Self-concept: what is it and how is it formed?

In psychology, we work with ideas and concepts that can often be confusing.

the self concepts, For example, is one of the most widely used theoretical constructs, but that doesn’t mean that everyone understands what we are talking about when we use this term. Its meaning is not as intuitive as that of the word self-esteem, and in turn, it is not always easy to understand what it is if we ignore certain assumptions upon which current psychology operates.

Therefore … What exactly is the concept of self? Throughout this article, we will see what the characteristics of this psychological phenomenon are, what implications it has for mental health, and why it is important to dedicate resources to keep it in good condition.

Self-concept: a quick definition

The concept of self is the image we created of ourselves. Not just a visual image, of course; rather, it is the set of ideas that, in our opinion, defines us, at the conscious and unconscious level. This includes a virtually endless number of concepts that could be included in this “picture” of ourselves, for each idea can harbor many more, creating systems of categories that are within each other.

So it could be a component of our self-concept, our idea of ​​what shyness is, but also a rough idea of ​​our intelligence. There are many elements that can be part of this self-image, and the concept of self is used to encompass under a label.

So, if we assume that a person’s mind is made up of a partially overlapping web of concepts, for example, “rose” somewhat overlaps “plant” and “red”. If we imagine the flowers of this color), the self-concept is the point where different ideas and beliefs overlap at the same point, making from this combination the concept of “I” is born, something that is present in animals with the ability to create and interpret abstract concepts.

In short, the concept of self is the set of characteristics (aesthetic, physical, affective, etc.) which serve to define the image of the “I”.

Some keys to understanding what self-concept is

Here are some explanations to qualify the meaning of the term self-concept; some of its main features.

1. It is relatively stable

It makes sense to speak of the existence of the concept of self precisely because it is possible to find guidelines and characteristics of each person which tend to be always there. If the concept of self completely changed every second, it wouldn’t exist.

This is the reason why many psychologists devote part of their efforts to finding out what defines people’s self-concept. This can be used to solve clinical psychology problems, but also, for example, to build profiles of populations or consumers.

On the other hand, self-concept can change over time, but not abruptly, and always following rather quirky and smooth trends. It can also change through psychotherapy, in which tools such as cognitive restructuring help change beliefs about oneself.

2. Self-concept can change

Always buy to stay relatively the same over time the self-concept is by no means a static thing. It is constantly changing, as are our experiences and the course of our ever-changing thoughts. However, the fact that the concept of self does not always stay the same does not mean that every idea of ​​ourselves fits into it.

It is clear that something that we consider to be completely foreign to the way we are or behave can, over time, become part of the set of things that we consider to define us. However, this does not change the fact that at first this idea or quality was not part of our self-concept, and only with time could it be included in it.

We find many examples of this variability in self-concept among adolescents. Adolescence is a stage in which the way we understand reality, feel and interact with others abruptly changes. And these “jolts” occur, of course, also in the way these young people see themselves. It is quite normal to see how teens completely let go of an aesthetic and a value system that soon becomes part of their self-concept..

3. Self-concept has fuzzy boundaries

self concept is a theoretical construct that psychologists work with, not something that can be isolated in a lab. This means that where the concept of self is embodied, there are other elements as well: an emotional tinge and self-esteem, the influences of ideas associated with each other, the influence of culture on the way we see ourselves, etc.

Thus, the difference between self-concept and self-esteem, or between self-concept and other concepts (i.e. those which do not refer to self, but to others or to the rest of the world) is basically a limit set by psychologists and which serves to better understand the functioning of mental processes.

4. The distance between ideas is relative

This is something that follows from the previous point. normally people don’t understand that all these ideas that are included in our self-concept also define usIn the same way that there are certain elements which lie on the border between what defines us and what does not define us. That is why everything we talk about when we talk about self-concept is relative. We always appreciate the extent to which we are defined by something when comparing it to another element.

For example, we may not be big fans of a sportswear brand, but when we think of another type of clothing that we perceive as totally alien (for example, a folk costume from an isolated island ), we consider this brand to be quite close to the set of ideas that populate our self-concept.

5. There is a difference between self-concept and self-esteem

Although the two ideas are similar, self-concept is not the same as self-esteem. The first only serves to describe us, while self-esteem is the concept that refers to how we value ourselves. In other words, self-concept is used to refer to the cognitive side of how we see ourselves, while self-esteem has its raison d’être in the emotional and evaluative component against which we judge ourselves. However, the two theoretical constructions refer to something subjective and private.

In addition, the term “self-concept” is often used and it includes both self-concept and self-esteem. however, for the avoidance of doubt, it is advisable to use these terms separately.

6. It is related to self-awareness

There is a concept of self because we are aware that we exist as an entity differentiated from others. That is why, By the time we begin to perceive the presence of things that are foreign to us, a form of self-concept is already being born, rudimentary as it is.. It is a dialectic in which one concept gives birth to the other.

7. It is sensitive to the environment

The term self-concept can lead us to the error that it is a mental phenomenon that appears without more in people, and the only relation with the environment is from within: it affects the way in which we behave and act by modifying the environment, but is not affected from the outside. It is a mistake.

Self-concept is a dynamic process, caused by a mixture of interactions between genes and the environment. It is therefore not isolated among people, but our experiences and our habits make it evolve. This is why the concept of self is closely related to our social life, and it is through language, a phenomenon arising from the community, that we can arrive at an idea of ​​the “I”.

Why is it?

self concept it allows us to make inferences about anything that has to do with how we behave and the way others behave towards us. If, for example, we think that we are not good at football and we assume that our teammates appreciate this negatively, we will tend to believe that in this social circle the chances of having a good status are reduced, and we can choose to meet new people.

Another behavioral perspective

The term self-concept can lead us to think of it as just another piece of the brain, something that causes us to exhibit certain types of behavior and not others. However, there is a paradigm in psychology that denies this kind of definition of self-concept.

For behavioralism, the concept of self is not an internal phenomenon of the human mind, but a behavior, a way to perform certain actions; more precisely, a way of making verbal evaluations of our habitual behavior in relation to what surrounds us.

Thus, we must not lose sight of the fact that the concept of self always exists in relation to the material world in which we live, and not in isolation in our body.

Bibliographical references:

  • Long, Chen, J., M. (2007). “The impact of Internet use on the development of the adolescent’s own identity.” Chinese media research. 3: 99-109.
  • Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships developed in the client-centered framework. A (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Flight. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill-
  • Tiedemann, Joachim (2000). “Parental gender stereotypes and teacher beliefs as predictors of children’s concept of their mathematical ability in elementary school.” Journal of Educational Psychology. 92 (1): 144-151.
  • Triglia, A .; Regader, B .; García-Allen, J. (2016). Psychologically speaking. Paidós. p. 222.

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