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Self-Concept: What It Is and Why It’s Crucial to Your Happiness

Do you want to feel better about yourself? We all do. However, so many people don’t know where to begin. But it all starts with your self-concept.


Have you ever sat down with yourself and had an honest internal conversation about how you feel about the person you are? You may know that you’re depressed or that your life isn’t going the way you want it to, but you might not know that your self-concept is at the root of, well, pretty much everything.

Definition of a self-concept

A self-concept can be defined as your subjective description of who you think you are, filtered by your own perceptions. Okay, that was a bunch of academic mumbo-jumbo, I know.

So, here’s what it really means. It’s the way you view yourself. It’s not necessarily how others view you, but it’s who you think you are. Other people could think you are way better – or way worse – than you do. But regardless, it’s how you feel about yourself.

How a self-concept develops

No one is born with a self-concept. Just like no one is born knowing how to speak a language or how to walk. It’s just something we learn as we go through life. And the same is true of your self-concept. Here’s how it develops.

#1 Interaction with other people. What did your parents tell you about yourself growing up? That you were smart, beautiful, and perfect? Or that you were lazy, no-good, and a f-up.

The more you hear a certain message from others, the more you believe it. Even your teachers, peers, siblings, and anyone else you interact with add to the building of your self-concept. [Read: Build your self-esteem – 35 funny things to tell yourself]

#2 Comparing ourselves to others. This is deadly. We are always comparing ourselves to the popular people, the beautiful people, or the rich people. So, let me just say this… stop doing that. I know, I know. Easier said than done. But if you want to feel better about yourself and change your self-concept, then you have to.

#3 The media. The images and messages in the media are also very detrimental to our self-concept. Think about all the celebrities in the world who are gorgeous, rich, and seem to have everything. And think about all the messages for weight loss products or anti-aging ones. The media helps construct our view of the world, and thus, ourselves. [Read: How to finally get over the fear of not being good enough]

Aspects of your self-concept

People are very complex creatures. We can feel happiness one second, and then despair the next. We all have many different aspects to ourselves, so self-concept is very multi-dimensional. Here are just a few of the parts of your self-concept that are relevant to almost everyone.

#1 Personality. Some people are introverts, and some are extroverts. This can affect how you feel about yourself. Our society tends to value being social and being popular, which seemingly comes easier to extroverts.

So how you view yourself in relation to other people can affect your self-concept. Also, how people respond to your personality – for better or for worse – can affect your self-esteem as well. [Read: 11 tips to fall in love with yourself and be a better you]

#2 Intelligence. While in school, the smart people might have been called the “nerds” or the “geeks.” But guess what? Sometimes, those people are the ones who become the Bill Gates or the Steve Jobs of the world.

If you don’t feel like you’re very smart, then it will affect how you feel about yourself. Or maybe if you view yourself as smarter than everyone else, and that affects your self-concept too. You will perhaps have a sense of superiority.

#3 Body image. Ahhh… it seems like almost everyone has a body image problem! Granted, not everyone does. But I bet if you asked 100 random people if they love their body, 99% of them would say “no.” That’s sad, because so many people have a lot of negative thoughts that go through their mind about their body.

Our society gives us a lot of pressure to be beautiful and skinny. And with the exception of losing weight and dressing nicely, you can’t do much about how you look. Yet, people still obsess over it. [Read: 10 signs of low self-esteem and 5 ways to increase it]

#4 Success. Another thing that our society does to us is to make us feel like crap if we’re not rich or successful in our chosen field. Even if someone has decided to be a stay at home mom *and loves it*, our society says that it’s not “success.”

We define success in terms of how much money you have in the bank and how big your house is. That’s pathetic! We should judge our own success by whether or not we are happy. Doesn’t matter what we’re doing… if you’re happy, then in my mind, you’re successful.

#5 Health. While health is part of body image in a way, it is really a separate thing. I know someone who literally defines her self-concept by her health problems. Every time you talk to her, she is telling you about the newest ailment she’s fighting. While I feel bad for her, I sometimes think she wouldn’t even know who she is if she was healthy. It’s just become a part of her.

This is true for a lot of people. And not just with health, it can pertain to problems in general. If you define yourself by your problems, you would probably be lost if you suddenly didn’t have any. [Read: Low self-worth – 5 steps to see yourself in a better light]

#6 Relationships *or lack thereof*. If you’re seeing a theme here about how society can really damage our self-concept if we let it, then you are very smart. Or it’s just obvious. But we’ll go with you being smart. Single people – especially after a certain age – are seen as weird. Especially women. They are the “crazy cat lady” or the “old maid.”

Men have it a little better. They’re just “independent” and a “bachelor.” But nevertheless, most people think that unless they have a significant other, then they are not worthy. That is so not true! Being single has its perks too. [Read: How to build self-confidence – 16 ways to realize you’re worth it]

How self-concept is crucial to your happiness

As you have probably already been aware of, how you feel about yourself directly affects your happiness. If you don’t love, accept, and forgive yourself, how can you possibly be happy? You can’t. Because all you’ll be doing is criticizing yourself.

So, if you want to be happier, then it all starts with you. Take a look at the list in this feature and then take a good look at yourself. Write down all the negative messages you tell yourself, and then you’ll see on paper what your self-concept really looks like.

Once you get it down and you know what you need to work on, then take action. Stop those negative thoughts and change them to positive ones. You may not realize it, but you do have the power and ability to change your thoughts… and thus, change your life.

[Read: How self-respect affects you and your relationship]

No one is perfect. In fact, we all need to learn to accept ourselves as we are, but make positive improvements where necessary. That way, your positive self-concept will be the determining factor to your ongoing happiness.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...