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Self-Concept: How We Create & Develop It to Control Our Happiness

Do you know yourself? That might sound like a ridiculous question, but far too many people don’t actually know who they are. They think they do, but they haven’t really taken the time to explore themselves and learn about what makes them tick. Self-concept is a hugely important part of our lives.

How we feel about ourselves, what we believe to be true about who we are, and what we feel is important to us – these are all questions and subjects that we really need to explore. Of course, the question of what is self concept is also a commonly pondered idea.

So, have you ever sat down with yourself and had an honest internal conversation about how you feel about the person you are?

Maybe your life is just ambling along and you’re not really fulfilled. Perhaps you think you’re depressed or that your life isn’t going the way you want it to, but you might not know that your self-concept is at the root of, well, pretty much everything.

Without having a sense of who you are and how you feel about it, you’ve basically lost your way. Your compass is totally broken!

What is self-concept?

Self-concept can be defined as the subjective description of who you think you are, filtered by your own perceptions. Okay, that was a bunch of academic mumbo-jumbo, we know.

So, here’s what it really means.

It’s the way you view yourself. It’s not necessarily how others view you, but it’s who you think you are. Other people could think you are way better – or way worse – than you do. But regardless, it’s how you feel about yourself.

Self-concept is a personal thing and in the end, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks because your self-concept forms the basis of everything important in your life, from self-esteem to self-value.

To clear things up for you even more, these are a few self-concept examples:

1. “I am a good partner”

2. “I am a generous person”

3. “I am kind”

4. “I am a good friend to have”

5. “I am independent”

6. “I am determined”

7. “I am keen to learn”

You get the idea. Basically, self-concept is what you think about yourself and your overall qualities. For sure, self-concept can be good or bad, but the better it is, the more confident you are.

“I am not a good friend” is obviously a negative self-concept example. The more negative examples you have, the less confident you’re likely to be.

How self-concept develops

No one is born with a self-concept. Just like no one is born knowing how to speak a language or how to walk. It’s just something we learn as we go through life. And the same is true of your self-concept.

Your self-concept can also change throughout life. If you go through a long period of time when things just didn’t go your way, it’s likely that your self-concept will take a turn for the negative. Initially however, here’s how self-concept develops.

1. Interactions with other people
What did your parents tell you about yourself growing up? That you were smart, beautiful, and perfect? Or that you were lazy, no-good, and a f-up.

The more you hear a certain message from others, the more you believe it. Even your teachers, peers, siblings, and anyone else you interact with add to the building of your self-concept.

2. Comparing yourself to others
This is deadly. We are always comparing ourselves to popular people, beautiful people, or rich people. So, let me just say this… stop doing that. We know, it’s easier said than done.

But if you want to feel better about yourself and change your self-concept, then you have to stop with the comparisons and learn to develop your own concept of who YOU are.

3. Media influence
Images and messages in the media are also very detrimental to our self-concept. Think about all the celebrities in the world who are gorgeous, rich, and seem to have everything.

And think about all the messages for weight loss products or anti-aging ones. The media helps construct our view of the world, and thus, ourselves.

4. Your life experiences
As you go through life, many experiences will shape your self-concept. What happens to you in life also affects how you feel about yourself.

For example, if a partner cheats on you then it’s probably going to affect your confidence for a while. But, if your next partner also cheats on you, it might start to form a part of your self-concept.

You might start to think that you’re unworthy of love, which of course isn’t true at all. But, our experiences have an impact upon how we feel about life, and ultimately, ourselves.

Aspects of your self-concept

People are very complex creatures. We can feel happiness one second and despair the next. We all have many different aspects to ourselves, so self-concept is very multi-dimensional.

Here are just a few of the parts of your self-concept that are relevant to almost everyone.

1. Personality
Some people are introverts, and some are extroverts. This can affect how you feel about yourself. Our society tends to value being social and being popular, which seemingly comes easier to extroverts.

So how you view yourself in relation to other people can affect your self-concept. Also, how people respond to your personality – for better or for worse – can affect your self-esteem as well.

