How people perceive you defines you in their eyes, but how you perceive yourself — something known as self-concept — may define your persona and how you develop.
What makes you “you” has a lot to do with how you see yourself. If you consider yourself to be a kind person, for example, that can become a key component of your personal identity.
“I’m kind” is something you believe about yourself. It’s a part of your self-concept.
Self-concept is what you believe defines you as a person. It answers the question: “Who am I?”
In psychology, many theories on self-concept exist, but most of them parallel the notion that self-concept is a critical component of identity development.
Self-concept involves everything about you, from your moral stance and everyday behaviors to your recreational talents and political beliefs.
According to research published in 2020 that discusses the self-concept theory proposed by William D. Brooks and Philip Emmert in 1976, your self-concept may be primarily positive or negative and predisposes you to certain thoughts or behaviors.
Positive self-concept examples
- believe you can make a difference
- feel on par with others
- receive compliments without shame
- understand everyone has certain feelings or behaviors that may not be fully socially acceptable
- have a willingness and readiness to work on yourself and resolve unhelpful behaviors
Negative self-concept examples
- be sensitive to criticism
- be over-responsive to praise
- feel disliked by others
- assume everyone views themselves in the negative
- tend to be hypocritical
- offer extreme negative criticism toward others
- encounter social interaction challenges and barriers
- be reluctant to interact with others
The world of psychology is vast, and identity development has been a point of interest for decades.
As such, many theories on self-concept exist, some independently of others and some building off earlier works.
One of the most widely accepted frameworks of self-concept was developed by psychologist Carl Rogers, who believed self-concept could be broken down into three primary components.
What are the 3 parts of self-concept?
According to Rogers, the three core parts of self-concept are:
- Ideal self: your vision and ambitions of who you want to be
- Real self (self-image): how you currently see and perceive yourself
- Self-esteem: how much worth and value you believe you have
Rogers believed how your ideal self and real self aligned was important to the development of your self-esteem.
If your ideal self did not match the reality of your real self, he suggested your self-concept was “incongruent,” and your self-esteem was likely to be negatively affected.
Real selves matching ideal selves was labeled as “congruent” and associated with positive self-esteem.
What are the four concepts of the self?
Within the framework for self-concept are coexisting theories, such as that of self-presentation, which suggests your self-concept influences how behavior can be a way to show others who you are.
In self-presentation theory, four concepts of the self exist:
- Public self: your view of yourself as defined by other people’s public knowledge of you
- Self-concept: who you believe you are
- Actual or behavioral self: the self created by your actions and habits
- Ideal self: the self you aspire to be
In the 1980s and 1990s, John Turner, a social psychologist, proposed another self-concept principle known as self-categorization.
In his works, Turner felt two different levels of self-categorization existed:
- Personal: your sense of self as an individual
- Social: your sense of self as defined by the group you feel you belong to
Turner suggested self-concept was a combination of personal and social identities, and that people could define themselves on multiple levels based on their intrapersonal comparisons.
For example, as an individual, you may identify yourself as a strong athlete. However, as a member of a team, you may feel less confident as a performer if the team doesn’t do well.
Social identity concept vs. self-categorization concept
Social identity concept, pioneered by Henri Tajfel, a social psychologist, also investigates personal and social self-concept.
Unlike self-categorization, which involves self-placement in a group to which you feel you belong, social identity theory suggests you find meaning and consider it important to be a part of a specific group.
Self-categorization example: I’m Irish because I was born and live in Ireland.
Social identity example: I’m a member of my political party because I believe in what they stand for.
The looking glass self-concept
In 1902, Charles Cooley, a sociologist, introduced what was known as the looking glass theory, an extension of self-concept that suggested your sense of self was directly influenced by the perception of those around you.
For example, if you notice everyone laughs when you make a comment, you may start to define yourself as “funny.”
Sense of self can be an important part of maintaining your mental well-being.
Even if you feel as though you have a robust self-concept, there are resources available that can help you explore what self-concept really means to you.
The following resources may help guide you in self-concept development: