Skip to Content

Factors Affecting Self-Concept: Theories and Examples

Factors Affecting Self-Concept: Theories and Examples

Sharing is caring!

Your self-concept is the beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and images you hold about yourself. It includes many different aspects of your identity, including your physical appearance, personality traits, values, talents, skills, roles, and relationships. Factors affecting self-concept may include social influences, personality traits, life experiences, values, and cognitive processes.

Self-concept is essentially how you see yourself. If you were to ask yourself, “Who am I?” your description might include a list of things you believe about yourself. That’s your self-concept.

Your self-concept is important because it helps shape many different areas of your life, including your behaviors, motivations, and relationships. A strong self-concept can help you feel more confident and motivated, while a weak self-concept can leave you feeling insecure and unsure of your worth.

Difference Factors Affecting Self-Concept

Self-concept is shaped by many forces in a person’s life. Some of these factors affecting self-concept include upbringing, culture, experiences, personality traits, social experiences, feedback from others, identity, and media influences.

Social Factors 

A person’s social environment plays a crucial role in shaping self-concept. Parenting styles and parental attitudes influence a child’s self-image and understanding during the early years of life.

As kids mature, other influences, including peers and community members, begin to play a larger role in shaping their self-concept, particularly as they begin to compare themselves to other people.

Cultural norms and media influences can also shape how people feel about themselves.

Psychological Factors

Individual psychological factors such as cognitive processes, emotional experiences, and personality traits also impact a person’s self-concept. For example, Big 5 personality dimensions such as neuroticism and conscientiousness affect how people perceive themselves and their life experiences. 

Cognitive factors like self-awareness and self-schema impact how people sense, process, and interpret information relevant to the formation of self-concept. 

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as school, work, family, friends, and community can impact how people perceive themselves, their self-esteem, and their self-image. Parenting styles, interactions with others, feedback from other people, and relationships can all influence how people see themselves.

Socioeconomic factors affecting self-concept include access to resources, income, and housing. People with more economic opportunities may also be exposed to more positive influences on their self-worth. 

Theories of Self-Concept

There are a number of different theories to explain self-concept. Some important theories include:

Rogers’ Self-Concept Theory

Carl Rogers, an influential humanist psychologist, suggested that self-concept is composed of three key elements: self-esteem, self-image, and the ideal self. 

  • Self-esteem relates to how much you like and value yourself.
  • Self-image refers to how you see yourself in reality.
  • Ideal self involves your image of the person you want to be.

Rogers believed that when your self-image is aligned with your vision of your ideal self, then you are in a state of congruence. Incongruence can occur if there is a big gap between how you see yourself and who you want to be. Experiencing incongruence can negatively affect well-being and lead to low self-esteem.

Social Identity Theory

According to researchers Henri Tajfel and John Turner, self-concept stems from people’s affiliation and identification with different social groups. Social identity theory suggests that being part of groups, such as religions, nationalities, sports teams, occupations, gender, ethnic groups, and sexual orientation, confers a sense of belonging and identity. These memberships also help people feel a sense of purpose and positively influence self-worth.

Self-Discrepancy Theory

This theory, created by psychologist Edward Tory Higgens, suggests that there are three domains of the self:

  • The actual self (how we see ourselves)
  • The ideal self (how we want to be)
  • The ought self (how we think we should be)

Discrepancies between these domains can have a negative effect on self-concept.

Self-Schema Theory

This theory suggests that people hold a number of cognitive structures, known as schema, that organize self-concept. Schemas emerge based on experience and are used to understand new experiences. Self-schemas can impact how people think and feel about themselves.

Self-Efficacy Theory

Psychologist Albert Bandura suggested that self-efficacy plays an important part in shaping self-concept. Self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief in their ability to achieve goals and accomplish tasks. Such beliefs can influence a variety of factors that affect self-concept, including motivation, goal attainment, effort, and choices.

Characteristics of Self-Concept

While there are different theories about what self-concept involves and how it is formed, many of these theories suggest that there are a few basic characteristics and components of your image of yourself.

Self-concept is:

  • Always changing: Your self-concept isn’t set in stone, and it will naturally change and evolve as you gain new experiences and reflect on what you’ve learned.
  • Multifaceted: How you see yourself stems from many influences, including your own appearance, internal mental processes, personality traits, experiences, social roles, values, and beliefs.
  • Complex: Your self-concept can be complicated at times. For most people, it isn’t all good or all bad. Instead, it is a mixture of positive and negative evaluations about the self. 
  • Contextual: How you feel about yourself can vary depending on the context and situation. You might feel good about yourself in one setting but less secure in another.

How Self-Concept Develops

Because self-concept isn’t set in stone, that means that it changes over time. It begins to emerge early in childhood as children develop and start to form an image of themselves and their relationship to the world around them.