2. Intelligence
While in school, the smart people might have been called the “nerds” or the “geeks.” But guess what? Sometimes, those people are the ones who become the Bill Gates or the Steve Jobs of the world.

If you don’t feel like you’re very smart, then it will affect how you feel about yourself. Or maybe if you view yourself as smarter than everyone else, and that affects your self-concept too. You will perhaps have a sense of superiority.

3. Body image
Ahhh… it seems like almost everyone has a body image problem! Granted, not everyone does. But we bet if you asked 100 random people if they love their body, 99% of them would say “no.” That’s sad, because so many people have a lot of negative thoughts that go through their minds about their bodies.

Our society gives us a lot of pressure to be beautiful and skinny. And with the exception of losing weight and dressing nicely, you can’t do much about how you look. Yet, people still obsess over it.

4. Success
Another thing that our society does to us is to make us feel like crap if we’re not rich or successful in our chosen field. Even if someone has decided to be a stay-at-home mom *and loves it*, our society says that it’s not “success.”

We define success in terms of how much money you have in the bank and how big your house is. That’s pathetic!

We should judge our own success by whether or not we are happy. Doesn’t matter what we’re doing… if you’re happy, then in our minds, you’re successful.

5. Health
While health is part of body image in a way, it is really a separate thing. Maybe you know someone who literally defines their self-concept by their health problems. Every time you talk to them, they’re telling you about the newest ailment they’re fighting.

While you probably feel bad for them, you probably sometimes think they wouldn’t even know who they are if they were healthy. It’s just become a part of them.

This is true for a lot of people. And not just with health, it can pertain to problems in general. If you define yourself by your problems, you would probably be lost if you suddenly didn’t have any.

6. Relationships, or lack of
If you’re seeing a theme here about how society can really damage our self-concept if we let it, then you are very smart. Or it’s just obvious. But we’ll go with you being smart.

Single people – especially after a certain age – are seen as weird, although in truth there’s nothing weird about it at all. This is especially troublesome for women. They are apparently the “crazy cat lady” or the “old maid.”

Men have it a little better. They’re just “independent” and a “bachelor.” But nevertheless, most people think that unless they have a significant other, then they are not worthy. That is so not true! Being single has its perks too.

Rogers’ self-concept theory

There are many different self-concept theories around but one of the most common and most popular is by Carl Rogers, a psychologist.

In this theory, Carl Rogers states that self-concept is made up of different parts, with three sections in particular. These are:

1. Your ideal version of yourself
This is the person that you aim to be, someone you want to become. Of course, you may not be your ideal self yet, or perhaps you never reach that point, but it forms part of your overall self-concept.

2. Self-image
This is about how you see yourself and your place in the world.

This particular part also includes the quirks and traits in your personality, the roles you play in society and within your relationships, and the way you see and feel about yourself physically.

3. Your overall self-esteem
Self-concept is linked very closely to self-esteem. In this case, how you feel about yourself and how much you value yourself affects how you see yourself.

We mentioned earlier about comparisons and what you think people feel about you. These also create this particular section of your self-concept, as well as how you fit into society in general.

It’s also true that your self-concept may not be how the rest of the world sees you. But, that doesn’t matter. How you see yourself is more important than anything else.

However, for some, their self-concept is wildly out of whack with reality. For instance, narcissists have a totally different sense of self-concept to how they actually are in real life.

How self-concept is crucial to your happiness

How you feel about yourself directly affects your happiness. If you don’t love, accept, and forgive yourself, how can you possibly be happy? You can’t. Because all you’ll be doing is criticizing yourself.

So, if you want to be happier, then it all starts with you. Take a look at the list in this feature and then take a good look at yourself. Write down all the negative messages you tell yourself, and then you’ll see on paper what your self-concept really looks like.

Once you get it down and you know what you need to work on, then take action. Stop those negative thoughts and change them to positive ones. You may not realize it, but you do have the power and ability to change your thoughts … and thus, change your life.

No one is perfect. In fact, we all need to learn to accept ourselves as we are, but make positive improvements where necessary. That way, your positive self-concept will be the determining factor in your ongoing happiness.


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