One thing all individuals share is the sense of self, or the infamous question, “Who am I?” The sense of self is the core of personal identity that consists of positive or negative thoughts about one’s self. Thoughts of one’s self derive from life experiences, perception of self versus perception of the world and self-assessment. Individual’s strive to maintain relationships in society by creating identities that can associate with the external social world (Myers, 2010). The primary concern of self is the manner in which the social world will perceive the individual (Myers, 2010). The interactions of self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy generate the external self into the social world through evolutionary adaptations that allow for interaction with the environment (Freese & Burke, 1994). Social experience brings about the evolution and adaptations of self to further define who we are.
Concept of Self
Defining the concept of self in the world is to determine the answer to the question, “Who am I?” The ability of an individual to identify who they are interpersonally as well as externally in the social world is the most important aspect of a human’s development (Myers, 2010). The development of relationships between self and the social world cause a chain reaction of adaptations necessary to achieve the desired acknowledgments and acceptance allowing a sense of comfort within an individual (Myers, 2010). In order for individuals to successfully process the various self-relevant information they routinely encounter, individuals develop self-schemas (Stein, 1995).
Self-schemas are a form of cognitive organization that integrate experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about self into a behavior domain within the brain (Stein, 1995). These templates may develop any aspect of the self such as physical traits and characteristics, social roles, and specific skills and are stored in domains the individual values (Stein, 1995). Schemas shape individual perceptions, memories and responses as they are related to and utilized in social interaction (Stein, 1995). Schemas have proven to allow faster response and more consistent interaction with those skills, beliefs, emotions, and feelings that have established a domain (Stein, 1995). For instance, an individual that has a domain for the “runner self” will run more often and also develop an internal motivation plan to keep running as a constant in their lifestyle. Those individuals who do not have this domain within self, will not experience the inner drive to go run. Another aspect of the self-schema is the ability to store memories of the past and present to aid in the future adaptations of self (Stein, 1995). This phenomenon, known as the possible self enables individuals to recall their experiences of the past in comparison to the present. The comparison allows individuals to make decisions for future experiences with the ideas of potential outcomes (Stein, 1995). Possible schemas include positive behaviors of desire (socially acceptable) and negative behaviors of dread (socially unacceptable) (Myers, 2010).
Often, human knowledge of self is flawed giving unrealistic visions of self in areas of self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy (Myers, 2010). Influences of behavior are sometimes invisible to the individual as in cultural influences because they seem to be a natural way of life (Myers, 2010). On the other hand, external influences established through observation sometimes conflict with internal beliefs but are practiced despite the conflict in order to gain acceptance from a particular societal culture (Myers, 2010). To be true to one’s self, one must not allow for internal conflict to overturn personal values, morals, and beliefs, but to accept the differences individuals have from society. It is vital for individuals to understand all aspects of self to gain a full understanding and acceptance of who they really are.
Apply Self to Life
Self-concept is how an individual thinks about, perceives, and assesses themselves within the world (McLeod, 2008). Within self-concept lies self-schemas that solidify who we were, are, and could potentially be. My past self includes a scared, defiant, weak individual who would succumb to another world in order to fell a sense of tranquility and acceptance. I was a lost soul tormented with addiction. Today, I am a strong, highly motivated, dedicated mother who strives to continue to better my life for the sake of my children and my personal well-being. I am unconventional and unpredictable as I enjoy teaching those around me that being true to yourself is perfectly acceptable. I am spiritual, loving, kind, and always willing to listen to anyone who needs a friend. I am np longer tormented with addiction, but rather embrace my past addictions as positive learning experiences. My possible selves include a criminal psychologist talking to the most heinous criminals to learn what makes them tick, an addictions counselor, a behaviorist, a successful mother, a stable provider, and the list is endless, as I am a dreamer. Possible selves also include those selves we dread. For me, this would include failing as a mother, failing in education, or breaking my sobriety.
