Self Concept and Self Esteem

I have received so many questions about self esteem over the 20 years I have been writing about this topic, that it appears “self concept” is often misunderstood. Self concept and self esteem are closely related and one affects the other. However, it is important for anyone wishing to improve self esteem to understand the meaning of self concept and how it differs from self esteem.

self confidence
Photo by Blake Weyland

According to Markus and Wurf (1987), self concept is regarded as dynamic, it changes and also motivates or controls behaviour. Self-concept can alter mood and self-esteem. Self concept is the representation of the self formed from feelings, experience and what we learn about ourselves from others.

Self-concept is, therefore, your understanding of who you are. Your self-concept includes your awareness and beliefs about your personality, character, and values. Self concept can be positive or negative and may help or hinder you by lowering or increasing your levels of self-esteem.

Definition of self-concept:

an idea of the self constructed from the beliefs one holds about oneself and the responses of others.

Oxford University Press (2020) self-concept. In:, Available at: [Accessed 1/07/2020]. 

There is much more to say about self concept, so I will help you to understand its connection with your self esteem. After reading this page, you’ll have a clear picture of exactly what self concept is, why it matters and how it affects your self esteem. I’m going to show you the 3 components of self concept that you need to be aware of.

What is self concept?

Self concept is a combination of self-image, self esteem and your ideal self. These are the 3 components of self concept according to Carl Rogers. It is also one of the most important factors which affect behaviour (source: Marcus and Wurf, 1987)


Explanation of the Self Concept Definition

The best definition I could think of for the term “self concept” is the idea you have of who you are and what makes you unique. In other words – what makes you different from others?

You are unique because of your personality, character, habits, appearance, social persona and unique talents and abilities. Each of these put together make you what you are. How you understand all these aspects of yourself can affect your self esteem positively or negatively.

Because you may change the way you feel about yourself and about life in general, your self esteem constantly goes up or down. Once you have a better understanding of your self concept, you will be able to affect your self esteem in a positive way.

Your Self Image – An Important Component of Self Concept

Your self image is how you see yourself. It is the picture you have in your mind of how you look or imagine you seem to others. Your self image can be quite different from what others truly see. You might imagine, that you look fat, or that some item of clothing does not suit you but in reality, you might be slim and others might think you look good in what you’re wearing.

Self image, though, is not limited to appearance but also includes the following types:

Personality – what you believe about your character and personality.

Intelligence – how intelligent you believe you are.

Abilities and skills – your evaluation of your own abilities and skills.

Values – your sense of what your morals and values are and their importance to you. This includes sexual and social values too.

It is easy to understand how a poor self image can affect your self esteem negatively and can also destroy your self confidence.

How are Self Concept and Self Esteem Related?

Your self esteem is how much you value yourself. It includes how you feel about yourself and your assessment of yourself as a person. Your self esteem is your opinion about things like:

  • what kind of person you are
  • how successful you are (whatever that means to you)
  • the status you have in your job
  • how you believe others view you
  • how much you like yourself
  • how much you deserve to be loved by others or by yourself

This is not a full list, but some of the main things that make up how you value yourself which is what we call your self esteem. Check this page for many more examples of self esteem.

Your Ideal Self

Your ideal self is how you see the person you could be. In order to have a realistic ideal self view, you need to be aware of your strengths such as the skills and positive personality traits that can help you succeed in life.

In this way, you form your own self-concept. You have to remember that your self-concept does not always coincide with reality. In fact, more often than not, the way we view ourselves is distorted and unrealistic. As a result, we are often overly critical of ourselves and our abilities, and you have to watch out for that.

A major reason why your self-concept might be unrealistic is that you may be believing what others tell you. Criticism doesn’t just hurt you, it may also affect your own concept of who you are. Others might tell you that you do not treat them well or behave badly in certain situations. Are they telling the truth or is this just an opinion? Always think carefully about what someone says and whether or not you should take it as constructive criticism or ignore it.

I think most of us have some beliefs about ourselves which are based on criticism we have received and that may not be true. If these beliefs are negative such aspects of self concept will affect your self esteem negatively. It is important, therefore, for you to consider carefully what your self beliefs are and if they are really true.

What is the Difference Between Self Concept, Self esteem and Self Confidence?

One of the main differences between self-concept and self-esteem is that self-concept is the idea you have or understanding of who you are and how you behave. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is more about the opinion or evaluation you have of your feelings or attitude towards some aspect of yourself. So, if you say “I am a good pilot” this is self concept. It is what you believe about your skills. If you say “I am proud to be a pilot”, this is about your self esteem as it is about what you feel about yourself.

To make this even clearer compare these:

a. I feel I don’t deserve love. Is this related to your self-esteem or self concept?

b. I am a good speaker and communicator. Self esteem or self concept?

c. I am happy that I make friends easily. self esteem or self concept?

The answers:

The first statement is connected with how you feel about your qualities and so this one is related to your self-esteem. It is an evaluation of whether or not you are worthy of being loved.

The second (b) above is your understanding of who you are and so this is self concept.

The third statement (c) is about how you feel again because you say you feel good about your ability to make friends easily. It doesn’t talk about what you are, but is a self evaluation of your feelings.

How is Self Confidence Different From Self Concept and Self Esteem?

