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Ideal self vs Real self


In the vast land of our existence, our life is all about exploring one’s self. This exploration stands as a profound and introspective journey. Our whole life is surrounded by the quest of knowing and understanding who we are while embarking on its journey and the intricate layers of it.

Humanism and Self

Humanism is the third force in Psychology. It is a perspective that emphasizes looking at the individual as a whole. It also views humans from an optimistic perspective. Humanistic Psychology or Humanism was proposed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Knowing who one is? and What makes oneself? is the curious and most processing and wandering question that every individual has in their day-to-day lives.

Read More: The Psychology of Self-Perception

The major aspect or central focus of Roger’s conceptual framework is the concept of SELF or Self-concept.

Understanding Self-concept

Self-concept can be defined as the perception of oneself. It is the image that we have about ourselves. It is a general term for how an individual thinks, evaluates, and perceives oneself. Self-concept can also be referred to as self-awareness. It is a significant facet in Humanistic Psychology as well as in Social Psychology. The answer to the question “What am I” is a result of analyzing multiple dimensions of understanding oneself.

“The individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes and who and what the self is.”- Roy Baumeister (1999)

The triarchy of Self-concept

Carl Rogers believed that the self-concept is made up of three parts

  • The Ideal Self
  • The Real Self
  • Self-esteem
The Ideal Self

The ideal self can be understood as the self we would want to be or would like to be. It is believed as the individual’s true self. It is the desired image of the individual. This includes the vision of the individual. It remains a motivation for individuals to empower and progress towards their goals and aspirations.

The ideal self is important for an individual as it gives the individual a good direction and map towards moving forward. There would be many things or aspects that would remain as blocks or hurdles in moving further. In times like that, the ideal self would remain a key role in pursuing further. The ideal self and its psychological aspects can lead to the pursuit of having an influence or impact on the individual’s mental health and well-being. This can simply be said as what one wishes to be.

The Real Self or Self-Image

The real self is otherwise called the actual self. It can be defined as the reflection of the true nature of the individual. It includes the true characteristics, feelings, and inclinations of the individual. It is intrinsically who the individual is. The actual self is more of an authentic and individualistic approach. It leads to the recognition and embracement of qualities that lead to a more genuine and fulfilling life. This can simply be stated as the view of one’s true self of what they are.

Self-esteem or Self-worth

It is defined as the process of evaluation of one’s self which could be either positive or negative. Self-esteem also has its ground in their acknowledgement of self-concept. This can be referred to as how much one values oneself.

Read More: How to Improve Self-Esteem: 8 Tips to Give You a Boost

Alignment and Struggle

Along with the learning of the Ideal self and actual self, it is very important to know the consistency between the both. Knowing consistency involves the aspects of Congruence and Incongruence. Not always, the ideal self aligned with the actual self. When the ideal self and actual self are in a match with each other, it is said to be congruent. When there lies a mismatch, it is said to be Incongruent. This incongruence can lower the individual’s self-esteem and self-worth. It can sometimes negatively impair the individual. The roots of Incongruence can be found to be because of any distortion in the early stages of development- any issue regarding parental affection. Many a time, whenever individuals combat differences between the ideal self and the real or actual self, it involves many internal conflicts. This dissonance can be expressed through stress, anxiety, or a sense of inadequacy.

Development of Self-concept

Self-concept develops in the time frame of the individual’s initial stages of development say Childhood. It is the reflection of the individual’s interaction with family members, friends, or peers, and also as a communication of various individuals they come across in their lives. It can also be imbibed through the society we come across, the media we get through, and also through various idols and ideologies we happen to have throughout our lives, which happens to develop self-concept.

Based on Roger’s idealisation of self-concept, Lewis in the year 1990 theorized self-concept to have two major key components:

  1. The existential self
  2. The categorical self
Self-concept- static or dynamic?

Self-concept cannot be said as static or permanent. It tends to change. This change in one’s self can be due to the environment. The place, the people, and the things around might have a huge impact on development as well as change in the self-concept.

Culture and Self

Society and culture have a greater influence in shaping the individual’s view of oneself. From the earlier stages of development, we are exposed to various norms, standards, values, and principles that contribute to the presentation of oneself. These external influences many times can create a huge impact on the inhibition as well as the expression of qualities, traits, and values.

In the intricate differences and prolonged dance between the ideal self and actual self, lies each of the individual’s exploration of knowing and searching oneself. The importance of family, friends, relatives, closest circle, peers, or colleagues has a greater impact on the development of self-concept. The discrepancy between the ideal self and the actual self is something that drives the individual towards moving forward. It helps in the cultivation of understanding or knowing about oneself, nurturing growth, while driving force during tough and challenging situations. Self-concept is an arching and multi-dimensional framework that encompasses physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and many other aspects of an individual.

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