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What is Self-concept: Theory, Examples & How To Form It

Self concept revolves around how we view ourselves. This involves what you think of your behavior, characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. A person’s self image or self concept can be either positive or negative.

For instance, ideas like “I am a critical thinker” contribute to a positive self concept, while notions such as “I am bad at communicating with others” are part of a negative self concept. There are a plethora of major factors that contribute to someone’s image and outlook on themselves.

Sometimes, individuals hold contradictory beliefs about themselves. This decreases the amount of self-concept clarity someone has. An individual’s self-concept has an immense impact on you career and relationships.

In this article, we will cover the basics of the self-concept theory and how it impacts your life.

What is Self-concept Theory, Examples & How Does it Form

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What is Self-concept? Theory and Definition

Roy BaumisterThe field of social psychology provides a clear definition of the self-concept theory. Self-concept theory encapsulates the entire individual’s outlook on themselves – including the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual elements that make up their personalities.

Absolute self-concept maintenance is unusual. In fact, an individual’s self-concept concept usually changes throughout the course of their life. This is directly tied to learning more about yourself. There may be some self-concept differentiation between different elements of your personality.

For instance, you may view yourself differently physically as opposed to emotionally. Key academics such as Roy Baumeister believe that self-concept also involves the individual’s beliefs about who they are and the meaning of ‘self.’ Another specialist, Marshal Rosenberg, puts an emphasis on the individual’s feelings toward themselves.

What is Self-concept in Psychology Theory Definition & Meaning

Why Self-concept is Important & List of 10 Benefits

Self concept reveals your thoughts about yourself and how you believe you fit into society. Virtually everyone wishes to understand their strengths, beliefs, and role in  the world. Understanding your self concept can help you learn more about yourself and help you feel a sense of belonging.

In fact, self concept is the basis of your identity. It gives you insights into your underlying thoughts and feelings which can otherwise be difficult to understand.

Other benefits of exploring your self concept include:

List of 10 Self-concept Benefits

  1. Feeling more secure and worthwhile.
  2. Understanding your role in society and in your community.
  3. Gain an understanding of your underlying thoughts and emotions.
  4. Better comprehend the motivation behind your decisions.
  5. Notice your negative beliefs and reframe them into more positive ones.
  6. Evaluate whether your goals align with your perceived desires and strengths.
  7. Build a stronger self worth after recognizing gaps in your self image.
  8. Overcome the desire to seek others’ approval.
  9. Gain a collection of beliefs that are more positive and motivating than your current beliefs.
  10. Appreciate your personal growth from the time you were a child to now.

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Types of Self-concept and Main Differences By Human Psychologist Carl Rogers

There are a plethora of different terms that often get confused with the idea of self-concept. Before you understand your inner ideas about yourself, you should gain an insight into the differences between self-concept and other similar ideas and outlooks on your abilities.

Researcher Carl Roger has focused his career around finding the differences between the different ideas that make up self-concept. He believes that the ideal self, self-esteem, and self-concept are all elements of the self-concept.

The key elements of self-concept as described by Carl Rogers include:

Self-concept Vs. Self-esteem

While these two terms seem almost identical, they do possess some key differences. For instance, self-esteem is a part of self-concept, not the same idea. Self-concept, on the other hand, covers the individual’s attitudes and beliefs toward themselves.

Self-concept covers far more than just one’s confidence. It also involves their thoughts on their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, hobbies, addictions, and so on. Self-esteem is only part of this overreaching idea.

Types of Self-concept and Main Differences By Human Psychologist Carl Rogers

Self-concept Vs. Self-image

Once again, these two ideas are interrelated but not the same. The latter is broader. While self-concept is grounded in reality, self-image does not have to be. Self-image is simply the way someone sees themself, whether or not it is accurate.

Self-concept is also a more detailed and comprehensive overview of one’s overall attitudes and thoughts on themselves. It includes their thoughts, feelings, and values related to how they see themselves. Dr. Roger believes self-image is another element of self-concept.

Self-concept Vs. Ideal-self

People’s ideal self does not always align with who they currently are. If there is a mismatch between your ideal self and self-image, one may value themselves less. This ties into self-concept and the individual’s feelings toward their abilities and strengths.

They may inaccurately evaluate their abilities in their self-concept and maintain a distorted self-image as a result of the mismatch between the ideal and actual self. Self-concept does not deal with the individual’s ideals, but rather, how they feel about themselves in the current moment.

