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The Self

One of the important concepts in Social Psychology is the concept of The Self. Of course, you’d think, me or myself is very important… and also pretty simple, so what is there to research about it?

Consider this. The Self “keeps track of information about itself, works to improve how it is regarded by others, identifies itself with important relationships and roles, and makes choices (most of which are social)” (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010).

Literature has covered a multitude of different selves and its parts. Sedikides & Skowronski, for example, propose that our symbolic self is a product of several evolutionary factors or variables. They define symbolic self as “a flexible and multifaceted cognitive representation of an organism’s own attributes”. It developed due to environmental and social pressures, and was passed on to future generations because it helped our ancestors survive and reproduce.

Most psychologists recognize three basic domains of the self that could be viewed from your own standpoint and that of other people: the actual self, the ideal self, and the ought self. The actual self includes attributes you actually possess. The ideal self includes attributes you would ideally possess. And ought self includes attributes you should or ought to possess. The differences or discrepancies between those selves produce emotional problems, which could be dejection-related or agitation-related (Higgins, 1987).

The components of self-concept that relate to professional interactions with others for example would include introversion/extraversion, patience, listening skills, etc. Your professional self would include your education, work experience, and experience in interactions with others. Your self-concept or how you view yourself would be the difference between your actual self and ideal self, and even ought to self, if any.

If you take a minute to evaluate your view of actual self and ideal self, are they the same or is there a discrepancy between the two?

Have you reached your ideal self as seen by you, or your ought self as viewed by others?

Are you idle or are you on your way to decrease that discrepancy?

If not, don’t worry you are likely in the majority. Unfortunately, this discrepancy may be a source of negative self-esteem and some emotional problems.

According to Pelham & Swann “people’s self-views are the “building blocks” of self-esteem”. Professional self is a part of your global self-concept and is a source of self-esteem. How big is that part for you at this point in your life? It depends. Obviously, it would have more of an effect on self-esteem if a person views it as a personally important factor. The more proud someone is of their professional achievements (the closer their actual self is to ideal self), the more important it is as part of their self-view, and the more certain they are of their view, the more it will influence that person’s self-worth.

In any case, your professional self evolves with time.

As your self-knowledge and self-awareness grow, your ideals and goals usually transform into something more lifelike, achievable and specific.

So what are you waiting for? Your ideal professional self is within the reach.


Baumeister, R. F., & Finkel, E. J. (Eds.) (2010). Advanced social psychology: The state of the science. Chapter 5. New York: Oxford University Press.

Higgins, E.T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94(3), 319-340.

Pelham, B.W., & Swann, W.B. (1989). From self-conceptions to self-worth: On the sources and structure of global self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(4), 672-680.

Sedikides, C., & Skowronski, J.J. (1997). The symbolic self in evolutionary context. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1(1), 80-102.

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