What Is Self-Concept?

The Psychological Exploration of "Who Am I?"

What is self concept?

Verywell / Cindy Chung 

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.

What Is Self-Concept?

Self-concept is how you perceive your behavior, abilities, and unique characteristics. 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 you're younger and still going through the process of self-discovery and identity formation. As you age and learn who you are and what's important to you, these self-perceptions become much more detailed and organized.

At its most basic, self-concept is a collection of beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others. It embodies the answer to the question "Who am I?"

Rogers' Three Parts of Self-Concept

Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers believed that your self-concept was made up of three different parts:

  • Ideal self: The person you want to be
  • Self-image: How you see yourself, including attributes like your physical characteristics, personality traits, and social roles
  • Self-esteem: How much you like, accept, or value yourself, which can be impacted by a number of factors including how others see you, how you think you compare to others, and your role in society

Incongruence and Congruence

As mentioned earlier, your self-concept is not always perfectly aligned with reality. When it is aligned, your self-concept is said to be "congruent."

But when there is a mismatch between how you see yourself (your self-image) and who you wish you were (your ideal self), your self-concept is "incongruent." This incongruence can negatively impact your self-esteem.

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.

Other Self-Concept Theories

As with many topics within psychology, a number of other theorists have proposed different ways of thinking about self-concept.

According to social psychologist Henri Tajfel's social identity theory, self-concept is composed of two key parts:

  • Personal identity: The traits and other characteristics that make you unique
  • Social identity: Who you are based on your membership in social groups, such as sports teams, religions, political parties, or social class

On the other hand, psychologist Bruce A. Bracken believed self-concept was multidimensional and could be broken down into six independent traits:

  • Academic: Your success or failure in school
  • Affect: Your awareness of emotional states
  • Competence: Your ability to meet basic needs
  • Family: How well you work in your family unit
  • Physical: How you feel about your looks, health, physical condition, and overall appearance
  • Social: Your ability to interact with others

In 1992, Bracken developed the Multidimensional Self-Concept Scale, a comprehensive assessment that evaluates each of these six elements of self-concept in children and adolescents.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bailey JA 2nd. Self-image, self-concept, and self-identity revisited. J Natl Med Assoc. 2003;95(5):383-386.

  2. Argyle M. Social encounters: Contributions to social interaction. 1st ed. Routledge; 2008.

  3. Rogers CR. Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. III. Formulations of the person and the social context. In: Koch S, ed. A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships: As Developed in the Client-Centered Framework. McGraw-Hill; 1959:184-256.

  4. Tajfel H, Turner J. An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In: Hogg MA, Abrams D, eds. Key Readings in Social Psychology. Intergroup Relations: Essential Readings. Psychology Press; 2001:94-109.

  5. Bracken BA. Examiner’s manual: Multidimensional self concept scale. Pro-Ed; 1992.

Additional Reading
  • Weiten W, Dunn DS, Hammer EY. Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustments in the 21st Century. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2014.