In psychology, the concept of self (or self-concept) is an individual’s experience as a single, unitary, autonomous being separated from others. Individuals experience these through time and space with continuity. The concept of self-identity refers to an individual’s self-conception, self-referent cognitions, or self-definition that individuals apply to themselves in response to their position in a structural societal role or a specific behaviour they engage in daily.
A simple way of explaining an individual’s self-concept (sometimes also referred to as self-construction) is a collection of their beliefs about themselves. The self-concept can be explained as an interaction between self-knowledge, self-esteem and the will to form a social self. It includes the past, present and future selves of an individual. The past selves are generally associated with negative opinions of themselves, whereas the current or present selves are considered better versions of their past selves. The future selves are an idea (or rather a hope) of the possibility of their future selves being better than their present selves.
Components of the Concept of Self – Carl Rogers
One of the founders of human psychology – Carl Rogers, believed that individuals must be completely true to themselves and their feelings. As a result, he suggested three components of the self-concept to facilitate self-discovery and self-acceptance. Those three components encompassing the concept of self and self-identity are as follows:
- Self-image: Self-image refers to how individuals currently perceive (or view) themselves. According to Kuhn, two major characteristics besides physical attributes affect an individual’s self-image. They are social roles and personality traits.
- Social role: It is the external or objective aspect of the role of an individual in society as a son or daughter, father or mother, friend, mentor, student, etc.
- Personality traits: These are an individual’s internal or affective aspects such as impatience, humour, etc.
- Self-esteem: The extent to which individuals like, accept and value themselves all contribute to the concept of self and self-identity via self-esteem. It can also be termed as self-worth. It is the self-evaluation of an individual based on how others view them, how one thinks they compare to others and their role in society.
- Ideal self: The ideal self of an individual is the person they want themselves to be, or at least be portrayed as. An individual’s ideal self is not necessarily consistent with what one experiences in real-time.
Congruence and Incongruence in the Concept of Self
Self-concept is not always consistent with reality. There is often a mismatch between one’s self-concept (or rather self-image) and reality. When one’s self-concept matches with reality, it is congruent, and the property is called congruence. When there’s a discrepancy between an individual’s self-image and their ideal self, it is considered incongruent, and the property is called incongruence. According to Rogers, an individual must be in a state of unity to achieve self-actualisation.
History and Development of the Concept of Self
Psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow played a major role in popularising the idea of self-concept in the west. They theorised that all individuals strive to achieve their ideal selves. It generally arises in individuals stemming from their childhood experiences and the environment they grew up in. Growing up in an environment where they are continuously compared to others, told to be better, exposed to lack of empathy and subjected to societal pressure and expectations leads them to experience incongruence later.
Lewis suggested two aspects involved in developing the concept of self:
- Existential self: The part where an individual realises that they exist as a single, unitary and autonomous being separated and distinct from others. They develop a sense of awareness of the constancy of the self.
- Categorical self: Once they realise that they exist as separate beings, they become aware that they are also objects in the world and can be categorised.
Carl Rogers suggested that there are three elements to an individual’s self-concept:
- The way they view themselves
- How much they value themselves
- What they want themselves to be
The Multidimensional Concept of Self
Psychologist Bruce A. Bracken theorised the multidimensional self-concept of six independent characteristics:
- Academic: The success or failure one experiences in academia
- Affect: One’s awareness of their emotional state
- Competence: One’s ability to meet basic needs
- Family: How well one works in their family unit
- Physical: How one feels about their physical aspects like looks and health
- Social: An individual’s ability to interact with others and establish their presence in society
The Concept of Self-Help Groups
The concept of a self-help group arises from forming informal groups of people (generally referred to as a community) who come together to address common problems related to self-concept. While self-help implies focusing on a single individual, the concept of a self-help group revolves around the idea of people mutually supporting or helping each other. Self-help groups can help different people accordingly by catering to their needs and situation. E.g., self-help groups within the development sector and disability sector.
An individual’s concept of self and self-identity majorly affects their sense of individuality and how they are as a person. Self-concept is not always consistent with reality. There is often a mismatch between one’s self-concept (or rather self-image) and reality. According to Rogers’, an individual must be in a state of unity to achieve self-actualisation. They theorised that all individuals strive to achieve their ideal selves. It generally arises in individuals stemming from their childhood experiences and the environment they grew up in. Growing up in an environment where they are continuously compared to others, told to be better, exposed to lack of empathy and subjected to societal pressure and expectations leads them to experience incongruence later.