What Is Self-Concept and How Does It Form? (2023)

Self-concept is the image we have of ourselves. It is influenced by many forces, including our interaction with important people in our lives. Learn more about self-concept, including whether it can be changed and a few theories related to self-identity and self-perception.

Self-Concept

Self-concept is how we perceive our behaviors, abilities, and unique characteristics. For example, beliefs such as "I am a good friend" or "I am a kind person" are part of an overall self-concept.

Other examples of self-concept include:

  • How you view your personality traits, such as whether you are an extrovert or introvert
  • How you see your roles in life, such as whether you feel that being a parent, sibling, friend, and partner are important parts of your identity
  • The hobbies or passions that are important to your sense of identity, such as being a sports enthusiast or belonging to a certain political party
  • How you feel about your interactions with the world, such as whether you feel that you are contributing to society

Our self-perception is important because it affects our motivations, attitudes, and behaviors. It also affects how we feel about the person we think we are, including whether we are competent or have self-worth.

Self-concept tends to be more malleable when we're younger and still going through self-discovery and identity formation. As we age and learn who we are and what's important to us, these self-perceptions become much more detailed and organized.

At its most basic, self-concept is a collection of beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others. It embodies the answer to the question: "Who am I?" If you want to find your self-concept, list things that describe you as an individual. What are your traits? What do you like? How do you feel about yourself?

Rogers' Three Parts of Self-Concept

Humanist psychologistCarl Rogers believed that self-concept is made up of three different parts:

  • Ideal self: The ideal self is the person you want to be. This person has the attributes or qualities you are either working toward or want to possess. It's who you envision yourself to be if you were exactly as you wanted.
  • Self-image: Self-image refers to how you see yourself at this moment in time. Attributes like physical characteristics, personality traits, and social roles all play a role in your self-image.
  • Self-esteem: How much you like, accept, and value yourself all contribute to your self-concept. Self-esteem can be affected by a number of factors—including how others see you, how you think you compare to others, and your role in society.

Incongruence and Congruence

Self-concept is not always aligned with reality. When it is aligned, your self-concept is said to be congruent. If there is a mismatch between how you see yourself (your self-image) and who you wish you were (your ideal self), your self-concept is incongruent. This incongruence can negatively affect self-esteem.

Rogers believed that incongruence has its earliest roots in childhood. When parents place conditions on their affection for their children (only expressing love if children "earn it" through certain behaviors and living up to the parents' expectations), children begin to distort the memories of experiences that leave them feeling unworthy of their parents' love.

Unconditional love, on the other hand, helps to foster congruence. Children who experience such love—also referred to as family love—feel no need to continually distort their memories in order to believe that other people will love and accept them as they are.

Defining Personality in Psychology

How Self-Concept Develops

Self-concept develops, in part, through our interaction with others. In addition to family members and close friends, other people in our lives can contribute to our self-identity.

For instance, one study found that the more a teacher believes in a high-performing student's abilities, the higher that student's self-concept. (Interestingly, no such association was found with lower-performing students.)

Self-concept can also be developed through the stories we hear. As an example, one study found that female readers who were "deeply transported" into a story about a leading character with a traditional gender role had a more feminist self-concept than those who weren't as moved by the story.

The media plays a role in self-concept development as well—both mass media and social media. When these media promote certain ideals, we're more likely to make those ideals our own. And the more often these ideals are presented, the more they affect our self-identity and self-perception.

Can Self-Concept Be Changed?

Self-concept is not static, meaning that it can change. Our environment plays a role in this process. Places that hold a lot of meaning to us actively contribute to our future self-concept through both the way we relate these environments to ourselves and how society relates to them.

Self-concept can also change based on the people with whom we interact. This is particularly true with regard to individuals in our lives who are in leadership roles. They can impact the collective self (the self in social groups) and the relational self (the self in relationships).

In some cases, a medical diagnosis can change self-concept by helping people understand why they feel the way they do—such as someone receiving an autism diagnosis later in life, finally providing clarity as to why they feel different.

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Other Self-Concept Theories

As with many topics within psychology, a number of other theorists have proposed different ways of thinking about self-concept.

Social Identity

Social psychologist Henri Tajfel developed social identity theory, which states that self-concept is composed of two key parts:

  • Personal identity: The traits and other characteristics that make you unique
  • Social identity: Who you are based on your membership in social groups, such as sports teams, religions, political parties, or social class

This theory states that our social identity influences our self-concept, thus affecting our emotions and behaviors. If we're playing sports, for instance, and our team loses a game, we might feel sad for the team (emotion) or act out against the winning team (behavior).

Multiple Dimensions

Psychologist Bruce A. Bracken had a slightly different theory and believed that self-concept was multidimensional, consisting of six independent traits:

  • Academic: Success or failure in school
  • Affect: Awareness of emotional states
  • Competence: Ability to meet basic needs
  • Family: How well you work in your family unit
  • Physical: How you feel about your looks, health, physical condition, and overall appearance
  • Social: Ability to interact with others

In 1992, Bracken developed the Multidimensional Self-Concept Scale, a comprehensive assessment that evaluates each of these six elements of self-concept in children and adolescents.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is the development of self-concept finished?

