A self-concept is an idea you have about yourself. It is your self-definition.
Our concept of ourselves comes from internal self-narratives, but it is also impacted by what other people tell us about who we are. For example, constant put-downs by parents may cause a child to have a poor self-concept.
Examples of self-concept include seeing yourself as an introvert, extrovert, sports fanatic, family man, or political party member.
Definition of Self-Concept
Self-concept is a set of beliefs that we have about ourselves and who we are. It is our own definition; our image of ourselves.
Povedano-Diaz, Muniz-Rivaz, and Vera-Perea (2019, p. 2) offer us a scholarly definition:
“The perception of oneself from conscious awareness.”
We form this perception of ourselves, or self-concept, from our experiences, self-assessments, and observations of what we like and don’t like. It is shaped by others and society as well. We can’t define ourselves as something that is not confirmed by the environment.
Cues like how people speak to us, whether people avoid us, and even comparing ourselves to social ideals, all impact how we form our self-concept.
Examples of Self-Concept
1. Ethical Self-Concept (E.g. I am an Environmentalist)
People often see themselves as ethical beings first and foremost. They pride themselves on their ability to apply moral thinking to situations, and have red lines they draw about what they will and won’t do in their lives.
Many people, for example, see themselves as environmentalists, vegans, or simply a ‘good person’. This self-concept may determine many of the decisions you make in your life. In particular, it may impact the goods you consume. Environmentalists might spend extra money to get an electric vehicle; similarly, vegans will choose only to consume non-animal products.
This self-concept may also impact your choice of profession. You might think that certain jobs are not consistent with your ethics and may avoid them (i.e. you might find sales ‘sleasy’). You may also pursue a career in a non-government organization or charity, for example, if your ethics are central to your sense of self.
2. Religious Self-Concept
Many people also hold their religion at the very core of their self-concept. In fact, deep religious faith is a strong point of self-pride for people of many religions.
A person with a strong religious self-concept might carry reminders of their faith on them at all times. Christians may wear a cross around their neck, for example, while Jewish men might wear a yarmulke and Sikhs might wear a “dastar” head covering.
Similarly, you may pray at regular intervals due to your deep faith in god.
Your religious self-concept may also affect your choice of partner if you feel like you want to be partnered with a person who can walk with you through your journey of faith.
3. Personality Based Self-Concept (E.g. Introvert or Extrovert)
Generally speaking, personality is defined as the characteristic behaviors and feelings that make people distinct from each other.
For example, some people are outgoing and super friendly, while others are more reserved and less talkative. Some people are very driven and goal-oriented, while someone else is easy-going and meanders through life at a slower pace. While one person is very agreeable and likes to try new things, another person might not like change at all and resist new ideas.
Each person is definitely different. When it comes to a person’s self-concept, many of us define ourselves in terms of our personality characteristics. One person might say about themselves, “I like adventure and trying new things.” Another might say, “I like routine and stability.”
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to be, just different colors of personality in the rainbow of life.
4. Sports Team Affiliation
In a lot of cultures, sports are a huge priority. Throughout Central and South America, football is life. The people go absolutely crazy for their teams.
On days when the national team is playing an important match, the government will shut down and make the day an unofficial holiday.
Festivities might even start the day before a big match, and then carry on to the day after (if the local team won). It is an integral part of the culture. The citizens tie their self-worth to the achievements of their team and the results of a match is a matter of self-pride.
If you ask the people in some of these cultures to fill out a self-concept questionnaire, and you don’t include the name of their country’s team, they will write it in for you.
5. Identification with a Profession (E.g. I am a Professor)
In some economically developed countries, work is life. People are fully-devoted to their profession, sometimes to the point of obsession. They make great sacrifices in their personal lives to achieve career success.
When people put aside personal ambitions like getting married and starting a family, they have a void that needs to be filled. Work often fills that void. As time goes on, one’s profession can become the sole priority of a person’s existence. Even when married with children, some still will put their career first.
In these cases, one’s self-concept is synonymous with one’s professional title. If you ask, “Who are you?”, they will likely respond with, “I am a _____.” Just fill in the blank with their job title and you will instantly know how they define their self-concept.
6. Strong and Independent Woman (E.g. I am a Feminist)
Today, many women embrace a self-concept as ‘strong and independent’, rejecting old ideas about womanhood in society.
There was a time in many Western cultures when women had very limited options in life. The prescription from society involved first getting married, then having kids, and then taking care of everyone in the family, every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year…forever.
The only possible choice of self-concept was “wife and mother.” That was it. However, over the last several decades women have fought hard to create greater opportunities for themselves. It wasn’t easy.
Today, a lot of women define themselves based on their careers or passions. Many also include in that definition the notion of being strong and independent. Instead of docile and dependent on a man, the modern woman can exist as a single entity, capable of taking care of herself and standing strong in the process.