Childhood (Birth to age 12)

During early childhood, children start by learning that they are separate from their environment and the people in it. They begin to develop a sense of self-awareness and an understanding of the things they want and need.

A child’s early self-concept is largely influenced by their observable characteristics, including appearance and their basic social roles. Feedback from others, including caregivers and peers, has a significant impact on a child’s sense of self-concept at this point in development.

As children grow, they start to incorporate other sources of information into their self-image, often due to comparing themselves with others. Getting positive feedback from parents, teachers, friends, and others can help kids develop a positive sense of self-esteem.

Adolescence (ages 13 to 18)

Adolescence is a time of significant change and development in a child’s self-concept. Self-concept becomes much more abstract, and kids incorporate factors related to their beliefs, values, and goals into their sense of self.

Their social comparisons become more complex, and teens begin to develop a much clearer sense of their personal identity. Exploring different ways to express this identity is also important at this stage of development.

Self-esteem can vary during the teen years, particularly due to influences like body image, school, social media, and peer relationships. According to some theorists, including Erik Erikson, identity formation is a central task of adolescence.

Developing a clear self-concept allows teens to enter adulthood with a coherent sense of self that serves as a basis for further development.

Adulthood (age 18 and up)

Self-concept isn’t set in stone and continues to evolve and shift throughout adulthood. Life experience, social roles, and shifting social environments all play a role in shaping these changes through the adult years.

In young adulthood, people are focused on establishing their independence, going to school, achieving career goals, forging intimate relationships, and starting families. These tasks play a vital role in shaping an individual’s self-concept.

In later adulthood, people often have a much clearer sense of identity. However, this can still change in response to life changes that arise in the later years of adulthood. Retirement, health challenges, and changing relationships can all force people to reckon with challenges to their self-concept.

Toward the end of life, people often begin to reflect back on their lives and may experience higher levels of self-acceptance and they view themselves and their lives with a sense of maturity.

Examples of Self-Concept

Some examples of self-concepts that a person may hold include:

  • “I am intelligent and capable.”
  • “I am kind and compassionate.
  • “I am confident in my abilities.”
  • “I am a good listener and supportive friend.”
  • “I am resilient and able to bounce back from challenges.”
  • “I am creative and innovative.”
  • “I am responsible and reliable.”
  • “I am honest and trustworthy.”
  • “I am independent and self-reliant.”
  • “I am open-minded and willing to learn from others.”
  • “I am patient and understanding.”
  • “I am adventurous and willing to take risks.”
  • “I am organized and detail-oriented.”
  • “I am empathetic and sensitive to others’ feelings.”
  • “I am optimistic and have a positive outlook on life.”

Such statements reflect positive beliefs about a person’s self-concept. However, self-concept also includes negative self-assessments as well. Examples of negative self-concepts can include things such as:

  • “I’m so awkward in social situations.”
  • “I’m not very motivated.”
  • “I’m an anxious person.”
  • “I’m bad at math.”
  • “I’m disorganized and never prepared.”

Such pessimistic self-beliefs can contribute to feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem. Learning to reframe these beliefs to be more optimistic can help people develop a more realistic self-concept.

Self-concept relates to a variety of domains in a person’s life. For example, it may related to a person’s appearance, emotions, social life, intelligence, morals, and future goals.

How Self-Concept Affects Behaviors

In addition to the many factors affecting self-concept, your self-concept plays a powerful role in affecting your behavior in many areas of your life, from your choices to your relationships. Some ways that your self-concept might shape your behavior include:

Motivation

If you have a positive self-concept, you are more likely to have a stronger self-efficacy. This belief in your ability to succeed motivates you to set goals and go after what you want. 

If you struggle with self-concept, you may have a more negative view of your ability to achieve your goals. As a result, you’re likely to feel less motivated.

Relationships

Your view of yourself can also affect how you interact with others. A positive self-concept contributes to better interpersonal relationships because it fosters stronger empathy and confidence. A better self-concept may also be connected to a more secure attachment style, which helps maintain more satisfying relationships.

A poor self-concept can leave people struggling to maintain healthy relationships. They may be more likely to withdraw, have greater anxiety in relationships, and see themselves as unworthy of other people’s love and attention.

Achievement

Self-concept also shapes individuals’ beliefs about their competence, abilities, and potential for success. Positive self-concept is linked to higher academic, career, and personal achievement.

People with a strong self-concept set higher goals and are confident to go after them. They are more likely to persevere in the face of obstacles.

Self-concept also contributes to academic achievement. Students who have faith in their academic abilities are more engaged in the learning process, set higher goals, and have stronger study habits. Because they feel like they can succeed, they are more likely to put in the effort necessary to do well.