Self-concept Vs. Self-awareness

Another factor that influences self-concept is self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability that involves accurate measurement and understanding of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, abilities, character traits, and behaviors. To have an accurately developed self-concept, one which is grounded in reality, you must be self-aware.

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Positive Self-concept Vs. Negative Self-concept

People rarely have a fully negative or positive outlook on themselves. They may view themselves positively at certain times, but negatively at other times. For example, one may believe they are skilled at communicating but incapable of thinking quickly.

Positive self-concepts are likely to influence your career and relationship in a positive manner. It also leads to more emotional stability. Examples of the different kinds of self-concept include:

Positive Self-concept: List of 10 Examples

  1. One views themselves as an intelligent person.
  2. Viewing oneself as a vital member of the community or a team at work.
  3. Envisioning yourself as a good spouse, friend, or coworker.
  4. Seeing yourself as a kind and caring person.
  5. Having the belief that you are hard-working and persistent.
  6. Believing you play an active role in your company’s success.
  7. Understanding that you have unique abilities.
  8. Self-confidence in your ability to meet goals.
  9. Recognizing you have the ability to take criticism well and grow as a result.
  10. Willingness to let yourself be you and experiment with your strengths.
Positive Self-concept Vs. Negative Self-concept

Negative Self-concept: List of 10 Examples

  1. One view themselves as stupid and incapable of learning.
  2. Viewing yourself as a burden to your loved ones, community, or team.
  3. Believing you have failed to be a supportive spouse, friend, or coworker.
  4. Seeing yourself as a rude and socially inept person.
  5. Having the belief that you are lazy and give up easily.
  6. Believing you have no impact on your team’s success.
  7. Thinking you have little to no talents.
  8. Immediately having the belief that you cannot meet your goals or achieve your dreams.
  9. Taking criticism as personal attacks.
  10. Constantly denying yourself the ability to recognize your talent.

How to Change Negative Self-Concept Into Positive Self-Concept

Changing your self-concept requires a transformation of thought, which can be daunting to some. However, there are multiple methods you can use to identify the root causes of your negative self-talk, address them, and turn your self-concept into a more positive outlook.

Enjoy the activities that you are passionate about, as this will help you explore your strengths. It can help you realize that you are good at certain tasks and you have unique skills. Also, find and address any of your limiting beliefs.

These notions are fueling your self-doubt, negativity, and a distorted self-image. Comparing yourself to others is a common root of limiting beliefs. Realize that there are virtually no benefits to such comparisons.

In fact, the only force you to dwell on your imperfections rather than realizing your positive qualities and encouraging self-development. Reverse self-talk into positive self-reflection. Whenever you feel the need to criticize yourself, turn this into an opportunity to reflect upon your strengths.

Learning about your strengths can also help you set goals and view yourself in a more accurate manner. While identifying strengths is difficult if you attempt it alone, this does not have to be the case.

You can use an objective and accurate test, such as the HIGH5 Strengths Assessment, to do the work for you. After taking this test, you will gain a  clear insight into your abilities and strengths. Thus, you can no longer deny your positive qualities.

Use the strengths that the test provides you with as replacements for your negative self-talk (reaffirm your strengths instead of repeating your weaknesses). Soon, your negative thoughts will be replaced by a more accurate and positive outlook on yourself.

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The Development Stages of Self-Concept

Your self-concept is constantly growing and changing as you get older and experience new events as well as gain additional insights into yourself. The largest shifts in self-concept, however, occur during childhood. This is the time that we learn the most about ourselves and the world around us.

The Formation of Self-Concept During Early Childhood

During the first two years of life, babies and infants need consistent parental support to develop a positive outlook toward themselves and the world around d them. They develop preferences based on what they know about themselves and thrive best with reasonable limits from their trusted parents.

Once toddlers get basic language skills, they further understand the concept of “myself.” As the children grow older, they slowly differentiate themselves from others around them. A child’s self-image is usually detailed, but not judgemental or based on prejudice.

They become more and more curious about their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Kids only start to understand the idea of larger groups (‘us’ in instances like family units) at the ages of 5-6. They start to think of others’ needs, not just their own. In kindergarten, these children begin to communicate their desires and thoughts more clearly.

The Development Stages of Self-Concept

Self-Concept in Middle Childhood

Middle childhood encapsulates the ages of 7-11. At this age, the children or preteens begin to see themselves as members of groups. They may seek to understand how they fit into these groups and what sets them apart from others.

