The Self-Concept over Self-Esteem
Here is a different look at how we raise our self-esteem. To do so, it’s important to understand the relationship between self-esteem and something called self-concept.
Assessing who we are is based on a lifetime of reflection that is dependent on how advanced our cognitive ability is to self-reflect and the abilities themselves to complete tasks. It is multidimensional as we gauge our level of competence in a number of areas. For instance, in our younger childhood years, the self-concept begins to form under two main umbrellas of sub-concepts. The academic self-concept deals with how competent we are at subjects such as English, math, second language learning, science, and so on. The other umbrella is the non-academic portion which loops in our peer relationships, physical appearance, physical ability, and such. Researchers defined these two because a significant portion of our time as children is spent in school. Our competence in these fields develops our level of self-esteem which is further defined by our self-efficacy, or our confidence in our ability to carry out these tasks.
As we grow older, our self-concept tends to shift as the value systems change along with cognitive development. For instance, in adolescence part of our self-concept is defined through our romantic relationships. In early adulthood, however, this shifts to focus more on intimacy in these relationships, a much more abstract, less concrete idea. Another example: Job competence tends to become a focus from adolescence and remains for the rest of our lives. Peer acceptance, however, stays with us through our younger years until the early adulthood era which shifts to our ability to socialize. The shift in values is due to the fact that cognitively, we improve in our ability to reflect upon abstract ideas. When our focus is on peer acceptance, this is partly due to our inability to focus on abstract ideas, thus the best we can focus on is the concreteness that is us. Socializing ability involves more “decentering” off of ourselves and overlooking the complex intricate network of all our relationships.
Because our self-concept dimensions shift as we grow older, we might create problems if we incorrectly focus on old dimensions when our shift should be towards newer ones. Life demands that we shift focus. We need a steady income to support ourselves, we might eventually start a family, etc. Through the shifting of values and demands placed on life, we effectively learn to prioritize what areas to give attention to. The other areas that don’t get attention lose importance. As such, our self-concept can’t be fairly defined by these areas that lack our focus. If we do end up unfairly defining our “self” by these domains of self-concept that don’t get our attention at all, then there’s a problem. Unnecessary angst is created as a result.
However, if there is a domain of self-concept that we highly value, yet we display low competence, this can negatively affect our self-esteem. The trick, then, is one of two options: Either lower the value this domain places on your self-concept, or raise your competence within this lacking domain. If we lower the value this self-concept places on our lives, such as socializing ability being lowered to peer acceptance, this could negatively impact our quality of life. The other option would be to raise your competence in this realm. You can do this through active skills training either with a therapist of some kind, or through simple experience. By getting out there to socialize, becoming vulnerable and working through the mess of not being perfect, you eventually raise your competence level in these dimensions and improve upon your quality of life.
Attached below is a chart displaying the major dimensions that help form our self-concept throughout life. Take a look and you might evaluate where you place your values currently and whether you might reconsider to focus on other areas.