7. Symbolic Association (What we Buy)
There is a term in marketing that sheds some light on how many consumers define their self-concept. That term is: “symbolic purchasing behavior.” It refers to the fact that many products and services are purchased for what they signify in society.
People can become so attached to a brand that it partially defines who they are. If a person thinks of themselves as sophisticated and modern, then they will seek objects and activities that help confirm that identity.
Luxury items convey sophistication. Blue jeans and a t-shirt convey being down-to-earth. Driving a big truck or a sports car sends a message to others about who you are. By associating with certain products or attending certain kinds of event, they are strengthening their self-concept.
8. Political Self-Concept (E.g. I am a Democrat)
In a country with a multiparty political system, it is easy to see how prevalent it is that people become “at one” with their chosen party. People can be incredibly passionate about their socio-political ideals.
It makes sense. Political views concern some of the most serious and pressing issues in society today.
For example, the debate about government authority versus individual rights seems like a never-ending struggle. Or, the manufacturing goals of corporations versus the needs of environmental protection seems to carry the health of the planet in its balance.
These are issues that divide people into vastly different camps. For those that are so committed to one side or the other, their socio-political views and self-concept are one and the same.
9. The “Other People” Self-Concept
The media is constantly showing us examples of the ultra-successful. We are bombarded with stories of greatness and exceptionalism.
Reality however, is quite different. For every cover page of an entrepreneurial magazine that tells the story of one individual that started a company in a garage and eventually became the richest person in history, there are tens of thousands of others who failed.
To make matters worse, people in very poor countries also see those stories. Social media is everywhere. However, the chances of someone in a third-world country achieving the kind of wealth they see on the internet is practically zero.
After a while, this can create the “other people” self-concept; success and greatness are for others, not me. It is a disheartening state. To internalize the idea that you will be a failure forever can lead to a sense of helplessness and despair.
10. Body Image (E.g. I am Muscular)
It is hard not to be overly concerned with our appearance. We see images of handsome men and beautiful women every day.
We see them on social media, T.V. commercials, in the movies…everywhere. In fact, it is probably impossible to go an entire day without seeing images of the abnormally attractive.
It is so powerful that many of us form an identity that is tied directly to our physical appearance. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve ourselves physically: going to the gym, styling our hair, buying the right clothes.
Some people even go so far as to hire someone to take a big vacuum and suck the fat out of their stomach. Or, implant synthetic gunk into their rear-end to make their butt look more rounded.
A lot of people internalize their physical appearance to form their self-concept. The body image becomes the self-concept.
11. High School Cliques (E.g. I am a Jock)
The high school lunchroom is like a living collage of self-concepts. There is a snapshot of each type on full display.
You can easily see each type of self-concept manifested in the dress and manners of all. Of course, there are the cool kids. They are easy to spot because they are well-dressed and gossiping about others (and each other when backs are turned).
Sitting nearby are the jocks. Also, easy to spot. Constantly trying project self-confidence and usually thumping each other around or puffing out their chest as they walk to class.
And then, there are the motley crew of rebels and nonconformists. Some are artsy like, dressed in oversized vintage clothes and oozing an aura of gloom and unease. Although you can’t see them today because they are skipping school, the rebels prefer grungy clothes and messed up hair to let everyone know they just don’t care.
12. Family-Based Self-Concept (E.g. I am a Family Man)
Family is at the center of many people’s self-concept. A woman may define herself as “a mother, while the husband says he’s “a family man”.
We can look at their daily lives and it becomes obvious why. They are very devoted to the needs and priorities of the family, especially the children.
The choice of home may be based on the availability of good schools. Monday through Friday may involve shuttling the kids to and from various extracurricular activities. Weeknights can include the family sitting around the kitchen table playing board games, and weekends consist of camping excursions or attending the children’s sporting events.
We are what we do, and that can easily become the main component of our self-concept.
Self-Concept vs Self-Esteem
Self-concept is a very similar idea to self-esteem. The main difference between the two is that self-concept is descriptive whereas self-esteem is evaluative.
Self-efficacy, on the other hand, is a measure of how good you are at a specific task.
|I am a teacher.||I am a good teacher.|
|I am a Democrat.||I am a good person because I am a Democrat.|
|I am ugly.||I feel depressed because I am ugly.|
|I am a dad.||I am a fun dad.|
|I am a Boston Bruins supporter.||I feel great about being a Boston Bruins supporter.|
So, we have seen a myriad of self-concepts. There are many more. In fact, there are probably as many different versions of self-concepts as there are people.
Because life has become so dynamic, it offers endless options for which to define ourselves. We can be whomever we want to be. Of course, others may not agree and society could slam the door shut on our ideal self-concepts, but that’s okay. There is another one just around the corner. When one self-concept door shuts, another opens.
In fact, over our lifespan, our self-concept actually changes. As our interests and priorities change, so does the image of ourselves. That’s a good thing. After all, does anyone really want to be the same person they were in high school?
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