Environmental factors, like the beliefs of others about the individual, begin to matter to this age group. They may become self-conscious if they do not meet the group’s idea of ‘normal.’ Social interaction also becomes more often and often fuels problems with self-esteem in adolescents and preteens.

People in this age group tend to see themselves in more black and white terms. They develop a clearer idea of self, describe themselves using their traits and strengths as opposed to isolated behaviors, and focus on their traits as opposed to others.

The Development of Self-Concept in Adolescence

During adolescence, self-concept is rapidly developing. Lots of experimentation with the idea of self occurs during the ages of 12-18. Comparison is extremely common, whether that be noticing gender differences or cross-cultural differences.

The basic views an adolescent has about themselves could last them their entire life. Self-criticism and low self-esteem are especially common during this time period. People are more likely to follow the crowd and put others’ beliefs above their own.

Overvaluing others’ opinions is another element of self-concept development at this time. This emphasis on others’ ideas may come from competitive events or greater freedom in speaking to more people. The two most important factors that develop an adolescent’s self-worth are their academic success (or success in any field they desire it) as well as approval from individuals they value.

The Development Stage of Self-Concept

Self-concept in Adulthood

When someone reaches adulthood, their self-concept is usually relatively well built. They already have the basic attitudes about their skills, behaviors, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. These are carried from their adolescent years.

However, one element of self-concept has been proven to change in adults. This element is self-esteem. Usually, it increases up until the age of 50-60, and then rapidly declines from then. Other factors, such as relationships and achieving success in one’s career, also form an individual’s overall outlook on themselves.

Similar to adolescents, adults may seek approval from others. Usually, this comes in the form of seeking approval from bosses or coworkers.

Self-concept in Older Adults

The ideal basis for self-concept in older adults is based on one’s own desires and experiences. Unfortunately, a number of societal and personal factors could force even older adults to seek approval from coworkers, friends, or family members.

The rapid aging and grappling with one’s own mortality further intensify the commonly negative shift in self-concept which usually occurs in older adults. New stressors may arise as one gets older, such as health issues or retirement problems. All of this can lead to individuals questioning their worth or competence, which is damaging to their outlook on themselves.

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How to Measure Self-concept + List of 5 Tools

Measuring self-concept on your own can be a daunting task. Even if you do find a method, self-reporting bias can make the results inaccurate. You may inaccurately evaluate your strengths or weaknesses, for instance.

This is why using accurate and objective tools is so crucial for this task. Consider performing some research in the best available tools for measuring self-concept. Note how the tool was developed, how the developer defines self-concept, and the way it measures your self-concept. Then, choose the tool that best aligns with your idea of self-concept (the one you deem to be most accurate).

Some common tools include:

  1. The Robson Self-Concept Questionnaire
  2. The Social Self-Concept Questionnaire
  3. The Academic Self-Concept Questionnaire
  4. The Saraswat Self-Concept Questionnaire
  5. The Harrill Self Esteem Inventory
How to Measure Self-concept + List of 5 Tools

How to Improve Self-Concept

There are a number of strategies you can use to improve your self-concept. Affirmations are one such technique. To use this strategy, simply tell yourself a few of your positive characteristics daily. Try writing down all your positive traits and looking at them each morning.

This technique will help you realize that you do have some talents and skills. If you struggle with coming up with these strengths, ask a trusted friend to help you. They will likely tell you your best qualities from their perspective.

Sometimes, expectations can wreak havoc on your self-concept. In a social context, this could look like you are expecting to be as popular or well-liked as someone else. Realize that there are a variety of social roles out there.

You should stop comparing yourself to others and avoid setting unrealistic expectations. Instead, set goals that are achievable but challenging. They should be based on your desires and values, not someone else’s. Also, stop basing yourself on arbitrary items.

You are more than the value of your house, your workplace position, salary, or any other characteristic. Self-worth and self-image are key aspects of self-concept. Therefore, accurately evaluating yourself based on reality and appreciating yourself can both help you maintain a positive, healthy self-concept.

Self-Concept Activities Examples –  For Toddlers & Kids

Childhood is an extremely important time for the development of an individual’s self-concept. Self-exploration and avoiding comparison are both ways to help toddlers and kids develop a positive outlook on themselves. As a parent, you should guide them to continue developing the right self-image.

