Are You What They Say You Are?
If I asked you to describe yourself in one word, you might find it a bit challenging to find just one perfect noun or an adjective that covers your entire Self. You might say, “I am too complex and one word is not enough.” Others might reply, "I don't know." And, of course, there are individuals who refer to themselves as self-realized and would offer me a response right away. None of these responses are wrong. The point is that we are in constant search for our self-concept. One word is not always enough, but the process of learning to love and appreciate yourself is more than sufficient.
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”– Lucille Ball
If I were to use one word at this stage of my life, I would describe myself as curious. I don’t concentrate mainly on the appearance when I think of myself as a whole person, instead I think on how I am influencing and impacting others through my actions. My self-concept, which is how I perceive myself, is most likely different compared to the way others perceive me (Lane, 2008). When I was a teenager, I was so worried about having too many freckles on my face, which led me to believe that I was an ugly duckling. Now I find freckles adorable on my kids' faces.
The way we see ourselves is always changing. Regardless of what we or others think of us at a certain point in time, self-concept is formed and stayed in our lives because of the impact from interacting with other people. Our self-concept can be affected by social interactions or even comparisons. For the longest time I didn't truly understand the full extent of the meaning of the advice that is going around telling people to surround yourself with people you want to become (or many variations of it). I do now.
Impact of Comments
Our communication and comments can impact other people’s self-concept in either a positive or a negative way. I will never forget my 8th grade geometry teacher who told me that I would amount to nothing and will end up digging ditches in my career. And what is wrong with digging ditches anyway? But, it sounded wrong then, because she implied that I won't be able to get higher education. Although her prediction didn’t come true, I have been intimidated by math and math teachers. I can say that my self-concept since then has been related to the phrase "I am bad at math". How can this be true, when I can put budgets together in no time?
From this example, it appears that self-concept is social. Being mindful about our comments is important, as it can impact another person's self-perception. (Asking many people for forgiveness here.) Based on many studies, we know that it is also biological, and what we believe about ourselves is dependent on our genes and preferences. Our preferences impact how we interact with others. Here are some examples of the biological preferences:
Set Realistic Goals to Improve Self-Concept
What if you constantly think that you are the biggest loser, too fat, too skinny, or too shy? Do you want to learn how to think differently and love yourself more? Is it possible? In most cases, yes. Start with setting realistic goals to make adjustments to what you tell yourself daily. You are not alone. There are many people who are struggling with making changes to their thought patterns.
I am a social and curious person and these are my traits. My self-concept that I am curious drives me to continuously improve my communication style and approaches to interacting with others. It was influenced by the culture where I was born that valued education highly. To stay curious, I interact with many people from various cultures. However, to get the best value out of my curiosity, I had to improve my listening skills first. For a long time, I had the self-concept that I was a fairly bad listener. It is not that I didn’t want to learn about another person. I had anxiety of how I would be perceived by others and tried to compensate with telling more upfront about my strengths or experiences versus listening to what another person had to say. Where would this anxiety come from?
Many factors could have played into this anxiety. I believe that to some extent it was influenced by people who made fun (and I don't mean funny) of my accent over 20 years ago when I came to the United States. The desire to improve and to avoid further mockery, led me to setting unrealistic goal to speak only English in order to get rid of my accent. By setting this goal, I neglected to teach my kids my mother-tongue. In an effort to fix how I was viewed by others, I didn't set the best goal. Yes, it got me closer to the desired state and no one laughs at me anymore, at least not to my face. I have missed an opportunity to leave a legacy of language of my culture to my kids. We need to try our best to set realistic goals based on what is valuable to us, not based on other people's opinions and comments.
We all have our own inner critic that holds us back, reminding of feeling humiliated and laughed at or being told something utterly despicable in the past. Have you tried thinking of your strengths and achievements when the life-long "critic friend" starts humming the tune of "you will fail anyway because this is just the way you are" in your head, leading you to the self-fulfilling prophecy?
Self-Image and Self-Esteem
Self-concept includes self-image and self-esteem. We create an outside world image ("face"), and a then we have our private self. Rarely, these two are exactly the same. It is an exhausting balance for many people to continuously keep our "face" intact based on where we are in life. Look at celebrities and politicians - talk about challenges. If you mix up two self-images, you have to think quickly of how to save your face, otherwise, an interaction can kick your reputation down a notch. You know that time when you accidentally said the word "F...." in front of a saint. We care about keeping up our manufactured "face", as we want to be liked.
Self-esteem is about evaluating what we find valuable.To maintain a healthy self-concept, it is best to concentrate on what is most important to you. It can be family, integrity, humility, etc. This approach helps me avoid negative thinking based on events that don’t impact these values. My self-concept might be skewed because it is not always based on the objective data, of course. (Just like me thinking I am bad at math.) Self-concept, which impacts the way we communicate, is influenced by culture, social, gender, and individual contexts. Think about these values, when you are having moments of thinking low of yourself.
A continuous development of self-awareness and learning to love yourself can lead to achieving more in life and business, as you will doubt less and feel happier with your surroundings. Surround yourself with positive and inspirational people who can uplift you. Remember, your self-concept is not just biological in nature, it is also social. Turn to your strengths and achievements in the moments of doubt!