Self-esteem is the extent to which an individual values themselves including positive and negative evaluations of our personal self-worth (McLeod, 2008). Low self-esteem can be disparaging and debilitating to an individual as they feel worthless and disconnected from the social world (Myers, 2010). High self-esteem may evoke an excessive self-worth that potentially creates unrealistic goals and narcissistic tendencies within the individual (Myers, 2010). The drastic consequences associated with self-esteem requires an individual find a balance between the two to avoid potential downfalls within their sense of self (Myers, 2010). My self-esteem fluctuates depending on life stressors and circumstances at the moment. I may feel confident in my abilities at one moment, but that tends to deflate rapidly if I find I made an error. In some aspects of life, I am confident in my performance, but in other areas, I must have external motivation and praise to continue. I am aware of the impact that external sources can have on my self-esteem, and though I try to avoid those low blows, I do get lost in the negativity and sometimes begin to feel as if that perception is valid. Other times, external sources create an internal drive for me to accomplish a particular goal that I really had no desire to achieve when I began.
Self-efficacy is an individual’s personal belief in their capacity to perform certain tasks (Myers, 2010). The higher an individual’s self-efficacy, the higher the goals the individual will set and the lower the self-efficacy, the higher the potentially of low goal setting and quitting (Myers, 2010). My self-efficacy is very high. I tend to set high goals for myself, and then maximize those goals with smaller goals to accommodate the larger goal. For instance, I am a single mother of six children who works full time. I have also taken on an educational goal that I am currently exceeding my personal expectation of performance. When I set goals, I find an unbelievable amount of motivation to keep me dedicated to accomplishing or surpassing my set goal. I attribute this aspect of self to my success with my current employer as well as my children’s dedication to their personal education. We lead by example, and the example I set for my children and employees is an active commitment with internal rewards that exceed the materialistic reward.
Social Experiences that affect Personal Development
Throughout life, we all experience circumstances that in some way affect our personal development. I can describe infinite experiences that have had a significant impact on my development, but I think the most significant would be my experience with drug addiction. Prior to entering the dark world of drugs, I was brave, smart, dedicated, and had a firm belief that there was nothing that could break me. I became a new person in the fast life, and no longer had a passion for my true self. I held everyone and everything important to me in complete disregard, eventually leading me to experience a total loss of life. As I sobered up, I changed my life and soon found that I higher dimensions of character containing morals, ethics, and spiritual beliefs. Finding these within my soul led me to a sense of peace and acceptance of my true self that I had never before experienced. Finding this acceptance has given me the strength to endure the incredible journey of parenting.
Entering the world of parenting has probably initiated immense adaptations in my life. When I began having children, I was forced to evaluate my life and assess who I truly was. Becoming a parent enlightened me to the actual foundations that support my personal self. I had to define my ethics, beliefs, and morals in order to raise my children to love and be empathetic to others in order to gain and give respect. I have learned to be selfless and adopt centering my life around my children and their desires rather than my own. Most importantly I have learned to be empathetic towards other, especially my parents and grandfather, which is phenomenal in itself. I learned that the motivations behind discipline I received was out of love and concern for my well-being. I learned how heart-wrenching it is to watch your child suffer, whether by their own fault or societal pressures, teaching me what it really means to fight for the sanity of your child.
One cannot possibly find their true self without first understanding the concept of self. Self-esteem and self-efficacy are the primary motivating factors in an individual that allow for growth and adaptation in order to survive in the social world. Individuals develop self-schemas that directly relate them to their personal beliefs, morals, and ethical codes that produce their external being. Although externally one may wear a mask to conceal their true self, behind closed doors, they find comfort in their true being. Our experiences throughout life, beginning in the womb impact us in ways that promote adaptation in an effort to gain social acceptance. Learning your true self allows for an inner acceptance of the diverse societies of the world.
Freese, L. L., & Burke, P. J. (1994). Persons, identities and social interaction. Pp. 1-24 in B. Markovsky, et al. (eds.) Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 11. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Self Concept. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.rg/self-concept.html
Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Stein, K. F. (1995, Fall). Schema Model of the Self-concept. University School of Michigan School of Nursing, 27(3), 187-193.