Some potential activities that help kids and toddlers maintain a positive self-concept include:

  • Exploring the child’s interests alongside them.
  • Speaking to them about their favorite subject and why they enjoy it.
  • Creating SMART goals together based on their desires, strengths, and goals.
  • Having the child learn about their impact on their community through volunteering.
  • Praising a child’s effort, not just the outcome of the effort.
  • Explaining the dangers of comparison.
  • Giving kids a chance to weigh in on decisions that impact them.
  • Using a self-esteem journal.
  • Giving the child some autonomy by allowing them to partake in chores or packing for a trip.
How to Improve Self-Concept

Self-concept Activities Examples –  For High Schools Students & College Students

Self-concept plays a key role in a student’s success, whether that be in high school, college, or beyond. Teens may neglect to evaluate their self-concept because they do not realize the benefits of doing so. Thus, the parents or educators are partially responsible for fostering positive self-concept in their children.

The best activities to encourage the development of the positive self-concept in teens and young adults include:

  • Creating a college about who the student is and who they wish to become.
  • Having a discussion about who the individual is and who they are not using “I am” or “I am not” statements.
  • Students introduce themselves to new potential friends or team members using an introductory poem about their interests and strengths.
  • Outlining a career plan that focuses on the student’s goals for themselves.
  • Evaluate how well the student has achieved their prior goals.
  • Students give anonymous compliments to each other on postcards.
  • Discussing the effects of comparison and the use of “put-downs.”
  • Creating a list of negative phrases that are off-limits when speaking about yourself or others.

Self-concept – 7 Inspiring Quotes

Being that self-concept has become a well-researched theory, more and more individuals comment on its importance. Many celebrities and researchers agree that self-concept plays a key role in success and long-term happiness.

Some inspiring and insightful quotes that reveal the importance of developing a positive self-concept include:

  1. “The greatest barrier to achievement and success is not lack of talent or ability but rather the feeling that achievement and success, above a certain level, are outside our self-concept-our image of who we are and what is appropriate to us.” – Nathaniel Branden
  2. “It is that the individual has within him or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering the self-concept basic attitudes, and his or her self-directed behavior – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.” – Carl Rogers
  3. “Imagination builds the image of the self, and thought then functions within its shadows. From this self-concept grows the conflict between what is and what should be, the conflict in duality.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
  4. “One of the main jobs of conciousness is to keep our life tied together into a coherent story, a self-concept. It does this by generating explanations of behaviors on the basis of our self image, images, memories of the past, expectations of the future, the present social situation, and the physical environment in which behavior is produced.” – Joseph E. LeDoux
  5. “How anybody dresses is indicative of his self-concept. If students are dirty and ragged, it indicates they are not interested in tidying up their intellects either.” – S. I. Hayakawa
  6. “How can you develop a self-concept linked to your untapped potential? First, you can decide on the kind of life you would like to lead in ten or fifteen years. This will give you a standard for making decisions about current activities and will reduce the inclination to compare yourself unfavorably to others. Learn to ask, “How would I handle this situation were I the person I hope to become?” And then take action in line with your vision.” – Ari Kiev
  7. “Look to see what you are doing today. Is this how you choose to define yourself? Look to see what you are thinking today. Is this what you wish to create?” – Neale Donald Walsch

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Frequently Asked Questions About Self-concept

What do you mean by self-concept?

Self-concept refers to the individual’s overall thoughts and feelings about who they are and how they fit into society. This includes their outlook on the spiritual, physical, social, and emotional elements of their personality.

It also involves their attitudes about their strengths, weaknesses, goals, desires, and behavior. Self-concept changes throughout life and can also be different depending on which element of one’s personality someone is evaluating.

What are the 3 parts of self-concept?

Scientists and researchers each define self-concept in a slightly different manner. However, one common definition by psychologist Carl Rogers involves three parts: self-image, self-esteem, and the ideal self.

Self-image refers to how an individual sees themselves, regardless of if these ideas are based in reality. Self-esteem is one’s confidence in their strengths and abilities. Finally, the ideal self focuses on what the individual wishes they would be or the ideal version of themselves.

What is another term for self-concept?

Many terms are often used interchangeably with self-concept. The most accurate synonyms for self-concept would be self-construction, self-identity, self-structure, or self-beliefs. However, some people confuse different terms with self-concept.

Remember that there are key differences between self-image, self-esteem, and the ideal self when compared to self-concept. The latter 3 terms are all part of self-concept but are far more specific than one’s general view/attitude toward themselves.

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