Who am I? Raising Self Concept and Self Esteem

Ever been in a group setting where people are introducing themselves and noticed what they say? OK, this is a strange question – of course you listen to what people say.

But, do you really notice what they say?

We are all selective in what we listen to, which is totally natural, as we are bombarded with such huge amounts of data on a day to day basis, that listening word-by-word is exhausting and sometimes futile.

So we filter information, listening for information that strikes a chord with ourselves – either things that we are interested in or things that may be surprising or challenge our beliefs or perceptions.

That said, we could argue that we listen enough, or more precisely, we listen to just enough.

You will probably notice that if a person starts introducing themselves, in a group, by announcing their age or their marital status, that others will follow suit and do the same.

Ever noticed that? Oh, yeah, you did the same….

A lot of the way in which we project ourselves to others is closely linked to the way we see ourselves, our Self-Concept and Self Perception.

Related to this, some of the deepest questions we can ask ourselves are:

Who am I? Am I what others say I am, or am I who I say I am?

Pretty deep and almost philosophical questions, but vitally important in terms of our own self-concept and ultimately our level of self-esteem and self-perception.The two are intrinsically linked, so let’s have a brief look at the two notions.

Self-Concept is based on our values, attitudes, beliefs and culture and is how one feel about oneself, based largely on what others tell you – “You’re a good listener,” what others tell us we look like – “You’re the spitting-image of your father.” and how others feel about us, “I feel confident with you.”

Self-concept is defined by the ‘rules’ of your culture or ‘social milieu’  – what is good and bad / right and wrong – concepts that are never stationary and always in a state of flux as we move from culture to culture, whether it be a social or national culture or even micro-cultures – basically, what is expected of us.

Sometimes, an off the wall comment can lead us to introspection about our own self-concept.

A simple example I have is from a Tweet on Twitter from a French person who remarked that I was different to most English people that they have met.

Another said that I was cultured for an English person – OK, these were perhaps tongue-in-cheek comments, which, nevertheless throw up questions that are closely linked to self-concept, especially the “Why?” question. I mean, all English people are cultured, aren’t they? (insert laugh)

There are three elements that go into making up self-concept: Self-perception, Reflected Appraisals and Social Comparisons.Self-Perception is formed by the way in which others react to us at an early stage and later on what we observe from others – a dual process of looking at the outside world, whilst engaging in introspection – looking inwards at ourselves, and emanates from our own personal experiences.

If our experiences are positive, we will have a largely positive self-perception, the inverse is also true if what we experience is predominately negative.

If you ever hear people say, or indeed, say to yourself, that you will not be able to do something – the impact on yourself often ends in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The effect on self-perception, is that we can categorise ourselves with a label, which can be either positive or negative, according to our experiences.

If we say and thus believe, that we are not good at maths, chances are that we will not be good at maths.

As we have undoubtedly heard many times, it is a state of mind thing – as the much quoted phrase goes, “Whether you think you can do something or whether you think you can’t do something – you are right.”

Reflected Appraisals are the identity given to us by authority figures and people who have an influence on our lives, especially in the formative years – through reflective appraisals. Most come from what people say to and about us, but also through the scripts supplied to us “Don’t forget to say thank you.” etc. through expectations of how we are ‘expected’ to act, which are very much cultural, and socially dependent.

Positive reflected appraisals help reinforce positive self-concept, once again self-concept can be greatly affected and eroded through negative reflected appraisals.

Reflected appraisals can also set the scene for what is about to happen. If a person is told that they are going to succeed in something, the person will almost certainly live up to this expectation.

Similarly, a negative reflected appraisal can, once again, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take a child, carrying a glass of milk, full to the brim.

If a parent says to them, “Be careful, you are going to spill it,” What do you think happens?

OK, this could arguably be termed as suggestion too.

Social Comparisons is measuring up against others, comparing ourselves with our peers and our competitors – which can come from people and things that we don’t even know.

The Barbie doll, for example, is viewed as potentially portraying a false image of what a woman is expected to look like and having a negative effect on self-concept and ultimately self-esteem on young girls – the real-life Barbie would probably fall over and have to crawl with her height of over 7′ 6″, a tiny 20″ waist and 27″ bust.

The same, perhaps could be said for catwalk models, in as much as the image they portray can have an adverse effect on girls who do not share the same physical attributes.