    Self-concept development is never finished. Though one's self-identity is thought to be primarily formed in childhood, your experiences as an adult can also change how you feel about yourself. If your self-esteem increases later in life, for instance, it can improve your self-concept.

  • How does self-concept affect communication?

    Our self-concept can affect the method by which we communicate. If you feel you are a good writer, for instance, you may prefer to communicate in writing versus speaking with others.

    It can also affect the way we communicate. If your social group communicates a certain way, you would likely choose to communicate that way as well. Studies on teens have connected high self-concept clarity with more open communication with parents.

    (Video) Self concept, self identity, and social identity | Individuals and Society | MCAT | Khan Academy

  • What is the difference between self-concept and self-esteem?

    Self-concept refers to a broad description of ourselves ("I am a good writer") while self-esteem includes any judgments or opinions we have of ourselves ("I feel proud to be a good writer"). Put another way, self-concept answers the question: Who am I? Self-esteem answers the question: How do I feel about who I am?

  • Why is a well-developed self-concept beneficial?

    Our self-concept impacts how we respond to life, so a well-developed self-concept helps us respond in ways that are more positive and beneficial for us. One of the ways it does this is by enabling us to recognize our worth. A well-developed self-concept also helps keep us from internalizing negative feedback from others.

  • How does culture influence self-concept?

    Different cultures have different beliefs. They have different ideas of how dependent or independent one should be, different religious beliefs, and differing views of socioeconomic development.

    All of these cultural norms influence self-concept by providing the structure of what is expected within that society and how one sees oneself in relation to others.

16 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Bailey JA 2nd. Self-image, self-concept, and self-identity revisited. J Natl Med Assoc. 2003;95(5):383-386.

  2. Mercer S. Self-concept: Situating the self. In: Mercer S, Ryan S, Williams M, eds. Psychology for Language Learning. Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137032829_2

  3. Argyle M. Social encounters: Contributions to Social Interaction. 1st ed. Routledge.

  4. Koch S. Formulations of the person and the social context. In: Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. III. McGraw-Hill:184-256.

  5. Pesu L, Viljaranta J, Aunola K. The role of parents' and teachers' beliefs in children's self-concept development. J App Develop Psychol. 2016;44:63-71. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2016.03.001

  6. Richter T, Appel M, Calio F. Stories can influence the self-concept. Social Influence. 2014;9(3):172-88. doi:10.1080/15534510.2013.799099

  7. Vandenbosch L, Eggermont S. The interrelated roles of mass media and social media in adolescents' development of an objectified self-concept: A longitudinal study. Communc Res. 2015. doi:10.1177/0093650215600488

  8. Prince D. What about place? Considering the role of physical environment on youth imagining of future possible selves. J Youth Stud. 2014;17(6):697-716. doi:10.1080/13676261.2013.836591

  9. Kark R, Shamir B. The dual effect of transformational leadership: priming relational and collective selves and further effects on followers. In: Avolio BJ, Yammarino FJ, eds.Monographs in Leadership and Management. Vol 5. Emerald Group Publishing Limited; 2013:77-101. doi:10.1108/S1479-357120130000005010

  10. Stagg SD, Belcher H. Living with autism without knowing: receiving a diagnosis in later life. Health Psychol Behav Med. 2019;7(1):348-361. doi:10.1080/21642850.2019.1684920

  11. Tajfel H, Turner J. An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In: Hogg MA, Abrams D, eds.Intergroup Relations: Essential Readings. Psychology Press:94–109.

  12. Scheepers D. Social identity theory. Social Psychol Act. 2019. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-13788-5_9

  13. Bracken BA. Multidimensional Self Concept Scale. American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/t01247-000

  14. Sampthirao P. Self-concept and interpersonal communication. Int J Indian Psychol. 2016;3(3):6. dip:18.01.115/20160303

  15. Van Dijk M, Branje S, Keijsers L, Hawk S, Hale !, Meeus W. Self-concept clarity across adolescence: Longitudinal associations with open communication with parents and internalizing symptoms. J Youth Adolesc. 2013;43:1861-76. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-0055-x

  16. Vignoles V, Owe E, Becker M, et al. Beyond the 'east-west' dichotomy: Global variation in cultural models of selfhood. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2016;145(8):966-1000. doi:10.1037/xge0000175

Additional Reading

(Video) What is Self-Concept?

What Is Self-Concept and How Does It Form? (2)

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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FAQs

What is self-concept and explain how it is formed? ›

Self-concept is the image or the idea we have about ourselves. It can be thought of as our perception of our abilities, behaviors and characteristics. It helps us draw a mental picture of who we are—physically, socially and emotionally. We form and develop our self-concept over time.

