Your sense of self often reveals your perspective of who you are your intrinsic value.
Each person holds a mental mirror within that reflects how you judge yourself and your identity, for better or worse. The image you have of yourself in your head is what psychologists call “self-concept,” or your sense of self.
Your sense of self and how you perceive your identity can influence how you view your successes, failures, and overall purpose in the world.
Possessing a strong sense of self involves looking within to gain personal insight at how you value, think, and feel about yourself.
Sense of self is how you perceive yourself as a whole. It’s how your unique identity sets you apart from others.
Also referred to as self-concept, sense of self often guides your judgement and can also influence your temperament and behavior.
This sense of identity — who and what you believe you are — is often multifaceted. It can encompass perception of your values, personality, and relationships.
You might perceive yourself differently based on roles you fill in your life, such as a parent or sibling, compared to your other roles at work and in your personal life. And yet, you are still the same person.
‘Strong’ sense of self
Accepting yourself for who you are can be an important element for building a strong sense of self. Understanding that no perfect human being exists and that everyone makes mistakes at times can also strengthen your sense of self.
A strong sense of self — the extent to which a person may enjoy a clear and coherent sense of self — is sometimes called “self-concept clarity.”
For example, people who have have faith in their self-worth are often less likely to fall apart when criticized. Or, you might be more comfortable taking a risk because you have more confidence in your ability to bounce back when things don’t work out.
‘Poor’ sense of self
People who don’t possess a strong sense of self might have a “loud” or persistent inner critic — a nagging voice inside your head that can tear down your confidence and leave you feeling hopeless.
Signs that your sense of self might need a boost include:
- difficulty making decisions
- people-pleasing behaviors
- feeling “directionless”
- constant self-criticism
Authenticity and a strong sense of self
Striving to be authentic can lead you to a stronger sense of self. Researchers regard authenticity as the most fundamental aspect of well-being and the essence of healthy functioning.
Jill Osborne, a licensed counselor from Georgia, says part of living your authentic self is being honest with yourself and others about who you are, both with your strengths and short comings.
Authenticity can also mean being open to change if necessary, she says.
If you take the time to think about your beliefs and are willing to take a stand on something that is important to you, then it’s likely that you have a strong sense of self.
Research from 2014 indicates a coherent sense of identity may be associated with a person’s self-esteem and sense of purpose.
A strong sense of self can allow you to trust your abilities and judgement, as well as maintain self-confidence to set goals and accomplish them.
Effects of low sense of self
On the other hand, some research indicates that being unclear about your self-concept may be connected to:
- low self-esteem
- chronic self-analysis
- high neuroticism
Such uncertainty could spark negative or unhelpful thinking that can harm your mental health over time.
For example, your sense of self could deteriorate or weaken if you repeatedly say things like:
- “I’m not good enough”
- “I’m stupid”
- “I look ugly”
- “nobody likes me”
Strong personal belief in your value and what you have to offer is a key factor in developing or maintaining a strong sense of self.
Growing up in a stable household with supportive parents or caregivers can often be the “seed of self-worth” that continues to grow with you as you become an adult, notes Osborne.
People who have a poor vision of themselves may have experienced abuse or trauma. Osborne says she reminds her clients that bad things that happened to you in the past don’t have to take over and define how you view yourself or live your life today.
Your internal dialogue and inner critic can reveal important clues to what you like or dislike about yourself, guiding you to consider traits you might want to improve and illuminating others that may deserve to be celebrated.
Here are some things to consider on developing and strengthening your sense of self.
“Anything you can do to nurture the positive side of yourself can help,” notes Osborne.
If you feel disconnected to your true self, consider how you spend your free time and whether your activities send messages that support and build confidence.
Surround yourself with support
Surrounding yourself with supportive people can help you see the best in yourself, which can strengthen your sense of self.
Turning to faith or spirituality can also be beneficial for developing sense of self.
Osborne, who relies on her faith for strength, says that having a spiritual path — or “something bigger than yourself” — can help ground you and offer support when times are tough.
Heal past wounds
Addressing emotional wounds and healing from past traumas can be helpful in improving your sense of self, Osborne explains.
Seeking therapy is one way to address a low sense of self. A therapist or counselor can help you identify possible causes for lacking confidence or disconnection with yourself. They can also teach you important coping skills and strategies for building confidence.
Your sense of self — how you perceive your value — may be connected to your self-esteem and feeling like you understand your “purpose” in life.
When you don’t have a strong sense of self, you might feel directionless or overly critical of yourself.
A strong sense of self may be connected to your belief in yourself, or rooted in your upbringing. People who lack a strong sense of self may have experienced adverse or traumatic events.
Understanding the totality of who you are can foster a deep appreciation of your sense of self. Embracing the positive aspects of your personality bolsters your self-esteem and can support you in living an authentic life.
Consider the following to help cultivate a strong sense of self:
- Take time to analyze what your thoughts say about the type of person you are. Do you think of yourself as someone who is smart, funny, kind, and competent?
- Try to believe in who you are and the person you can become. Thinking of yourself as a “work in progress” can help lower the volume on your inner critic.
- Exercise your mental muscle of self-awareness. Regular examination of how you think and feel about yourself can foster greater insight and appreciation of your sense of self.
Therapy can also help you sort out any negative feelings about yourself. If you’re ready to get help but don’t know where to begin, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.