Self Confidence is your belief in your ability to succeed at something. Whereas self concept tells you who you are and self esteem is a judgement you make about your value in the world, self-confidence is purely belief that you can succeed. If you have complete self confidence you are not afraid to act, even if it means facing a challenge. Self confidence can help you overcome fear and take risks by going beyond your comfort zone. It is an expectation of winning.

Lack of self confidence is so damaging because it can cause you to freeze with fear, and it can fill you with self doubt. When this lack of self belief gets hold of you, it can stop you from acting. It can therefore keep you from potential success and ensure you fail because often you will not even try.

The three terms are all very different but also related to each other. Ideally, you need to have a positive self concept, healthy self esteem, (not too high or too low), and self confidence. You can develop and increase all three and as you learn to do this, you will open up all kinds of positive opportunities in your life!

Your Childhood

Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers believed that while we all happen to distort reality somewhat in our own mind, the earliest roots for the misalignment between the way we see ourselves and reality stem from our childhood. Particularly those who as children are brought up with the idea that they have to earn affection from their parents are susceptible to this. So when parents only express love under certain conditions, children then begin to associate memories which make them feel unloved with not being good enough, and this problem can often carry on into adulthood.

self concept and self esteem are vital

Your self concept can change regularly because interpret things differently depending on your feelings, beliefs and attitude. Self awareness is a two-way process as your feelings and beliefs affect your self concept and the opposite is also true. Awareness means becoming aware of what is true about yourself and this is important because you probably believe you see yourself as you really are, but others may see you quite differently. Therefore, awareness is the process of moving your own view closer to reality.

What is your Level of Self Concept?

These are a few indications of self-concept. The best way to understand this is to look at common questions you might ask yourself.

Your answers to these questions will form your own self concept:

  • Are you pessimistic or optimistic? (Character)
  • Are you a positive person normally? (Personality)
  • Are you good at making decisions? (Ability)
  • Can you work under pressure? (Ability)
  • Are you a friendly person? (Personality)
  • Do you make friends easily? (Personality)
  • Are you shy? (Character)
  • Are you confident? (Personality)
  • Do you prefer being alone or with other people? (Behaviour)
  • Do you cook a lot? (Behaviour)
  • Are you a good cook? (Ability)
  • Are you honest? (Character)
  • Do you get stressed easily? (Behaviour/ Character)

Do you see how your answers involve a judgment of yourself in terms of character, ability, personality or habits? Can you also see that self concept can affect your self esteem? For instance, if you see yourself as honest, you will feel good about yourself and your self esteem will get a positive boost. If you see yourself as shy, you will probably act that way and the negative response you get from others will lower your self esteem.

You Can Change your Self Concept

Look at the questions listed above, they are all things that are possible for you to change. Despite the fact that you may believe that some of these are beyond your control or are automatic, you can change any belief you want. If you change a belief by challenging it and looking for evidence against your belief you can also change your attitude and your thinking and improve your self concept and your self esteem as well.

If you can accept that you can change your beliefs, values, moods and attitudes then you accept that you can change how you feel about you. As a result, the idea of who you are can change also. You do not need to worry too much about the truth of every part of you but through gradual self improvement you can learn to understand more about the best parts of your character and appreciate who you are more. This will increase your confidence and self esteem for sure.

What is Self Concept Theory?

Let’s sum up what self concept theory says. First, it can change because your attitudes, moods, values and beliefs can change. In addition to this, your self image and self esteem can change also.

Most importantly, according to Purkey (1988), it is possible to develop and improve positive self concept based, virtually without limit. This is indeed great news!

Secondly, self concept does not always match reality because it is constructed in your mind which means it is filtered through your own view of the world.

Thirdly, we may deny or hide from ourselves things we do not like about our feelings or behaviour and form quite an unrealistic concept of these aspects of who we really are.

Finally, the closer your self image, (how you see yourself now) and your self ideal, (how you want to be), the more happy you will be.

How to Test your Self Concept

The Twenty Statements Test (TST) can help you to understand your self concept better. This test was created in 1954 by Manfred Kuhn and Thomas McPartland to enable people to assess their attitudes and preconceptions. Just complete the each of the following in at least five different ways.

  • I am (please fill in the blank) __________________________________
  • I am (please fill in the blank) __________________________________
  • I am (please fill in the blank) __________________________________
  • I am (please fill in the blank) __________________________________
  • I am (please fill in the blank) __________________________________

Each statement can be put into the following categories:

– Social groups
– Interests
– Beliefs (ideological or self-based)
– Goals or Ambitions
– Self-evaluation

After you have written out your statements, ask yourself if they are true or if they are just distorted beliefs rather than the truth. I’d love to know if you find this exercise helpful, so please comment below, perhaps we can get a conversation going…

Now read this about how to end negative thoughts.

How to improve your esteem and confidence

As we have talked about how important self concept is for your self esteem we can now move on to improving your self confidence at work, in your daily life and in your relationships. How can you do this? I’ve got a great recommendation for you about something I tried. Self Hypnosis.

Build Your Self Confidence – Check out these awesome self hypnosis downloads! I’ve used them for years and I guarantee they will help you! These were all prepared by experienced psychologists and are extremely easy to follow.


  • Markus, H. and Wurf, E. (1987). The Dynamic Self-Concept: A Social Psychological Perspective. Annual Review of Psychology. 38:1, 299-337
  • Purkey, W. W. (1988). An Overview of Self-Concept Theory for Counselors. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Digest.
  • Rogers, Carl Ransom. (2010). “A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships, as Developed in the Client-centered Framework.”.

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