What exactly is a self-concept and how does it impact your life? ›

Self-concept is how someone sees themselves and the perception that they hold about their abilities. There are various factors that can affect self-concept, these include: age, sexual orientation, gender and religion. The self-concept is also made up of a combination of self-esteem and self-image.

What is self-concept made up of? ›

Self-concept is made up of one's self-schemas, and interacts with self-esteem, self-knowledge, and the social self to form the self as a whole.

Where does self-concept begin? ›

Self-concept is first marked by a physical realization that children are separate from their primary caregivers. In the first few months of life, children see themselves as part of their primary caregiver, usually their mother.

What is self-concept in one word? ›

the idea or mental image one has of oneself and one's strengths, weaknesses, status, etc.; self-image.

Why is self-concept so important? ›

A healthy self-concept also has a major influence on psychological and social outcomes—it encourages the healthy development of: Personal and social abilities. Coping skills. Social interaction.

How does self-concept affect a person? ›

Self-concept is how an individual views who they are based on their habits, skills and temperament. In other words, it is the ability to reflect on one's own traits, skills and behavior. On the other hand, self-esteem is an attitude or view that an individual has about him or herself.

What affects your self-concept? ›

Your self esteem can be influenced by your beliefs on the type of person you are, what you can do, your strengths, your weaknesses and your expectations of your future. There may be particular people in your life whose messages about you can also contribute to your self esteem.

What are the three 3 components of self-concept *? ›

What are the 3 parts of self-concept?
  • Ideal self: your vision and ambitions of who you want to be.
  • Real self (self-image): how you currently see and perceive yourself.
  • Self-esteem: how much worth and value you believe you have.

What are the 4 types of self-concept? ›

Second, we distinguish the four main conceptual units that constitute the various selves of self-presentation. These are the public self, the self-concept, the actual or behavioral self, and the ideal self.

What are the stages of self-concept? ›

Five stages in the development of the self-concept can be recognized, with a different type of self-esteem being appropriate to each stage. These stages are: the dynamic self; self-as-object; self-as- knower; self-as-integrated-whole; and the 'selfless' self.

What three factors affects a person's self-concept? ›

Various factors believed to influence our self-esteem include: Genetics. Personality. Life experiences.

What is good self-concept? ›

What is a positive self-concept? It is a growing belief about yourself that helps you to cope successfully with the events in your life, and then to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

What is self-concept quizlet? ›

Self-concept. An individual's view of self; subjective; mixture of unconscious and conscious thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Identity. The internal sense of individuality, wholeness, and consistency of a person over time and in different situations. Being distinct and separate from others.

How do you build a strong self-concept? ›

Specific steps to develop a positive self-image
  1. Take a self-image inventory.
  2. Make a list of your positive qualities.
  3. Ask significant others to describe your positive qualities.
  4. Define personal goals and objectives that are reasonable and measurable.
  5. Confront thinking distortions.
Nov 24, 2020

How do I develop a better self-concept? ›

Ideas for Building a Healthy Self-Image and Improving Self-Esteem
  1. Start small – Take it one step at a time. ...
  2. Say “No” to your inner critic.
  3. Take a 2-minute self-appreciation break.
  4. Go for good enough.
  5. Avoid falling into the comparison trap.
  6. Spend your time with supportive people.
  7. Don't let the haters stop you.
May 23, 2019

How can I improve my self-concept? ›

Here are some other simple techniques that may help you feel better about yourself.
  1. Recognise what you're good at. We're all good at something, whether it's cooking, singing, doing puzzles or being a friend. ...
  2. Build positive relationships. ...
  3. Be kind to yourself. ...
  4. Learn to be assertive. ...
  5. Start saying "no" ...
  6. Give yourself a challenge.

What are some examples of self-concept? ›

10 Examples of Self-Concept
  • A person sees herself as an intelligent person;
  • A man perceives himself as an important member of his community;
  • A woman sees herself as an excellent spouse and friend;
  • A person thinks of himself as a nurturing and caring person;

What happens when one has low self-concept? ›

If you have low self-esteem you may have difficulty with relationships and problems at work or school. You may become very upset by criticism or disapproval and withdraw from activities and people. You may avoid doing anything where you may be judged or measured against other people.

What are the 7 factors of self-concept? ›

These factors are :
  • Age.
  • Appearance.
  • Gender.
  • Culture.
  • Emotional development.
  • Education.
  • Relationships with other people.
  • Sexual orientation.

When the formation of self-concept begins? ›

Children begin to think about themselves and develop a self-concept during the ages of 3 to 5 years old. They are apt to describe themselves using very specific and concrete terms (e.g., "I'm 3 years old.

What causes self-concept? ›

Some of the many causes of low self-esteem may include: Unhappy childhood where parents (or other significant people such as teachers) were extremely critical. Poor academic performance in school resulting in a lack of confidence. Ongoing stressful life event such as relationship breakdown or financial trouble.

Videos

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