Defining and Expressing the Self Concept


“Self is a key construct in several schools of psychology which usually refers to either the cognitive and affective representation of one’s identity or subject” (Smith & Mackie, 2007). Several theories are trying to explain the meaning of self but the most outstanding is Kohut’s formulation and the Jungian understandings. There are many critiques of the concept of self-hood with arguments that preoccupation with independence may be harmful as it causes divides based on people’s sex, race, and many other elements that make one different from everybody else. The idea of self has also been argued as philosophically controversial and invalid since it requires the self to understand its self to be able to talk about or even judge oneself.

Self-concept can be defined as a combination of beliefs and ideas which people have put together to form self (Smith & Mackie, 2007). For example, when I say “I am a very thoughtful and kind person”, that is the belief that I hold about myself or self. Self-concept is developed through many different impressions and viewpoints but many times it is through our behavior. Daryl Bern’s proposal of a self

perception theory was the first with an argument that people form self-concepts from things they do and actions they have taken in the past (Smith & Mackie, 2007).

Theories of self-concept

Bandura’s theory

Albert Bandura’s personality theory emphasizes the social origins of behavior, the social cognitive approach to personality, and the cognitive thought processes responsible for human behavior and functioning (Smith & Mackie, 2007). His theory is a break from other traditional theories which believe that cognitive factors are very important to how a human being function.

Bandura’s theory basic concept is observational learning which is an argument that “traditional principles of learning such as laws of reinforcement and punishment have less relevance to acquisition but rather have much to do with performance” (Smith & Mackie, 2007). The theory argues the importance of self-observation, self-judgment, and self-response. Self-observation allows us to look at our behaviors and use these observations as a basis for our actions. In self-judgment, we do a comparison of our own standards with set ones. For example, I can create an arbitrary rule of exercising once a week, or I can compete with set standards where one needs to exercise three times a week. Self-response is where we give ourselves rewarding self-responses by examining how off we are from set standards.

According to Bandura, self-concept is greatly influenced by multiple determinants and external rewards. Balance and equilibrium are very key if there is going to be consistency in the systems of principles that govern all of us. This theory also analyzes the concept of self-efficacy referring to a human being’s belief that he or she “can carry out courses of action required to deal with prospective situations containing many elements some of which are unpredictable, stressful and even ambiguous” (Smith & Mackie, 2007).

Carl Rogers’ theory

Carl Roger’s theory offers an extensive discussion on the concept of self. According to him, “the human organism’s phenomenal field includes all experiences available at every given moment both unconscious and conscious” (Rogers, 1959). In the process of developing, we pick a part of the phenomenal field, differentiate it, and make it part of our self. In this theory, the self-development process is fed by awareness, functioning and interaction. The theory argues that the self is largely founded on the social experiences we encounter. In the process, we collect a set of characteristics which we then hold on to because they are peculiar to our “self”.

This theory further discusses self-actualization, conditions of worth, and the fully functioning self. Self-actualization according to Rogers is what pushes us to experiences which we view as consistent with our conscious view of who we really are. For one to be consistent with their self-concept some needs have to be in place including positive regard from self and that from others (Rogers, 1959).

Self-concept and self-presentation

Self-presentation deals with the way we carry ourselves around other people. It is also how we relate with other people and how we treat the people we meet in our daily lives. A person with an unhealthy self-concept will have low self-esteem, will expect to be treated badly, and will treat other people badly in return. The motives of self-presentation are to influence other people and gain rewards and since these two motives may not have very loud results and it’s up to an individual to judge how well they did in a task (Meyers & Smith, 2009). Different people will interpret the same situation differently, mostly influenced by the self-concept they have developed.

Expression, another motive of self-presentation helps us claim identity and construct an image of ourselves (Meyers & Smith, 2009). We then are able to present ourselves in a manner that is consistent with the image we have created of ourselves. If we then feel restricted, we tend to exhibit the same towards other people and we try to assert our freedom to other people which may not turn out well.


Self-concept is developed through our day-to-day experiences. I have realized that if I participate in a charitable event, I immediately start to develop a deep belief that I am kind and caring. On the other hand, if I witness something wrong and do not intervene, I feel cowardly and selfish and this impacts the way I make a decision next time because this belief is stuck in my head for a long time. In my first interview, I found it hard to express myself, and this built fear in me because I started believing that I had bad communication skills. It took several other positive experiences for me to develop a different self-concept regarding my communication skills.

When trying to relate to the concept of self-presentation, I immediately remember I suffered low self-esteem growing up and believed no one noticed me or what I did. Even positive feedback from the people I was trying to influence or gain acceptance from sounded like pretense. I could not bring myself to believe that when people applauded me, they actually meant it. However, with a few helpful resources, I was able to overcome low self-esteem and after developing a healthy self-concept I now easily accept positive responses even when it is truly pretense. I realized that when the right results are not achieved, it becomes hard for a person with an unhealthy self-concept to present themselves to people the next time even though they interpreted the outcome of their past attempt wrongly. Self-concept, therefore, plays a big role in our level of self-esteem and how we handle rejection or acceptance.

It is also after a number of experiences that I have noticed my self-concept determines the outcomes of the things I attempt to do. If for example, I believe I am a failure in a certain field, I tend to set myself up for failure by doing a task in that field with very little enthusiasm expecting to fail. After a bad experience in my first interview, I attended a few other interviews but did so expecting to fail. As a result, I had very bad experiences until I realized it was all in the concept, I had developed about myself. I realized that an unhealthy self-concept for a long time led to me believing I was not worthy which then portrayed in the way I behaved. Any negative encounters then served as a justification of my beliefs which further created an environment for more negative happenings because someone who does not love or believe in themselves gets disappointed and hurt easily.

Growing up, I also realized that my friends whose parents were too strict always ended up being extremely difficult or rebellious. This I have come to realize is because they had beliefs that they had suppressed personal identities causing them to eventually backlash at their parents by being rebellious or extremely difficult. Such kind of behavior is mostly a cover-up for the negative self-concepts one has created about themselves. It is therefore an attempt to prove to the world that they are not exactly what the world thinks, even though the world thinks otherwise. A healthy self-concept is therefore very important for self-esteem and good self-presentation skills.

The stability of our self-concept is determined by different mental and psychological factors and contributions. It is however believed to be some form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If I handle a situation in a way that makes me feel courageous, I tend to find situations that portray my courage and will for a long time after that try to act courageously in situations I face in an attempt to reinforce my beliefs as a self-concept. Another factor that affects self-concept is selective memory. I will more often than not remember those events which reinforce my self-concept. Anything which may be a potential threat to my self-concept will also many times remain memorable for a long time and there will be a constant attempt to make up for that particular time I didn’t act as I believe to be. If I act cowardly, I will try to forget the encounter and constantly try to make up to reinforce the belief that I am a courageous person.


We view others in a comparative sense from our own self-concept. We start judging what they are and what they aren’t from the perception we have of others. Self-concept also tends to look at what separates one from everyday society and it could be very small things such as having an uncommon music taste or having a tattoo. It helps people develop a personal view of themselves which distinguishes them from the crowd. Studies show that when children are told to describe themselves, usually they will list those characteristics which appear different from what others have. This goes to say that self-concept starts to develop as early as childhood.

Self-concept can be said to comprise three things; self-esteem, self-image, and self-worth. How one accepts themselves and how worthy they feel adds up to self-esteem or how one values themselves in the presence of other people. People with a healthy self-concept will use their strengths positively to achieve excellence in various tasks. They are not proud or arrogant, characters are normally viewed as a way of covering up for an unhealthy self-concept and esteem.


Meyers, D.G., & Smith, S.M. (2009). Exploring Social Psychology. Second Canadian Ed. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Rogers, C.R. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Smith, E., & Mackie, D. (2007). Social psychology. London: London Press.

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