Our self concept refers to the idea of who we think we are. Have you ever been in a job interview, and the interviewer asks you “Tell me who you are” or “Tell me a little about yourself”. Do you hate it when they ask questions like that? Do you struggle to describe who you are? Do you feel uncomfortable describing yourself? Is it possible that you don’t have a strong self concept? There are many things that help to shape our self concept, like the theory of Reflected Appraisal and the Social Comparison Theory. We will look into these and discuss how to create a positive self concept.
First, let’s answer the question “Tell me who you are”. In order to do this, we are going to do an exercise. You will need a couple of pieces of paper and a pen. On the first sheet of paper, write down ten words or short phrases that describe who you are. Some of these items might include your social roles: husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, employee, boss and so on. They may include physical characteristics: fat, skinny, tall, short, white, black and so on. They may include intellectual characteristics: smart, dumb, math scholar, inquisitive and so on. You may even include your mood: happy, sad, mad, energetic and so on. Or you may include social characteristics, such as outgoing, shy, helpful, creative, loving and so on. You may even include terms based on your belief system: Christian, vegetarian, philosophical, republican, democrat and so on. You may even include particular skills (or lack thereof): athletic, carpenter, gardener, bible quizzer, wood worker, crafty and so on. So go ahead and make your list…
Got it? All ten? It is imperative, in order to complete this exercise effectively, to have this list completed, not just a mental list, but a physical list written out. Trust me, you won’t regret it. So now that your list is completed, find the item that is the most fundamental to who you are as a person and copy it to the top of the second sheet of paper. Now pick the second and write it below the first item on the second sheet of paper and so on, until you have all ten items listed in order of most to least fundamental.
Now, create a mental image of yourself. Try to paint a picture that only reflects who you are as you listed in your ten items. Take as much time as you need to create this image. Now imagine what kind of person you would be if the bottom item was not part of your personality or physical makeup. Without this item, how does it effect your personality, the way you feel, the way you parent, and the way others perceive you? Do you like yourself better without this characteristic? Is it easy to give it up? Take a few minutes to reflect and answer these questions. Continue up your list, from bottom to top.
Do you have a better understanding of not only who you are, but what your “self concept” is?
How Do we Develop Self Concept?
Self concept develops over time, and several factors play into what makes up our self concept. Some of these include Reflected Appraisal and Social Comparison. Our self concept is developed by how others treat us and make us feel, comparing ourselves to others around us, and how the judgments of others make us view ourselves.
Reflected Appraisal, or The Looking Glass Self is how we value ourselves based on our interactions with others, how they treat us, and how we perceive their judgment of us to be. Have you ever had someone in your life that just made you feel like you could move mountains? Like you could do anything you put your mind to. These people help to form our self concept in tiny nudges and even some big shoves. Think back to a youth minister or family friend who took an interest in you or your family or who never put you down while you sewed your wild oats. Think about this person and how they made you feel. How they helped you form your self concept.
Now, on the flip side, think of a person who acted or spoke to you in a way that made you feel diminished. It could be a teacher who belittled you in front of the class, a parent who, instead of using words that built you up, they used words that tore you down, it could be a “friend” who laughed at and made fun of you for silly things.
After you recall these two people, you can see how a person’s self concept is formed by the perceptions of the judgments of those around them. This is self appraisal. You are appraising yourself through the eyes of those around you. Those around us can give critical signals, making us feel less valuable, or they can give us encouragement and make us feel like a million bucks!
Likewise, as parents, we can criticize our kids’ decisions and actions, or we can allow their actions and their natural consequences to be a learning tool, then use our words to build them up and encourage them to make wiser choices in the future. We want to build up kids with a strong and positive self concept. Personally, I don’t want my kids to struggle when they answer the question “Who am I?” I want them to have a strong sense of who they are, and I want to do everything I can to make sure I am a positive influence in developing their self concept.
As you can see, the messages that we receive from significant others (those whose evaluations are especially influential), help to shape our self concept. A teacher, coach, family member, close friend, or even a barely known, well respected acquaintance. The messages we receive from these individuals remains powerful, even as time passes as we get older. Social scientists have what they call the “Michelangelo phenomenon” to describe how our significant others can shape and sculpt us.
