Approaches to the Self

Descriptive Component of the Self: Self-Concept

Development of the Self-Concept

Self-Schemata: Possible Selves, Ought Selves, and Undesired Selves

Evaluative Component of the Self: Self-Esteem

Evaluation of Oneself Research on Self-Esteem

Social Component of the Self: Social Identity

The Nature of Identity Identity Development Identity Crises

Summary and Evaluation Key Terms


There are many aspects to the self: the ways we see and define our selves, or our self-concept, the evaluation we make of that self-concept, which is called self-esteem, and our social identities, which are the outward reflections we show other people.

.now thyself!" was the advice given by the Greek Oracle at Delphi. Do you know yourself? Who are you? How would you answer this question? Would you define yourself first as a student, as a son or daught , or as someone's spouse or boy- or girlfriend? Or would you define yourself by listing you various characteristics: "I am smart, optimistic, and confident"? Or would yo instead give a physical description: "I am a male, 6 ' 6" tall, about 200 pounds, with red hair and a ruddy complexion"? No matter how you respond to this question, your answer is an important part of your self-concept, your understanding of yourself. Moreover, some people are satisfied with who they are, whereas other are dissatisfied with their self-concept. How you feel about who you are is you self-esteem. On top of this, you have a social identity, as you present yourself to others. Sometimes social identity does not match our self-concept, and the selves we present to others are not the selves we know our selves to be, leading some of us to feel false or phony in our relationships.

In this chapter, we will explore how psychologists have approached the notion of the self. We will do this by considering the three main components of the self: self-concept, self-esteem, and social identity .

There are many aspects to the self: the ways we see and define our selves, or our self-concept, the evaluation we make of that self-concept, which is called self-esteem, and our social identities, which are the outward reflections we show other people.

Why might we want to learn about the self? To most people, the sense of self is their anchor, their starting point for interpreting everything around them. For example, when you pick up some group photos from the developer (or download them from your digital camera), whom in the group do you look at first? If you are like mos people, you will say that you look at yourself first. And, when looking at the photo of yourself, you immediately engage in an evaluation. You might think the picture is not a good representation, that it does not show you in the best light. Maybe you think that you have a nicer smile than that and that you are, in fact, a happier person than this picture portrays. Or you might think that you have put on a few pounds lately , that you are heavier than your friends in the photo. Maybe you dislike the fact that you have gotten heavier , and a small blow to your self-esteem occurs when you look at the photo. Or maybe you wonder how certain other people would view this photo of you. Would your parents like to see you this way? For example, would they approve of the self you portray in this group photo of your college friends?

Our sense of self is changing all the time. In infancy , we first distinguished our selves from the world around us and began the life-long process of constructing, evaluating, and presenting to others our sense of who we are. During this process, we constantly undergo challenges and changes to our self-concept. For example, in high school, a young man might try out for the basketball team and do poorly . His sense of himself as an athlete is challenged by this experience of failure. He will have to search for other ways of defining himself. Maybe he will dye his hair purple and star wearing a trench coat to school, beginning to define himself in terms of an alterna tive teen lifestyle. High school and college are years in which many people struggle with defining their self-concept, and it is a time when people are especially sensitiv to events that challenge their sense of self.

Once people have a fairly stable sense of themselves, they begin to use that to evaluate events and objects in the world. For example, when something happens to a person, such as a young woman' s breakup with a boyfriend, she evaluates that event from the perspective of her self-concept, and whether the event is good or bad for who she thinks she is. If having this boyfriend was an important part of her self-concept ("I'm nothing without him") (Aron, Aron, Tudor, & Nelson, 2004), then she evaluates the breakup as devastating. On the other hand, if the young woman has a sense of herself that is mostly independent of her relationship with the young man, then the breakup is less devastating.

Our sense of who we are leads us to evaluate events in the world in certain ways. Only events that are important to our sense of self will have any strong impact either way, as very good or very bad. If something does not matter to our sense of self, then it will not bother us one way or the other . For example, if doing well in school is not part of your self-concept (maybe you are in college for other reasons), then doing poorly on an academic assignment will not af fect you much. Who we are, our self-concept, determines how we relate to and evaluate the events in the world.

