we have the power to achieve self-actualization. Our ideal selves are within our reach, as long as we make the choice each day to pursue them. Stay focused on your vision, take action, and keep learning and growing into the person you aspire to become. You have so much amazing potential—now go after your ideal self and make it a reality!
3. The Ought Self: Who Others Expect You to Be
The “ought self” refers to the identity that others believe you should have—who they think you ought to be. This self-concept is shaped by the expectations, values, and beliefs of people around you, like parents, teachers, partners, and society in general.
We all experience pressure to conform to certain roles and behaviors. Your ought may push you to pursue a certain career path, style, or set of values to gain approval and meet other people’s standards. However, if you rely too heavily on yourself, it can lead to a lack of authenticity, resentment, anxiety, and decreased motivation.
Find the balance.
It’s important to consider the input of trusted others who care about you, but not at the expense of your true self. A balanced approach is needed.
- Evaluate the expectations placed on you and determine which are reasonable and supportive of your wellbeing. Some ought to negatively impact you, while others push you to grow in a good way.
- • Be willing to negotiate by communicating your needs, limits, and preferences to others. Explain how their expectations make you feel, and try to find common ground.
- Practice self-acceptance. Learn to validate yourself instead of constantly seeking approval. Connect with your true interests, values, and desires—your ideal self.
- Set healthy boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no at times in order to protect your autonomy and priorities. You can’t please everyone, so choose wisely where you focus your time and energy.
- Compromise when possible. Find ways to integrate reasonable selves into your ideal self-concept. Look for overlap and synergies rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive.
Our identity is multi-faceted, shaped by the complex interplay between how we see ourselves and how others see us. By gaining awareness of your own self and managing its influence, you can craft an authentic identity that honors both self-determination and social connection. Ultimately, you get to decide who you want to be.
Carl Rogers’ self-concept theory
We all have a sense of self that is shaped by our experiences, beliefs, and interactions with others. According to humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, there are three main concepts that form our self-image:
Our self-worth refers to the value and esteem we place on ourselves. Do you appreciate yourself for who you are, flaws and all? Or are you overly self-critical, always striving to meet some unrealistic expectation of who you “should” be? Recognizing your inherent worth and learning self-acceptance are keys to building confidence from the inside out.
Self-efficacy refers to your belief in your own abilities and power to influence events in your life. Do you feel capable of setting goals, overcoming obstacles through perseverance, and achieving what you set your mind to? Or do you tend to feel helpless in the face of challenges, as if you have little control over your circumstances? Developing a growth mindset and learning from your failures and setbacks can strengthen your self-efficacy over time.
Your self-concept is your mental image of yourself, including your values, strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. Is your self-view balanced and accepting? Or do you label yourself in unhelpful ways, like “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m too emotional”? The stories you tell yourself shape your reality. Challenge negative self-labels and look for examples that disprove them. Focus on developing a self-concept built on self-compassion and your best qualities.
Our self-concepts are not set in stone. By nurturing self-worth, building self-efficacy through perseverance, and cultivating a balanced self-view, we can reshape our self-image into one that honors our inherent worth and potential. This empowering self-concept becomes the foundation for living authentically and purposefully.
When Selves Collide: Self-Concept Conflicts
When our self-concepts don’t align, inner conflict can arise. As our understanding of who we are develops over time, we may find parts of our identity in opposition. Recognizing where these clashes exist is the first step to resolving them.
We all have multiple selves that make up our identity—our social self, emotional self, intellectual self, and spiritual self, to name a few. At times, the needs and desires of oneself may not match up with another. For example, your intellectual self may want to spend the weekend reading and studying, while your social self craves connection and making plans with friends. Or your emotional self feels the need to rest and recharge, but your spiritual self seeks meaningful experiences through volunteering or exercise.
When these inner conflicts surface, it’s important to evaluate each other’s needs objectively and determine the best path forward. Some options include:
- Compromise by alternating which of one’s needs are prioritized. For example, make social plans one weekend and study alone the next.
- Integrate and meet more than one need at a time. Call a friend while going for a walk together, accomplishing social interaction and exercise.
- Reflect on your underlying values and priorities to determine which aligns most with your long-term well-being and goals. While all parts of your identity are valid, some may need more attention at different points in your life.
- Accept the discomfort that comes from not fully satisfying yourself. Remind yourself that this tension is normal and that your identity is complex. Be gentle with yourself.
With practice, we can get better at navigating conflicts between ourselves. By honoring all parts of who we are, we build an integrated identity and inner peace. Our selves don’t have to collide when we make the effort to understand them.
Why Understanding Your Self-Concepts Is Important
We all have self-concepts—the views we hold about ourselves that shape our identity and influence our behavior. As social beings, understanding our self-concepts is vital to living an authentic and meaningful life.
How we see ourselves physically and our perceived attractiveness form our self-image. A positive self-image gives us confidence from the inside out, allowing us to build strong relationships and follow our passions. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to others today. Focus on your growth and celebrate your wins, big and small.
Our self-esteem refers to how much we value and respect ourselves. It develops over a lifetime of experiences and is influenced by the messages we receive from those around us. Speak to yourself with compassion. Replace negative self-talk with encouragement. You are worthy, and you matter.
Our ideal selves represent who we aspire to become—our hopes, dreams, and goals. However, we often fail to take action due to fear of failure or not feeling “enough”. Start small and be flexible. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. With time and practice, you will build momentum towards becoming your ideal self.
Knowing ourselves in these ways allows us to show up powerfully in the world. We can develop self-acceptance, set boundaries, and pursue purpose. Understanding your self-concepts is a journey, not a destination. Be gentle with yourself, and remember that you are always evolving. Growth and change are the only constants in life.
The Role of Self-Esteem in Self-Concept
Our self-esteem plays an integral role in shaping our self-concept. How we view ourselves and our abilities directly impacts how we show up in the world. When we have healthy self-esteem, we feel capable and competent in pursuing our dreams and handling life’s challenges. However, when plagued by self-doubt and negative self-talk, it can be difficult to step into our power and live authentically.
As social beings, a lot of our self-esteem is derived from our relationships and interactions with others. We internalize the messages we receive from the important people in our lives, whether positive or negative. Our self-esteem is also shaped by comparing ourselves to others, seeking validation through accomplishments, and meeting societal standards of beauty or success.
This external locus of self-esteem leads to a fragile sense of worth that is contingent on outside factors. The healthiest self-esteem comes from within. It involves accepting ourselves as we are, imperfections and all, while still striving to grow to our highest potential. Speaking to yourself with compassion and encouragement and focusing on your strengths and wins each day can help build an internal sense of validation.
Surround yourself with people who appreciate you for who you are and support your dreams. Their positivity will help strengthen your own self-belief and self-confidence from the inside out.
When our self-esteem is strong, we can clearly see our inherent worth and value. We recognize our unique talents, skills, and personalities that make us who we are. Our sense of identity feels cohesive and consistent, regardless of life’s ups and downs. Boosting your self-esteem is a journey, but by making the choice each day to be kind to yourself, you will develop an unshakeable belief in yourself that no one can take away. You are worthy, you matter, and you have so much amazing potential within you. Believe in yourself, and go show the world what you’re made of!
Developing a Healthy, Integrated Self-Concept
To develop a healthy, integrated self-concept, we must:
1. Acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses.
We all have both strengths and weaknesses, talents and shortcomings. It’s important to honestly assess ourselves to build self-awareness. Make a list of things you’re good at and things you struggle with. Focus on developing your strengths while improving your weaknesses.
2. Accept ourselves as we are.
Learn to appreciate yourself for who you are, imperfections and all. Avoid harsh self-criticism and negative self-talk. Treat yourself with the same compassion you show others. You are a unique, multi-faceted human being deserving of love.
3. Surround ourselves with people who share our values.
The company we keep greatly influences our self-concept. Spend time with people who appreciate you for who you are and share your priorities in life. Their positivity and support will help reinforce your own positive self-regard.
4. Pursue meaningful goals and interests.
Engage in activities that you find personally fulfilling and impactful. When we pursue long-held interests or work towards meaningful achievements, our self-concept strengthens. We feel a sense of purpose and personal growth.
5. Practice self-care
Make sure to schedule time for yourself to rest and recharge. Your self-concept depends on your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Engage in regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and participate in stress relief activities like yoga or meditation. You deserve to make self-care a priority.
By developing self-awareness, learning self-acceptance, surrounding ourselves with a strong support system, following our passions, and practicing good self-care, we can build an integrated self-concept based on our true self—imperfect yet perfectly whole. Our identity becomes a source of inner peace and strength.
6. Tips for Improving Your Self-Concept
We all have perceptions of ourselves that shape our identity and self-worth. Our self-concept consists of three main types: ideal, real, and ought. To improve your self-concept, here are some tips:
Focus on your strengths.
Celebrate what you’re good at and the qualities that make you uniquely you. Don’t dwell on perceived weaknesses or compare yourself to others. Know that everyone has both strengths and weaknesses.
Practice positive self-talk.
Replace negative thoughts with more constructive ones. Speak to yourself with encouragement and praise, not harsh self-criticism. Your self-talk shapes your self-image, so make it uplifting.
Stop seeking approval.
Don’t let your self-worth depend on what others think of you. Their opinions are not facts. Focus on your own values and priorities to build self-confidence from within.
Learn to appreciate yourself as you are instead of some ideal image. No one is perfect, so avoid unrealistic expectations of yourself and practice self-compassion. You are enough.
Take care of yourself.
Your physical and mental health influence your self-concept. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and engage in hobbies or activities that you find meaningful or uplifting. Taking good care of yourself will boost your confidence and mood.
Review your accomplishments.
Make a list of things you have achieved, overcome, or done well. Be proud of them! Your accomplishments prove you are capable and competent. Let them motivate you to continue developing your potential.
Improving your self-concept takes conscious effort and practice. Be patient and kind with yourself along the way. You have so much wonderfulness within you, so make the choice each day to nurture a self-concept built on self-belief, self-love, and growth. You deserve nothing less. Together, we’ve got this!
We all have the power within us to shape our self-concept and forge an identity we can be proud of. Our beliefs about ourselves are not set in stone; we have the freedom to examine them and make positive changes. It may not happen overnight, but with conscious effort, we can transform our self-concept into one built on self-compassion, optimism, and resilience.
Let’s make the choice today to be kind to ourselves. To see our worth and potential. To believe in our ability to overcome struggles and achieve our dreams. Our identity is a work in progress, so let’s get to work on progressing it. We have the power, we have the choice, and we have everything within us already to become who we want to be. The only question is, who do you want to become? Now go out there, craft your self-concept, and build your identity! The possibilities are endless.
- What Is Self-Concept in Psychology? By Cynthia Vinney
- Who Do You Want to Be, And How Do You Find Out? by Christopher Grey from Forbes
- Stop Being What Others Expect You To Be by SHELLIE R. WARREN PCC
- Personal Values: How to Know Who You Are written by MARK MANSON
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