Self Concept And Self Esteem

Everything we think about ourselves, including all of our learned beliefs and opinions about who we are, constitutes our self-concept. By definition, self-concept is the sum-total of our understanding and knowledge about our existence.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, is what we feel about our self-concept. Do we find our ideas about ourselves to be favorable or unfavorable? If we are happy with how we see ourselves, we have high self-esteem; if what we think about ourselves makes us unhappy, the result is low self-esteem.

Types of Self-Concept

Self-concept is developed in multiple areas of our lives:

  • Academic: This refers to how well we do in school and in learning life lessons.
  • Physical: This relates not only to what we look like but also to our clothing, home, car and anything else that constitutes the appearance-level aspects of our existence.
  • Social: This refers to how well we relate to others.
  • Transpersonal: This is the relationship we have to the supernatural or unknown.

Low Self-Esteem

Self-concept relies on our expectations for ourselves. When we perform better than we expected ourselves to in any given area, it builds our self-esteem and, in turn, solidifies a more positive self-concept.

This may also mean that people with low self-esteem are less likely to succeed, since they aren’t willing to try to achieve things beyond their own expectations. When people increase their expectations for themselves, they’ll be driven to achieve more and push themselves toward their goals.

Success and failure both influence self-concept and self-esteem. This is especially true when it comes to areas in life that we hold as particularly important.

People with Good Self-Esteem

People with good self-esteem generally have a more optimistic view of the world and expect good things to happen. By contrast, those with low self-esteem often see the world as a more malevolent place and expect bad things to happen. People with good self-esteem have also learned how to minimize negative self-talk in their own minds and are better able to filter and manage negative input when it comes to them from other people.

Since self-concept is formed over time, a person’s self concept and, therefore, a person’s self-esteem can always be improved. Building strong self-concept comes from positive relationships with other people. When a child grows up experiencing healthy relationships with parents and other adults, he or she is more likely to possess good self-esteem.

Self-Concept and Incongruence

People often see themselves very differently from how others see them. Similarly, the clarity of a person’s self-concept often changes over time. Any parent can observe this change firsthand in their teenage children.

In the 1940s, Carl Rogers strongly influenced the study of self-concept with his writings and therapeutic practices. Rogers proposed that our self-concept profoundly affects how we regard both ourselves and our environment.

Emotionally healthy people have a self-concept that’s consistent with their thoughts, behaviors and experiences. On the other hand, people with poor self-images may develop a self-concept based on what they should be, rather than what they actually are. Rogers called this gap between a person’s self-concept and his actual experiences incongruence, a source of both anxiety and mental disorders.

Building a Strong and Flexible Self-Concept

A self-concept that’s too rigid can create emotional problems. Many people resist change and engage in self-limiting behaviors because they possess inaccurate views of themselves and their own capabilities.

A strong self-concept must be flexible, allowing each person to assimilate new experiences, ideas and knowledge without feeling threatened.

Change takes time, and a person’s self-concept certainly won’t change overnight. But, with patience and hard work, it’s very possible to build a positive self-concept and improve self-esteem, leading to a more confident, self-actualized life.