Optimizing Your Self-Concept

Video presentation of this page

What Is Self-Concept?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines self-concept as,

An idea of the self, constructed from the beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others -- a self-concept is largely a reflection of the reactions of others towards the individual.

That's a tough one to stomach: What we think about ourselves is "largely" based on how others react to us.

You may think something like, "Oh, I don't care about what other people think about me!" But it is a little late for that. Because we have a very high degree of neuroplasticity in our early years, we are deeply affected by the way people treat us. That leads to the creation of both good and bad thought-pattern superhighways, on which our future thoughts travel. Because we lose much of that neuroplasticity as we age, it is difficult to create new and improved superhighways, although it can be done (see Improving Your Relationship with Yourself.)

If you would like to improve your self-concept, it is safe to say that you need to begin tipping the scales the other way. It is time to start shedding the opinions and reactions of others. It is time to acknowledge what has happened, but at the same time identify the strengths you possess -- strengths that will underpin your best chance at a fulfilling life. Working from this positive perspective you can begin the pursuit of a purposeful life. One which will feel so meaningful that past experiences and daily difficulties will have a relatively minor impact on your sense of well-being. That process, along with others described on this website, will lead to a self-concept based on how you react to yourself, and not as much on how others react to you.

The Convergence of Inner Personality and Persona

The more comfortable you are just being yourself, the better you feel. There are countless studies and articles written about "Being Yourself" including this one: The Surprising Benefits of Being Yourself at the Psychology Today website.

Being yourself simply means being in touch with your "inner personality." According to C.G Jung, "the inner personality is the way one behaves in relation to one's inner psychic processes; it is the inner attitude, the characteristic face, that is turned towards the unconscious." He terms the outward face the "persona." Like it or not, we all have a persona, the personality we like to project to the world -- and to ourselves. It is a sort of idealization of the person we would like to be.

The closer you can bring the persona to the inner personality, the less strain you will feel going through life. You will also seem more "real" or "authentic" to other people. As the inner personality and persona converge you will feel better about yourself. This, in turn, will lead to more self-confidence, which will allow you, more comfortably, to "be yourself."

Where to Start

A great place to start is with these two steps:

  1. Try this "Positive Psychology" exercise called a Strengths Intervention. You can find instructions here: Leveraging Your Strengths. After a week, come back to this page and continue with the next step.
  2. Begin a Gratitude Practice. Instructions are here: Gratitude.

Now that you are familiar with identifying and building your strengths, and understanding the benefits of receiving gratitude, try going forward and thinking frequently:

  • What are people thankful to me for?
  • What strengths do I possess that create gratitude?
  • What would life be like for the people who are grateful if I did not exist?

Continue building your self-concept using self-compassion (see below), self-forgiveness, self-inquiry, developing your personal philosophy, and at all times paying attention to your physical and mental self-care. By taking all of these steps, and others described on this website, you will know you are doing the best you can to improve your self-concept. Just knowing you are doing your best will significantly help you to feel your best and to feel the best about yourself.

What Does it Mean to Love Yourself?

Self-compassion is the key to releasing shame and false beliefs, which keep people locked in harmful behaviors. -- Gabor Maté, physician, speaker, and bestselling author

Many, if not most, people think loving yourself is an act of conceit or narcissism. They confuse loving yourself with being in love with yourself or an extreme form of liking yourself.

And that is understandable. But, instead, think of it this way. For a parent to effectively love a child, it is not enough to just express the emotion ("I love you so much!" or "You mean the world to me!") That's all well and good but real loving is about the care the parent takes -- not just words with no actions to back them up. Loving yourself, then, is not just about turning a feeling of love toward yourself. It is about taking care of yourself in a loving way.

"Self-love is not narcissistic. It is about looking after yourself. It is about self-care." -- Dr. Edith Egar, psychologist, author

Then how would you go about "taking care of yourself in a loving way?" The Berkeley Well-Being Institute has an article titled, "Loving Yourself: Why and How to Love Yourself" by Tchiki Davis, MA, Ph.D. Here are the six ways described by the author. Next to each, is where to find more information on this website.

  1. Be Self-Compassionate (see below)
  2. Practice Loving Kindness Towards Yourself and Others (Adopting Your Positive Way of Being)
  3. Forgive Yourself (Improving Your Relationship with Yourself)
  4. Practice Self-Gratitude (Gratitude)
  5. Focus on Your Strengths (Leveraging Your Strengths)
  6. Show Yourself That You Love Yourself (Coaching)

Regarding number six, the author of "Loving Yourself: Why and How to Love Yourself" suggests you might do any of the following:

  • Send yourself away for a relaxing vacation if you’re overworked
  • Stand up for yourself when others put you down
  • Help yourself get your dream job by learning how to manifest your dreams

Beyond those suggestions, you can (ultimately) love yourself by pursuing the best life possible. How? Notice that number six has a link to the "Coaching" page, which in turn links to many other pages. That is because you "show yourself that you love yourself" by pursuing all of the eight ways listed on the "Continuous Growth and Transformation" graphic. By progressing, continually, in these eight ways, you are honoring yourself, your life, and the lives of others. You are showing that you love yourself.

Then, what does it feel like to love yourself? By doing the above you will feel more solid and have a sense of inner peace because you will know you are doing everything you can to have the best life possible -- you will also experience the feeling of warmth one gets when one is being cared for.

The Three Components of Self-Compassion - Ted Talk by Kristin Neff

Kristin Neff is a professor of educational psychology and a best-selling author. In her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (and in the video above) she defines three key elements of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Common humanity vs. Isolation. Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect.
  • Mindfulness vs. Over-identification. Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective.

Note: Some authors make a distinction between empathy and compassion: empathy means “feeling for someone” but compassion means “feeling for someone” plus “having the desire to help.”

Self-Love, be Intentional - Ted Talk by Caitlyn Roux

Good Boundaries Free You - Ted Talk by Sarri Gilman