Social comparison is the process of evaluating ourselves in comparison to others around us. We determine how similar or different, superior or inferior we are to others. Many people (me included) place unrealistic demands on themselves and compare themselves to people that are in completely different reference groups. For example, a high school girl with adolescent acne may compare herself to an airbrushed model on the cover a magazine and feel worthless because she is not as beautiful as that model. When we do this to ourselves, we set ourselves up for failure.
I often see my friends who get to take their kids on vacation 2-3 times a year and dress their kids in the latest styles, name brand clothes, and I can feel like a failure as a mom. I’ll think Why can’t I provide this for my kids!? I get lost in the comparison. I don’t think about that fact that these families probably make more money than we do, or are in debt up to their eye balls trying to provide all these things for their kids.
The problem in parenting and social comparison is that we can feel like failures because we are not able to provide what other parents can provide for their families. This is where social comparison can have a disastrous effect on the self concept.
A great way to use social comparison in your best interest, is to keep in mind what social scientists call “reference groups”. If your family makes $80,000 a year, then don’t compare yourself to a family who makes a $1 million a year. This family is in a completely different reference group. If you are a faith believing family, then don’t compare yourself to a family who has no religious belief system. If you are a stay at home mom, then don’t compare yourself to a CEO mom. Comparing ourselves to similar reference groups can help to make social comparison effective in shaping a positive self concept.
When I compare myself to a work from home mom, or a blogging mom who’s family is in a similar financial bracket, I will have a much more positive outlook on the comparison. When I talk to these moms, I find out that they struggle with not being able to afford vacations for their families either. And they shop at resale shops to buy name brand clothes too! They can’t even begin to afford Sephora or Younique products. So it would be diminishing for me to compare myself to moms who can afford to do all these things.
Social comparison can also be a way of reshaping an unsatisfying self concept. While talking to another little league mom, you may find out that a mom within your reference group puts money back every month to take her family on a mini “stay-cation”. This may give you the motivation you need to do something similar for your own family. You may not be able to take your kids to Disney World for 10 days, but maybe you can visit a local amusement park for a couple of days. And maybe while conversing with other moms in your reference group, you may also learn new ways to find name brand clothes at reduced prices, grocery stores that offer name brand food at discounted prices and so on. You may also learn ways to give your family what you want to give them at an affordable price (like the mini stay-cation).
As you can see, social comparison can be detrimental to our sense of self concept or it can be a motivator to improve areas that we are dissatisfied with.
The Self Concept is Only the Beginning
The self concept directly relates to our self esteem and self efficacy. I will go into more detail on these in another blog post. But if you struggle with self esteem or self efficacy, than the chances are you never developed a strong self concept. So take your list that we made at the beginning of your blog post. Really digest it and chew on it over the next few days. Metaphorically speaking of course 😉
So think about your self concept. Can you imagine how social comparison and reflected appraisal help to form your self concept? You are in control of who you compare yourself to. You are in control of who you allow to effect yourself negatively or positively for that matter. I love the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that says “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. There will always be people in our lives that will try to put you down and make you feel like they are better than you. Some people just like to tear others down. You can train yourself to not allow those people to effect you and your view of your self concept. You are who you choose to be.
Likewise, you can work hard to create a positive self concept in your children. Your words in your kids’ lives are powerful. Your words can build them up, or your words can tear them down. Your actions can build them up or your actions can tear them down.
Your kids can look back on their childhood and remember their parents as parents who made them feel like they could accomplish anything or you can make them feel like failures. Your actions and your words WILL directly affect how your children view their own self concept. If you want to create young adults who have a high self concept, high self esteem and self efficacy then allow the building blocks you place at the base of your children’s self concept to be positive and uplifting, not negative and derogatory. Your words are powerful. I think many times we forget that, as parents. We get lost in parenting and forget that we have a profound effect on our children. Our words and actions can build them up or they can tear them down. Allow that effect that you have as parents to build your children up and not tear them down.
Isaiah 43:4 “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…”