Personal Reflections on the Self PaperAt the cross-roads of the objective reality of behavior and the myriad of perceptions, representations, and schemas that constitute human thought is the mediating element of the self. It cannot be discounted that the individual self does not exist in a vacuum, but rather in a social framework that includes regular contact with other selves. The self is more a confederation or alliance of concepts than a single, unilateral mechanism, bringing together the possible-self, the social-self, and the self-concept into one amalgamated system. However, the self can be better understood upon a full examination of the aforementioned subordinate parts and within the context of a practical application of the self onto two social situations within my own life.
Self-ConceptCentral to the idea of self is the answer to the question: “Who am I?” This question can be answered in many ways, but it is the piecing together of the potential answers that constitute our complete self-concept (Myers, 2008). The self-concept can further be divided into self-schemas—specific beliefs about the self that help define the self-concept. Humans use self-schemas as templates to organize the world without and the mental life within. For instance, higher learning approaches can intrinsically motivate if the content is perceived relevant to a student’s self-schemas and fosters the development of cognitive representations—goals (Rodriguez, 2009). The specific self-schema of the possible-self is implicated in the future acquisition of the dreamed self and the avoidance of the feared self. However, the application of self-knowledge onto the prediction of future, individual behavior is only as accurate as chance (Myers, 2008). It would seem that a better tact would be to consider past, personal behavior and the superimposition of personal behavior onto the prediction of other people’s behavior as a reasonable forecast of future behavior.
Social-Self and Self-EsteemThe social-self is formed through, among other things, the comparison of the self with other selves—social comparison. People construct the social-self within the structure of different socio-cultural paradigms; namely, collectivism and individualism. Collectivism emphasizes the idea of self as part of an integral whole, rather than a detached individual self. Collectivist cultures give priority to the goals of the group over the goals of the individual; and would more than likely answer the “Who am I?” question from above with a group identity title, such as Hispanic, Taiwanese, or Chinese. On the other hand, individualist cultures put stock in the idea of putting personal goals before group goals and prefer individual self identity. A person raised in an individualistic society would tend to answer the “Who am I?” question with personal attributes, such as I am tall, slim, or smart. The social structure of a culture can affect the way in which goal attainment and praise are viewed, as well as the formulation of the possible-self. For instance, in an individualistic society a promotion can be viewed as successful, even if it means inconveniencing an entire family by moving to another city; whereas, in a collectivistic society the same promotion and subsequence relocation might be viewed as a net negative, because it does not serve the group well. Social background contains the contextual scaffolding by which people construct the story of their lives (i.e. thoughts, experiences, relationships) within the story of their culture (Baylis & Reid, 2005).
The subjective representation of self-esteem is largely defined by the gap between the present self and the possible-self, and the individual self and other selves. There is no definitive consensus about whether high self-esteem causes success or success causes high self-esteem, but it is clear that they are highly correlated. Moreover, the preservation of self-esteem can motivate beneficial adaptive behavior, such as acting with greater sensitivity to other’s expectations; but the flip side is that unrealistic self-esteem can lead to self-aggrandizing and retaliatory behavior, such as bullying and defensiveness. It would seem that the best strategy for raising overall self-esteem, while keeping inflated self-esteem in check, is to develop talents and relationships rather than a better personal self image. In all, the social-self defines the broad strokes through which people construct a subjective representation of the gap between the possible-self, other selves, and the self-concept (i.e. self-esteem).
Self-EfficacyIf the self-concept is the evaluation of “Who am I?” and self-esteem is based on the perceived gap between the present self and the possible-self and/or other selves, then self-efficacy is the reasonable belief that the gap can be bridged. Put another way, self-efficacy is the confidence that a person is competent and effective (Myers, 2008). Furthermore, the addition of persistence to competence can lead to accomplishment, which in turn reinforces a sense of self-efficacy, as mediated by the perception that outcomes are internally controllable rather than externally controlled (i.e. locus of control). If an organism perceives that repeated bad events are externally controlled, then a sense of resignation and apathy, referred to as learned helplessness, can render competence impotent by undermining persistence. Conversely, if bad events can be avoided through the exercise of self-control, then organisms tend to develop a sense of self-determination. In sum, competence leads to accomplishment through the avenue of persistence, as arbitrated by the locus of control, to the end of self-efficacy.
Two Social Situations within My Own LifeWhen I was in high school I was the fastest runner in my grade every year. There was even one year, junior year I believe, when I was the fastest person in the school. There were a few track practices when we would just run 6 miles and go home. I would finish two laps ahead of everyone else. There were days when we would run 200 meter sprints interspersed with 200 meter walks for 4 hours at a time. Anyway, one day when we were running back to back 200 meter sprints with 30 second breaks in-between several of my team mates ask me a rather odd question, “Will you please slow down? You are making us look bad.” I was raised in the United States of America in Fort Worth, Texas. I live in the Lone Star state. Individualism is firmly built into my worldview and the thought of slowing down in order to make the group look good leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, even today. I was brought up to believe that through personal achievement I can raise the whole group’s standards and expectations. Additionally, I was not going to give up hard-earned accomplishment built upon persistence and athletic competence to make other people look good. In short, I chose to continue to run my hardest in spite of team disapproval. This resulted in a boost in self-esteem due to the closing of the gap between my current self-concept and my possible-self, but hurt my social life because my friends thought I was not accommodating the team. Looking back now the decision was a net positive, but I was devastated at the time that I should be expected to slow down in order to make other people look good.
As to the second situation, it has been the greatest honor of my life to be a father. However, the process from procreation to fatherhood is a long road, riddled with self-realization and self-deprecation. It has been my experience that I didn’t even really know myself until I was able to lay down myself for someone else. For, until you can get yourself out of the way you really can’t see yourself clearly. It is the reconciliation of the way that others see me with the way that I perceive they see me (looking-glass self) that so informs my idea of self. My self-concept evolved into a more realistic understanding of who I was within the framework of my family and allowed me to see past my perception of myself. As my children have grown up I have seen my own faults and mistakes play out in their lives. I have three children and they all resemble me in one dimension or another. When a person sees their own downfalls played back to them in spades, through the lives of their children, they can see the light of reality without the haziness of perception.
ConclusionIn conclusion, the self is built, first and foremost, upon the conception of itself within the context of the social-self, as an extension of the possible-self. Self-esteem is the cognitive representation of the gap between the present self and the possible-self and/or other selves. Alternatively, self-efficacy is the general belief that people can control the bridging of the gap through the addition of persistence to pre-existing competency, to the end of accomplishment. As applied to my experiences in high school, self-esteem can be increased even while social tensions rise, as long as the current self is moving closer to the possible-self. Lastly, being a father has enabled me to reconcile, on many levels, the way that I see myself and the way that other people perceive me, through the looking-glass of my children.
ReferencesBaylis, F., Reid, L. (2005). Brains, genes, and the making of the self. American Journal of Bioethics, 5(2), 21-23. Retrieved November 12, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.
Myers, D. (2008). Social Psychology (9th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Rodriguez, C.M. (2009). The impact of academic self-concept, expectations and the choice of learning strategy on academic achievement: The case of business students. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(5), 523-539. Retrieved November 12, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.