So we could posit that having a positive self-concept is a thoroughly good thing – I mean, it must be…

However, research shows that children who are constantly buoyed-up by compliments that provide them with an outstanding self-concept and high self-esteem can be counter-productive in the real world, especially when they encounter any form of ‘failure’.

Notably, those who are able to comply to the educational system of passing evaluations and grades, but which may be slightly divorced from objective truths.

For example, passing an exam is not a watertight method of assessing ability, but is a good measure of knowledge in a particular subject.

There is no evidence to separate the “knowing what” from the “knowing how” and the problem is further exascerbated by some teachers giving inflated marks and others who try to bring the learners in touch with reality, and who are generally criticised by both learners and parents as being negative or too demanding.

When people are in the habit of winning, they rarely encounter difficulties that lead them to rethink or reflect on what they are doing – “if it works leave it alone.”

Conversely, when something does go wrong there can be two opposing reactions: denial or a abrupt loss of self-esteem – if only temporarily.

The metrics on success and failure are very unclear and often linked to such diverse variables as social class, culture, age and gender.

In some situations, success is measured by outward signs of wealth, whilst in other cultures spirituality and self-fulfillment are more valued – both having an impact on self concept. In some cases it is what people give away and not what is amassed, which is of greater value.

Older people are able to use their wealth of life experiences to weigh up opposing views, in situations where their confidence through personal experiences helps them to accept being ‘wrong’ without any real impact on self-concept.

Conflicting views to their own, for more mature individuals, can be viewed more as enriching than as threatening – something to learn from or at least which helps balance views rather than menacing.

Self-concept can also be enhanced by proxy, through the lives of children who ‘succeed’ in their lives.

Men and women differ in the way that their self-concept is constructed.

Men often construct self-concept through social comparisons by way of competition and achievements in life, whilst women’s rely more on reflected appraisals through connections and attachments to others. Perhaps we could say that women gain more through networks, whilst men’s self-concept is shored-up by winning and competition.

In order to enhance and boost self-concept, people need to get out of their comfort zone, experiment and take risks – which poses issues with ‘Maslow’s triangle of needs’ as the basic needs of Safety is in direct and diametric conflict with the need to grow.

If we leave our comfort zones, we enter into the territory of psychological risk, where chances are taken which could result in change. If changes happen, then there is also the risk that we will then be different from our entourage and not fit-in anymore, which then causes a contraction within the safety zone.

On the up-side, we are then able to consider differing points of view that can, in turn, help us to grow and learn from things that we would not otherwise have considered – but we need to be open enough and avoid genarilisation in order to be able to take this onboard.

Self-Concept

There are reams of material on the Internet and in bookshops about improving self-esteem through self-help manuals, CDs and DVDs – it is a booming business, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in any way effective.

Lots of self-help relies on self-affirmation and visualisation, some are effective, but not all – after all, just repeating positive and affirming statements can ultimately leave people feeling slightly impotent, when the desired results are not achieved and can have a devastating effect, consequently, on self-concept and self-esteem.

Sitting in front of a mirror telling yourself that you are great, ignores a vital element of self-concept – Reflected Appraisals – we need feedback from others to be able to change the way we view ourselves.

If people are in a situation where relationships are eroded, or in destructive relationships, it does not matter how many times we tell ourselves that we are good people and good at a certain task, if we are told by others the opposite.

Another point is that things do not change instantly – it takes time, experiences and consolidation.

It does not change through crossing fingers and tightly closing your eyes, whilst repeating a mantra of self-affirmations, it takes time, feedback and positive experiences – the sum of which helps people feel more positive about themselves.

I mentioned earlier that male self-concept is often linked to achievements and success, but it must be made clear that success is not a clear measure of positive self-concept or high self-esteem, by the same token, some women place primacy on success in a competitive sense.

Therefore, it can be seen that the notions of self-concept and self-esteem very complicated, to describe, assess and to evaluate.  It really depends on where the measures are placed and where the values of the society or social group in which you move are geared towards.

Under-achievers can also feel a high level of self-perception and self-esteem, if their reference group, to which they comply, share the same lack of aspiration.

One of the main problems is that people who attempt to raise their self-esteem, often go about it in a very negative and upside-down fashion, usually by concentrating on all that is wrong before interacting with others. Very often, this kind of introspection results in people feeling more demoralised than they were when they started-out.

Often, the reciprocal process of positive interaction can be catalysed quite simply.

By complimenting others, we receive compliments in return – which then helps consolidate positive self-concept – even a ‘thank you’ can be perceived as a positive “stroke”, helping to raise self-esteem and self-perception, and especially the willingness to continue the interaction, which can trigger a positive cycle – as long as the interactions are genuine and free of unnecessary flattery.

The idea is to break out of cycles of negativity and isolation – which further damages self-concept and self-perception and ultimately self-esteem.

Self- Concept and Self-Perception are intrinsically linked and sometimes difficult to distinguish. Self perception is how you view the world through filters that are affected by your self-concept – the way you see yourself.

Both are linked to experience which help us judge and anticipate what is going to happen – nobody is a clean whiteboard – we all have writing and never enter any situation in life without at least an iota of prior experience or knowledge.

Self-Perception matches incoming stimuli to our prior experiences through our senses, both interacting closely with one another in tandem and both dependent on our cultural, gender and class roles which form the ‘rules’ by which we behave within our particular social group. Information is taken, unconsciously through a three part process of

Selection, Organisation and Interpretation – basically we select what we want (or what we are comfortable with), organise it in-line with our prior experiences and knowledge of something similar and then we interpret the information according to our own values, beliefs and personality.

Give several people a film to watch and they will interpret the story in different ways according to their knowledge set, culture and perceptions – the same can be true of all forms of communication, whether verbal or written – “We see the world as we are, not as it is”.

There is rarely objectivity and often perceptions – we all perceive the world in different ways.

Self-concept is a learnt phenomena, which is then moulded through life and impacted by experiences, both positive and negative, which can differ greatly to the way in which others view you and which is generally resistant to change.

Any attempt to change self-concept requires concerted efforts that will challenge the very way you view the world and which take time.

Changes in self-concept have an effect on self-esteem which can then have a knock-on effect on anxiety and stress levels – fluctuating levels of self-esteem and self-concept are often a sign of stress and in some cases depression.

Self-perception is one of the most important perceptions in life – the way that we feel and think about ourselves, but which is prone to Deletions, Generalisations and Distortion, these are called perceptual filters.

We are constantly updating our perceptions by erasing, bending or generalising information in relation to prior experiences and beliefs.

If we believe the world is flat we will look for information that confirms this, we may also generalise that all planets are flat – any new information that may contradict our belief can be slightly distorted to fit in with our beliefs or be rejected if it contradicts a belief.

Admitting that the earth is not flat requires stepping into the unknown or unwelcome and challenging our beliefs, which can have a strong influence on our self-concept and self-perception, especially if we are proved irrefutably wrong.

I guess the advice here would to listen and learn before speaking, whilst avoiding being categoric – that is maybe why we have two ears and only one mouth – back-pedalling on a concept that we have vociferously defended will have a clear effect on the Reflected Appraisals from others and thus an effect on our own self-concept.

Changing your Self-Concept

In order to change yourself, or at least the way that you see yourself, you need to be prepared to perceive things differently and to examine what is making you lack self-esteem and self-concept, by answering the following questions.

Have you been reading a flawed script which highlights inadequacies in certain things?

Are you telling yourself things that you shouldn’t be that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies?

Are you in a social setting that encourages negative self-concept and damaging relationships?

After having answered these questions, you need to decide what you want to change then answer, honestly, the following questions.

One of the problems with low self-esteem and self-evaluations / assessment is that low self-esteem will often lead people into answering self-assessments in a way that they would like to be and not how they are in reality, on one hand, and to play down their real personalities and abilities on the other hand, due to what others tell them they can do / are like.

Think about what you want to change:

  • Are you ready and willing to take risks?
  • Are you approaching the change with a positive mindset?
  • What objective will you set yourself?
  • Is your Objective realistic?
  • Do you have a support network who will help you reach your objectives?
  • Is your environment conducive to change?
  • Are your personal circumstances conducive to change?
  • Are you disciplined enough to go the whole way?
  • What will the change look like?
  • How will you know that the change has taken place?
  • How will you assess and check on your progress?
  • What will happen if you change?
  • What will happen if you do not change?
  • Can you see / feel / experience the benefits that you will achieve?

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3 comments:

  1. Consider the idea that self concept IS as self-concept DOES. Here, a strong, well-constructed self-concept can be bolstered through engaging in diverse behavioral activities in a variety of areas (i.e. more eggs in more baskets). In this action-oriented model, strengthening self-concept occurs indirectly — through behavioral activities that give rise to a wider range of beneficial knowledge and expertise. Thus, a stronger “wider” self-concept is achieved by “widening” the range of one’s behavioral repertoire. To read more on this idea click here!

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