People do not always like or value what they see when they turn inward and assess their self-concept. That liking or value is self-esteem. For example, two people may both tend to save money rather than spend it, to not leave tips at restaurants, and to always buy the cheapest things. One of these persons views herself as frugal and conservative, and she evaluates these to be positive characteristics. She has positive self-esteem, at least as far as these attributes go. The second person may see himself as stingy, ungenerous, and without compassion. He views these characteristics as negative. Consequently , he has low self-esteem, at least as far as these attributes go. Both have the same self-concept, of being thrifty and hoarding their money , but differ in how they evaluate those characteristics and, hence, in their self-esteem.

Finally, social identity is the self that is shown to other people. This is the relatively enduring part of ourselves that we use to create an impression, to let other people know who we are and what can be expected from us. For instance, your driver' s license, which is often used for social identification purposes, contains informatio about your social identity: your family name, your first name, your date of birth, you address, your physical description, such as height, weight, and eye color , and whether or not you smoke in public. These characteristics differentiate you from other people and form some of the more visible and socially available aspects of your identity . Other, less available aspects of your social identity include how you like to be perceived by others and the impression that you want others to have of your personality. Maybe you are the kind of person who wants to be taken seriously , so it is important to you to have a very businesslike social identity . Maybe you are the kind of person who wants to be liked by most people, so you strive to have a social identity as a friendly and agreeable person.

The three components of the self—self-concept, self-esteem, and social identity— are all vitally important in our day-to-day lives. Personality psychologists have studied these aspects of the self and have generated a good deal of knowledge about them. We will begin this chapter with a focus on the descriptive component of the self— the self-concept.


Identity theft: It can happen to anyone. Imagine one night a collection agency calls and informs you of several past-due credit card accounts in your name and demands that you pay up immediately. The problem is, you never opened these accounts. The supermarket now refuses to accept checks because recently several have bounced. The problem is, you did not write those checks that bounced. What is going on?

Recent surveys estimate that there are 7-10 million identity theft victims per year. Using a variety of methods, criminals steal Social Security Numbers (SSN), driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, ATM cards, telephone calling cards, and other pieces of individuals' identities such as date of birth and mother's maiden name. They use this information to impersonate their victims, spending as much money as they can in as short a time as possible.

There are two types of identity theft. One type occurs when a thief acquires a person's existing account information and purchases products or services using either the actual credit card or simply the account number and expiration date. This type of identity theft is called "Account takeover." The second type, called "Application fraud," is true identity theft. The thief uses someone else's Social Security Number and other identifying information to open new accounts in that person's name. Because the monthly account statements are mailed to an address used by the impostor, the true victims are unlikely to learn of application fraud for some time, long after the damage has been done.

Most credit card companies and banks limit a person's liability to $50 for losses incurred through identity theft. However, victims are often left with bad credit reports and must spend months or even years regaining their credit status. In the meantime, they often have difficulty obtaining loans, renting apartments, obtaining a bank account, or even getting hired.

Application (Continued)

There are several websites devoted to identity theft, especially how to avoid it and what to do if it happens to you. See for example, The major way to prevent identity theft is to carefully guard all personal identifying information, especially your SSN. For example, do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport in your wallet or purse, except when needed. Never give out your SSN, credit card number, or other personal information over the phone, by mail, or on the Internet unless you have a trusted business relationship with the company and you have initiated the call. Always take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container. Order your credit report once or twice a year from one or more of the major credit bureaus to check for errors and fraudulent use of your accounts.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Single Parenting

Single Parenting

Finally! You Can Put All Your Worries To Rest! You Can Now Instantly Learn Some Little-Known But Highly Effective Tips For Successful Single Parenting! Understand Your Role As A Single Motherfather, And Learn How To Give Your Child The Love Of Both Parents Single Handedly.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment