Self Concept and Its Various Types

To understand the theory of self-concept, first, let us understand its history.  The earliest milestone was when Rene Descartes proposed that a person’s existence depended on how he perceives so. 

World famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, theorised that there are 3 main aspects of each individual: the id (pleasure-oriented), ego (balance between id and superego) and the superego (conscience-driven). These 3 aspects are key to how we see ourselves and help in the development of our self-concept.

self concept

Self-concept is basically to have awareness about one’s own self- how you perceive you are, how you think about yourself and how you evaluate yourself. Also known as self-perspective, self- identity, self-structure or self-construction, this is the organised, complex system of attitudes, opinions and beliefs about one’s self. It reflects what you want to be and what you might be. The self-concept includes behavioural (self-perception), cognitive (self-schema) and affective components (self-esteem).

Self concept is described as "the totality of a complex, organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence" (Purkey, 1988).

Self-concept is not innate. It is developed by a person over a lifetime through interaction with the environment and reflecting on that interaction.

“People develop and maintain their self-concepts through the process of taking action and then reflecting on what they have done and what others tell them about what they have done.” (Brigham, 1986).

It is important to understand that self-concept and self-knowledge are not the same things. While self-concept is a conscious realisation, self-knowledge may be conscious, sub-conscious or unconscious. Self-concept is an integrated and largely coherent belief system, whereas self-knowledge is plenty of material connected together. Whereas self-knowledge is about a person’s ability to understand their knowledge, nature, strengths and weaknesses; self-concept is what they believe or knows about themselves.

The two pillars of self-concept are self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-esteem is self-worth, how much a person feels that he is valuable. Self-efficacy is one's belief in her or his ability to perform a specific task. 

The development of self-concept has two aspects as per Lewis (1990):

1.The Categorical Self

physica appearence

The realisation that you are an object in the world with various attributes. Hair colour, hair type, skin colour, age, likes and dislikes helps one distinguish them. Internal psychological traits, how others see them and comparative evaluations help one categorise themselves.

2.The Existential Self

self concept styles

The most basic part of self-concept is the realisation of being distinct and a separate entity from others. It is the sense that they continue to exist over time and space.

There are 6 major subtypes of self-concepts based on the above-mentioned aspects:

1. Physical 

a person’s opinion about their health, Physical appearance (height, weight, hair colour, skin colour, gender, etc.), body and strength. Basically, it is about what is concrete.

2. Intellectual

a person’s awareness about their problem solving and decision-making capacity, judgements and intelligence.

3. Moral

a person’s estimation of their moral worth and their capability to discern right from wrong. 

4. Social 

a person’s sense of other’s perception and opinion about them and how they interact in social situations, what is their social status, etc. This is also known as the looking glass self.

5. Temperamental

a person’s view of their emotional state and how they react to different situations

6. Educational

a person’s view of themselves in relation to school, teachers and extracurricular activities, how much they have achieved, how much they want to achieve, how they fare in terms of education.

“The self is not something that one finds. It is something that one creates.”- Thomas Szasz

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