This chapter presented an outline of what personality psychologists know about the self. This knowledge is neatly divided into three broad areas: self-concept, self-esteem, and social identity. These aspects of the self are important to understanding personality. The notion of a self makes sense in terms of our everyday lives and our experience. We frequently use terms such as selfish, self-worship, selfless, self-consciou and self-esteem in everyday life. In the evolution of language, we developed a rich vocabulary for talking about the self. This reflects people s general preoccupation with themselves. Another reason psychologists are interested in the self is that it plays an important role in organizing a person's experiences of the world. What a person deems important, for example, are the things that are relevant to his or her self-concept. Moreover, people behave dif ferently when they are self-involved than when they are not, so the concept of the self is important for understanding how people construe their world, their experiences, and their actions. The self is a major or ganizing force within the person.
Self-concept is a person' s self-understanding—their story of themselves. The self-concept has its start in infancy , when the child first makes a distinction betwee its body and everything else. This glimmer of self-concept goes on to develop, through repeated experiences of self-awareness, into a collection of characteristics that the child uses for self-definition, such as gende , age, and membership in a particular family. Children acquire skills and talents and start comparing themselves with others and refining their self-concept. They also develop a sense of privacy and a sense of their ability to keep secrets, so they begin to develop a private self-concept, things they know about themselves that no one else knows. Cognitive schemata then develop around aspects of the self; these knowledge structures are collections of characteristics associated with the self-concept. People also develop views of themselves in the future, their possible selves, which include both desirable (ideal self) and undesirable features. All in all, the self-concept is the person' s answer to the questions "Who have I been, what am I like now , and who do I want to be in the future?"
Self-esteem is the evaluation a person makes of his or her self-concept along a good-bad dimension. People dif fer from each other in terms of whether they see themselves as worthwhile, valuable, and good. Research on self-esteem has emphasized how people respond to failure, and findings suggest that high self-esteem per sons persevere in the face of failure, whereas low self-esteem persons often give up following failure. High self-esteem people seem particularly good at deflecting th bumps and bruises of everyday life. One strategy they seem particularly adept in using is, when something bad happens in one area of their lives, to remind themselves that other areas in their lives are going well. This puts negative events in perspective and helps them cope. Extremely high self-esteem, associated with narcissistic tendencies, can sometimes result in aggressive responses to threats to that self-esteem. Researchers have shown that narcissistic persons often retaliate following negative feedback. Another clinical problem associated with self-esteem is extreme shyness. While shyness does have some biological correlates, it is also associated with an over -controlling parenting style. Shyness can often be changed through treatment ef forts. Another area of research shows that high self-esteem people are often concerned with enhancing their self-concept, whereas low self-esteem persons are often concerned with protecting what they have from insult. Finally , in terms of self-esteem variability, variable persons seem especially sensitive to evaluative life events, such as social slights and public failures.
The final aspect of the self discussed in this chapter was social identit , as a person's outward manifestation or the impression he or she gives others. Identity develops over time through relations with others. For many people, the development of an identity follows a period of experimentation, but for others it happens more easily by adopting ready-made social roles. There are periods in life when some people undergo identity crises and have to redefine their social identities. Developing an iden tity is a life-long task, as identity changes with the changing social roles that come with age.
Erikson coined the term identity crisis to refer to the anxiety that comes with having to redefine one s social reputation. There are two kinds of crises: identity deficit, not forming an adequate identit , and identity conflict, in which two or mor aspects of identity come into conflict. Despite crises and challenges, most peopl develop a solid identity and other people know them for their unique characteristics.
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