As we continue to talk and think about how we come to know who we are, I thought it might be good to weigh in with the world of psychology.
According to Carl Rogers, the self-concept has three different components. (Sources cited below)
- The view you have of yourself (Self-image)
- How much value you place on yourself (Self-esteem or self-worth)
- What you wish you were really like (Ideal self)
While Rogers describes them as three separate components, I think that our self-image is very much connected to or contingent upon the value we place on ourselves. The third component, according to Rogers, is the “ideal self.”
The idea of an “ideal self” might be helpful. It certainly seems like we might be able to love a self who is ideal. But be careful not to mistake ideal for perfect, or we’ll never be able to get there! Ideal self might sound more attainable if we think of the idea of optimizing our self. Our genes, our environment, our experiences, our opportunities may all be imperfect, so let’s be sure we don’t expect perfection. That would surely deflate our sense of self as we daily fall short of perfection. But despite imperfect genes, environments, experiences, and opportunities, we can still achieve our ideal self.
Rogers’ concept of ideal self might simply be the idea of doing the best we can with what we have. If, at the end of the day I can say I did my best, that’s a win – even if my best doesn’t look like somebody else’s best. We can’t let the ‘other’ and the ‘outer’ rule something as ‘inner’ as our sense of self. And when I haven’t done my best, I don’t have to despair.
I can fail without being a failure! Everyone fails, but if fail, and can be honest about it, we’ll be unhappy with the outcome and we’ll want to change the outcome. If I look at a failure as a sign of a faulty plan or a faulty effort, we can make appropriate changes until we find our eventual success or optimal outcome. Being struck out didn’t keep Babe Ruth from trying to hit that ball out of the park. Willing to strike out as many times as he needed to, he kept swinging, adjusting his stance, his grip, and his attitude as necessary.
When we interpret failure as final, it’s easy to use it as a measure of ourselves. Every time we do that, we risk degrading our self-worth. And it’s even easier to see ourselves as deficient and become discouraged if we don’t have the benefit of another perspective. People are almost always harder on themselves than they are on others. We really need to be willing to ask trusted others to take a look at our outcomes. Not only will they judge us less harshly, but they will often see a different way to approach a situation.
This is a complex topic. (We’re complicated!) But as we seek to better understand all of the factors which lead to self-understanding, let’s agree to not do it all by ourselves!
Be kind to you
Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill.
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Self Concept. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/self-concept.html