According to Wagner, self-concept is that image or mental picture of our invisible self, a feeling of being a person, sense of somebody or of being nobody (p. 5). There are three functional aspects of self concept: appearance, performance and status. It is noteworthy that our feeling of identity of being somebody is derived from feelings when rated by others (p. 13). I could identify with these three aspects of self-concept. Several years ago, when I left my job to be a stay home mum, I struggled with redefining my self-concept. What am I? Why is Self-concept important?
While I subsequently found my significance in Christ, I am further enlightened by Wagner’s discussion on of self-concept and its importance. An adequate self-concept is a precious possession that enable one live a useful and productive life, he is emotionally secure and functions from inner resources in a crisis. He accepts his appearance and views his shortcomings as problems to be overcome and not judge himself as a bad person. He functions because he knows he is and not always trying to become. A person with inadequate self-concept tends to focus his energy and efforts to establish his self-identity, to measure up, his mind is divided into coping with his rectifying this inadequacy and normal living (p. x, 15) What Make Up Self-concept?
Wagner paints a picture depicting the cycle of how inadequate self-concept is developed. The feelings of belonging, worthiness and competence form the essential elements of self-concept, they blended together like musical chords (p. 17). When one’s sense of being somebody is threatened, he reacts negatively with hostility, guilt or fear. When he tries to force the situation to change through his hostility, he loses his sense of belonging. When he forces himself to change because he is feeling guilty, he compromises his worthiness. In fear or anxiety tries to protect himself from the threat, his competence is lost. The elements of self-concept are all weakened and emotional insecurity increases and these negatives reactions block empathy and he cannot sense love or show love. Therefore in attempting to correct the threat, his hostility, guilt and fears interfere with the remedy (p. 28). This is very illuminating to me, it enables me to have a good understanding of the causes and effects of emotions in self-concept, which is so crucial if I will be a counselor in future. How did Self-concept come from?
Wagner believed that one’s self-concept is accumulated from memories from the day he is born, from basic need of feeding, teething and toilet training and later discipline. The needs and emotions of these growing up activities all affected his emotions of belonging, worthiness, and competence and ultimately his sense of being somebody or nobody. If he is raised with love and correct discipline, these beneficial influences will develop in good self-concept. However if his critical emotional needs are not met, the child is often angry and manipulative of his parents and parental love is given conditional on his performance, the child will develop an inadequate self-concept. While I am no expert in this area, I had some reservations about this. Childhood experiences while important cannot be the sole contributory factor in development of self-concept. Too much blame is apportioned to ineffective parenting. Many of our parents’ love are not ideal and somewhat lacking. In the sixties where I grew up, economies were bad, families were large. Parents spend much of their time stressed out trying to put food on the table. Love if existent was non expressive and unfelt. Disciplines were strict and severe. But a whole generation has grown into adults; many are well adjusted individuals with adequate self concept and functioning properly. My personal opinion is that, what is past is passed; there is no point in examining too much what happened during childhood. We should instead focus on remedy and healing and what can be done. Having said that, I would agree with Wagner that love for our children must not be conditional upon his performance or behavior. As far as possible we must love our children with an unrelenting and voluntary love (p. 47). In disciplining our children, care must be taken not to do so in anger or humiliate him. We must not be overly strict but allow the child space to explore and experiment (p. 63). What Self-concept is not – False Security and Self Verification
False security is caused by repression of unwanted feelings and keeping these out of awareness, when hostility, guilt and fear is repressed, insecurities developed. When the nobody is repressed, the person proves to himself through his appearance, performance or status that he is not a nobody. This process is called self-verification and relate to three basic desires: being wanted (belonging), being good (worthiness) and being adequate (competence) (pp. 95- 96). Self verification gives temporary feelings of being somebody, but the need for this process keep recurring, therefore it is self-perpetuating. I felt that this is good insight why insecure people worked so hard to look good, and to succeed. Unfortunately self verifications do not work, as evidenced by King Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes 1:2 "Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless" Many people climb those ladders to success, only to discover when they reach the top that they are leaning against the wrong wall! The only identity equation that works is me +GOD = ME. What is secure self-concept?
Secure self-concept must be based on unconditional love which is found only in God’s love. God is the only reliable source of true love as God is love (1 John4:8). God loves us because we are somebody to Him. We have intrinsic value. He did not love us because we love Him, His love cannot be manipulated, He is someone in authority who is always honest and fair and does not hide the truth about us (p. 104). When we come to God in faith we come into a relationship with him, we are firstly justified and healed with a restored sense of being somebody, a sense of awareness as a whole person which in turn give have hope in God and incite obedience to God (pp. 110-113). However, we still need to grow in our ability to move from relatives to absolutes are as God is Holy and good (absolutes) and overcome self-verification. This means that we can accept ourselves as being bad, a nobody because God can accept us in so doing, we are free to move towards being godly, applying ourselves to do God’s will (p. 129). This is so liberating and refreshing. Wagner said that in relating to God as a Father who accepts us as we are, validates our sense of belonging. God is pleased to acknowledge us as sons (Rom 8:15-17). In relating to Jesus, our sins are forgiven, there is no more guilt and condemnations, our worthiness are validated. In relating to the Holy Spirit, we are comforted and enabled therefore competent. These thoughts are indeed very re-affirming and reassuring. What next?
In coming to faith, our self concept is settled, this allows us to love God and others as commanded in Matthew 22:37-39. We may be faced with antagonistic situations that threaten our sense of being somebody. We therefore need to grow in our Christian life through reading God’s Word, prayer and fellowship with other Christians.