The Role of Self-Concept in Well-Being

Self-concept has a profound effect on mental health and well-being. How you feel about yourself affects your emotional well-being, how you approach problems in your life, and the coping mechanisms you use to manage stress.

A positive self-concept is associated with:

  • Better self-esteem
  • Higher subjective well-being
  • More happiness
  • Better resilience
  • Greater life satisfaction
  • Stronger coping abilities
  • Increased social support
  • Healthier interpersonal relationships
  • Greater optimism

A poor self-concept is associated with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-worth
  • Lower resilience
  • Worse life satisfaction
  • Poor subjective well-being
  • Pessimism
  • Hopelessness and helplessness
  • Psychological distress
  • Worse social relationships
  • Greater rumination

Self-concept is vital for strong mental health since it plays such a vital role in your perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, and emotional responses. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help foster a stronger sense of self-worth.

Assessing Your Own Self-Concept

You can learn more about your own self-concept by:

  • Reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses
  • Getting feedback from trusted friends and family
  • Examining your past experiences, accomplishments, and mistakes
  • Exploring your core beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions
  • Writing in a journal to build greater self-knowledge
  • Using mindfulness practices to build greater self-awareness of your thoughts and feelings

Self-report measures of self-concept, self-efficacy, and self-esteem can also be helpful for learning more about your overall self-concept. By gaining a deeper understanding of your self-concept, you can identify areas where it might serve you well to cultivate a more positive, resilient sense of self.

How to Improve Your Self-Concept

Even if you have a pretty solid self-concept, you might find some areas that could use a little work. Maybe you don’t give yourself enough credit for your talents. Or perhaps you underestimate yourself when it comes to your interpersonal relationships. Some strategies that can help you develop a more positive self-concept include:

Use Self-Affirmations

Self-affirmations are positive statements or phrases that individuals repeat to themselves to reinforce their self-worth and strengths. By regularly practicing self-affirmations, individuals can counteract negative self-talk and challenge self-limiting beliefs, leading to a more positive self-concept. Affirmations for anxiety, for example, can help people combat feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear.

These affirmations can help individuals build confidence, resilience, and self-compassion, ultimately improving their overall well-being and self-worth.

Engage in Positive Self-Talk

How you talk to yourself can be one of the important factors affecting self-concept. Positive self-talk involves replacing negative thoughts and self-criticisms with affirming and encouraging statements.

By consciously reframing negative self-talk into more positive and constructive language, individuals can challenge self-limiting beliefs and cultivate a more optimistic and empowering self-concept.

This practice promotes self-acceptance, resilience, and self-confidence, fostering a greater sense of worthiness and competence. Over time, consistent use of positive self-talk can improve self-esteem and overall psychological well-being.

Challenge Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions, or errors in thinking, are another of the factors affecting self-concept. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help change such distortions and improve your self-concept.

Challenging cognitive distortions is a key cognitive-behavioral technique that can significantly improve self-concept. It involves identifying negative thought patterns and challenging them with more accurate and balanced self-perceptions.

By identifying and challenging distortions such as black-and-white thinking, catastrophizing, and personalization, individuals can gain perspective on their self-perceptions and recognize the irrationality of self-critical beliefs.

Key Points to Remember

  • Self-concept refers to individuals’ beliefs, perceptions, and feelings about themselves, encompassing various dimensions such as physical, social, and emotional aspects.
  • Factors affecting self-concept include internal factors (e.g., personality traits, cognitive processes) and external factors (e.g., social interactions, environmental influences).
  • Self-concept influences behavior, emotions, and relationships, impacting motivation, achievement, and interpersonal interactions.
  • Cognitive-behavioral strategies such as challenging cognitive distortions and practicing self-affirmations can help individuals improve their self-concept and foster greater self-esteem and resilience.

Sources:

Du, H., King, R. B., & Chi, P. (2017). Self-esteem and subjective well-being revisited: The roles of personal, relational, and collective self-esteem. PloS One, 12(8), e0183958. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183958

Hogg, M.A. (2016). Social identity theory. In: McKeown, S., Haji, R., Ferguson, N. (eds) Understanding Peace and Conflict Through Social Identity Theory. Peace Psychology Book Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-29869-6_1

Schlegel, R. J., Hicks, J. A., Arndt, J., & King, L. A. (2009). Thine own self: true self-concept accessibility and meaning in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(2), 473–490. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014060

Van der Aar, L. P. E., Peters, S., Becht, A. I., & Crone, E. A. (2022). Better self-concept, better future choices? Behavioral and neural changes after a naturalistic self-concept training program for adolescents. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 22(2), 341–361. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-021-00946-1

Xiang, G., Teng, Z., Li, Q., & Chen, H. (2023). Self-concept clarity and subjective well-being: Disentangling within- and between-person associations. Journal of Happiness Studies, 24(4), 1439–1461. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-023-00646-2