Concept of Self

The concept of self is a widely studied discourse in modern psychology. The study of self is widely embraced in psychology discipline. Indeed, it has been an important part of development in the study of psychology. One of the compelling factors in the study of self concept has been long term interest by cognitive psychologists. This has contributed positively to the understanding of self but has also sparked myriad of controversies.

For instance, definition of this term has for sometime caused indifferences among scholars bearing in mind that some used the terms self-concept and self-esteem interchangeably (Baumeister, 1999). Despite these disparities, most psychologists adopt the term self-concept in reference to how individuals evaluate or perceive themselves in their day-to-day lives. Some of the areas of interest as far as personal attribute is concerned include physical appearance and social ability (Baumeister, 1999).

As exemplified above, numerous studies have been carried out in order to obtain insightful information on development of self. In the course of these studies, psychologists have proposed several theories in an attempt to capture the element of self concept. These theories fall under three key categories.

To begin with, the first theory which asserts that self image is evaluated based on self-standard. This standard is perceived to vary from one individual to another. Second, self is evaluated based on perception of others since each one of us has unique mindset which drives us to perceive things differently. Finally, self is evaluated in respect to perception held by different groups of people (Oosterwegel & Oppenheimer, 1993).

According to Baumeister (1999), the development of self-concept can be categorized into two broad aspects. The first aspect is the existential self which is the most basic form of self concept. The above aspect of self-concept can begin as early as 2-3 months old. Usually, it is whereby children begin to consider themselves as separate entities from others. The realization comes into play as children relate or interact with the world through people around him/her (Baumeister, 1999).

For instance, when children smile and someone smiles back, they begin to understand themselves. Additionally, Baumeister (1999) identifies the categorical self which is an extension of existential self. After realization that they are separate beings, children develop the understanding that they are also objects in the world. A child at this stage begins to notice properties that are characteristic of people and objects in themselves. These properties or features are further discussed in terms of gender, size, age, skill and so on (Baumeister, 1999).

The development of self is dependent on both the environment and culture that an individual is brought up. Likewise, a person’s self-concept depends on relationships they have with their family, friends and teachers (Baumeister, 1999).

Concurrently, self image (realistic or unrealistic perception of self) is formed depending on the influences that one gets from people and the media (Oosterwegel & Oppenheimer, 1993). In addition, age makes a significant difference in the development of self-concept because self grows and changes as people grow older, as they form new relationships along the development path (Baumeister, 1999).

Empirical studies in cognitive psychology have established a strong link between self-concept and self esteem. Similar to self-concept, self-esteem is interconnected to various emotional states that are embedded in human cognitive (Baumeister, 1999). For instance, clinical literature associates self-esteem with anxiety and depression while developmental literature links it to pride and shame.

In addition, personality psychology discourse links self esteem with happiness and contentment while social psychology self-esteem associates it with anger and hostility (Baumeister, 1999). The widely accepted definition of the term self-esteem refers to an individual’s perceived value of self. In other words, it is the emotional aspect of self concept (Baumeister, 1999).

Depending on the degree of evaluation one can either have a positive or negative view of self. Although the two terms seem to be closely intertwined, they are not equivalent, but self-concept can affect self-esteem.

Oosterwegel and Oppenheimer (1993) argue that two separate individuals may have similar self-concept, but differing self-esteem; hence the conclusion that self-concept affects self-esteem depending on its worthiness in a person’s life. Hence, self esteem and the concept of self are closely interrelated but equally different from each other.

Psychologists recognize two extremes of self-esteem. These are high self-esteem and low self-esteem. Individuals who perceive themselves to be valuable are regarded to be as high self-esteemed. In addition, they are considered to possess enormous confidence in their abilities, high level of self acceptance, optimistic and are not interested in what others think about them (Oosterwegel & Oppenheimer, 1993).

On the other hand, low self-esteemed individuals tend to have little or no confidence at all. Moreover, they are always striving to appear like someone else whom they perceive to be superior. In certain situations, they demonstrate pessimism who are quite often worried about what others think about their actions (Oosterwegel & Oppenheimer, 1993).

Numerous researches have identified various factors that are likely to influence self-esteem. This influence may either be positive or negative. To begin with, Oosterwegel and Oppenheimer (1993) expound that people develop either level of self esteem based on their reaction to others. The underlying assumption behind this argument is that if an individual coexists with people who tend to compliment their ability, it is highly likely that the person may end up developing high self-esteem.

On the contrary, if individuals are neglected, condemned or avoided by those closer to them, they tend to develop negative self image and corresponding low self-esteem. Additionally, people tend to develop either level of self esteem through recognition arising from comparison with others.

The underlying assumption behind this view is that individuals tend to evaluate their competence through comparison with other people within the same reference group (Baumeister, 1999). Concurrently, if other people appear to be more successful than the individual in question, such a person ends up with low self-esteem and vice versa (Baumeister, 1999).

To recap it all, it is imperative to note that the concept of self as well as self esteem is extremely influential in human life since each of the extremes impacts and determines whether one will lead fruitful life. Various researchers have investigated the consequences of either high or low self esteem. Most of these researches have concluded that low self-esteem suppresses positivity in life (Baumeister, 1999).

On the other hand, high self-esteem has been associated with productive experiences in life and should be promoted to act as a shield against mental health problems, antisocial behavior and substance abuse (Baumeister, 1999). As earlier mentioned, self-esteem develops through interaction with others and therefore, parents should always ensure they instill positivity in children along the various stages of development.


Baumeister, R. F. (1999). The self in social psychology. Brandon, VT: Psychology Press.

Oosterwegel, A. & Oppenheimer, L. (1993). The self-system: developmental changes between and within self-concepts. New York: Routledge.

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