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Discussion Post Expectations:
As the discussion prompt suggests, this week’s concepts stem from psychology. Much of what we study in communication is pulled from other disciplines. It is important to understand what we do that is different, however. So, be sure to consider what makes communication DISTINCT from psychology in addition to the similarities we share.
Self concept, as your reading states, has several components, discussed further here. Think about how much context impacts how our self image plays out as self esteem. For instance, my self image includes that I’m not good at math. I’ve never enjoyed it, never worked hard at it, and never been particularly successful at it. But, as a communication studies professor, I never have to use it, so it doesn’t impact my self esteem usually. However, on the occasion I’m out with friends and we have to calculate our own scores during games of darts, and I’m the only one who has to use a calculator, that begins to change. So, my self image is always the same “I’m bad at math,” but my self esteem depends on the situation.
How might that then impact my communication during those two contexts? Clearly, there’s more opportunity for me to be confident in the classroom, which improves my ability to teach. My lowered self esteem during darts games might make me uncomfortable, and turn into me either being short with friends or not wanting to play the game to begin with. Recognizing this potential outcome can help me realize the reasons behind my actions and feelings and allow me to make sure I don’t take out my self esteem issues on others, as well as question how important they actually are.
Self-concept is the image that we have of ourselves. How exactly does this self-image form and change over time? This image develops in a number of ways but is particularly influenced by our interactions with important people in our lives.
How Is Self-Concept Defined?
So how exactly do psychologists define self-concept? It is generally thought of as our individual perceptions of our behavior, abilities, and unique characteristics.
Self-concept is essentially a mental picture of who you are as a person. For example, beliefs such as "I am a good friend" or "I am a kind person" are part of an overall self-concept.
Self-concept tends to be more malleable when people are younger and still going through the process of self-discovery and identity formation. As people age, self-perceptions become much more detailed and organized as people form a better idea of who they are and what is important to them.
"The individual self consists of attributes and personality traits that differentiate us from other individuals (for example, 'introverted')," explain authors Crisp and Turner. "The relational self is defined by our relationships with significant others (for example, 'sister'). Finally, the collective self reflects our membership in social groups (for example, 'British')."
Components of Self-Concept
Like many topics within psychology, a number of theorists have proposed different ways of thinking about self-concept.
According to a theory known as social identity theory, self-concept is composed of two key parts: personal identity and social identity. Our personal identity includes such things as personality traits and other characteristics that make each person unique. Social identity includes the groups we belong to including our community, religion, college, and other groups.
Bracken (1992) suggested that there are six specific domains related to self-concept:
- Social - the ability to interact with others
- Competence - ability to meet basic needs
- Affect - awareness of emotional states
- Physical - feelings about looks, health, physical condition, and overall appearance
- Academic - success or failure in school
- Family - how well one functions within the family unit
Humanist psychologist, Carl Rogers believed that there were three different parts of self-concept:
- Self-image, or how you see yourself. It is important to realize that self-image does not necessarily coincide with reality. People might have an inflated self-image and believe that they are better at things than they really are. Conversely, people are also prone to having negative self-images and perceive or exaggerate flaws or weaknesses. For example, a teenage boy might believe that he is clumsy and socially awkward when he is really quite charming and likable. A teenage girl might believe that she is overweight when she is really quite thin. Each individual's self-image is probably a mix of different aspects including your physical characteristics, personality traits, and social roles.
- Self-esteem, or how much you value yourself. A number of factors can impact self-esteem, including how we compare ourselves to others and how others respond to us. When people respond positively to our behavior, we are more likely to develop positive self-esteem. When we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking, it can have a negative impact on our self-esteem.
- Ideal self, or how you wish you could be. In many cases, the way we see ourselves and how we would like to see ourselves do not quite match up.
Congruence and Incongruence
As mentioned earlier, our self-concepts are not always perfectly aligned with reality. Some students might believe that they are great at academics, but their school transcripts might tell a different story.
According to Carl Rogers, the degree to which a person's self-concept matches up to reality is known as congruence and incongruence. While we all tend to distort reality to a certain degree, congruence occurs when self-concept is fairly well aligned with reality.
Incongruence happens when reality does not match up to our self-concept.
Rogers believed that incongruence has its earliest roots in childhood. When parents place conditions on their affection for their children (only expressing love if children "earn it" through certain behaviors and living up to the parents' expectations), children begin to distort the memories of experiences that leave them feeling unworthy of their parents' love.
Unconditional love, on the other hand, helps to foster congruence. Children who experience such love feel no need to continually distort their memories in order to believe that other people will love and accept them as they are.
Weiten, W., Dunn, D. S., & Hammer, E. Y. Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustments in the 21st Century. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2014.
Pastorino, E. E. & Doyle-Portillo, S. M. What Is Psychology?: Essentials. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2013.
Crisp, R. J. & Turner, R. N. Essential Social Psychology. London: Sage Publications; 2010.
Bracken, B. A. Examiner's Manual for the Multidimensional Self-esteem Scale. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed; 1992.
Rogers, C. 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; 1959.