Self-concept: Meaning of Life and Ideal Self

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"Self-Concept" written by Barry Joel Desaine (March 2010)
Email: bjdesaine@yahoo.com

SELF-CONCEPT

Sensing that he is a distinct and separate existence from others through time and space, a man becomes aware of his existential self from infancy. As he matures he also becomes aware of his categorical self through the realization that he has characteristics or attributes that distinguishes him from other objects in his environment. These two aspects – the existential self and the categorical self – constitute the initial ways in which an individual begins the self-perception process that leads to his self-concept (Lewis and Brooks-Gunn, 1979).

However, because the idea of self-concept is utilized in many disciplines including psychology, philosophy, sociology, nursing, biology and anthropology, there is no consensus as to how to define “self-concept” using terms of specificity. As illustrative of this, the concept of self-identity is referred by theorists using a diversity of terms such as: the authentic self; the cohesive self; the core self; the saturated self; and the possible selves. Additionally, in describing the components of self-concept, the influential humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, used global terms such as: self-image; self-esteem; and the ideal self, while educational psychologist Gary D. Phye and other theorists used more specific terms such as: the physical component; the social component; the academic or intellectual component; etc. Suffice it to say, most of the research literature suggests that self-concept may be generally defined as the sum total of what an individual thinks or perceives about himself. Using this general definition as a foundation this essay proposes to examine the components of a man’s self-concept in terms of his: personhood; place in society; perfection; and purpose.

Personhood – Who am I?

Who am I? This is the most fundamental question which an individual can ask about himself and in endeavoring to determine an answer, whether conscientiously or unconscientiously, his self-image is created. A man’s conscientiousness bears witness that he is more than just a chemical composition of matter – more than mere physical existence. He is aware that he is made up of both material and immaterial constituencies and, as a result, his self-image is also comprised of factors of both. These factors include physical, moral, social, emotional and intellectual traits.

Firstly, a person’s self-image includes a mental picture of his physical appearance or what is termed body image. It is made up of his perception of his body, both internally and externally. He may think of himself as being too skinny, having beautiful eyes, a nice face, a nose that is too big or any combination of approval or disapproval of a vast variety of physical attributes and abilities. Inherent in this is also the feelings and attitudes he has about his body.

Body image is affected by a number of factors including: normal developmental growth; one’s perception of what others think of his body; and cultural and social attitudes and values. For example: A child’s body image is very different from that of an adolescent teen. Similarly, the wife of an abusive husband who speaks ill of her body can develop a poor body image. Additionally, in some cultures a fat person is considered to be a healthy person so that a skinny person in that culture may tend to have a poorer body image based on societal values.

Secondly, a person’s self-image also includes his moral traits such as his core values and beliefs. He may view himself as being honest and upright or he may be confident of his voracity and godliness. On the other hand, he may even think that he is wicked and vile or generally of an evil disposition. As with his physical traits his perception of his morality is a part of his self-image and is not an inevitably accurate reflection of his personhood.

In a similar manner, a person’s self-image includes...
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