“Just be yourself!” You’ve probably heard these words many times.
Although being yourself might look like simple advice that fits various situations, the truth is that understanding yourself and developing self-confidence may take a lot of time and effort.
Understanding who you are, what you need, and what you should do with your life can be a tricky task when you’re constantly surrounded by ads and social media content. Brands and influencers always tell us what we should like, how we should look, and what we need. So, it can be very difficult to come up with your own opinions and vision.
Having a strong sense of self is not only about being authentic. Low self-esteem is one of the most common reasons why people decide to go to therapy. Developing a sense of self can help you tackle various mental health issues, and it often becomes the key part of the healing process.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the concept of self and share some tips that might help you figure out who you truly are.
What Is a Sense of Self?
Simply put, your sense of self refers to your self-image. It includes your values, goals, opinions, traits, abilities, and your sense of basic worth.
Although the concept of self is closely related to identity, these terms are usually used in different contexts. While the self-concept refers to the way you see yourself, your identity is more about the roles that you play and what others think of you.
According to Carl Rogers, one of the creators of humanistic psychology, the self-concept consists of the three key elements: self-image, self-esteem, and ideal self.
Your self-image is what you think about yourself, whether it be your physical appearance, personality traits, or social roles.
An interesting thing about self-image is that it may or may not reflect reality. People often have a distorted perception of some of their traits, and such a perception may be overly positive or negative.
An overly negative perception of some aspects of the self can have a direct negative impact on one’s self-esteem.
Your self-esteem refers to the value you place on yourself. Usually, a person’s evaluation of themselves is based on the way they compare themselves to others, as well as a response they get from others.
When you compare yourself to others and realize that you’re better at something, your self-esteem grows, and vice versa. As a result, you can have high self-esteem in certain aspects while also having low self-esteem in other aspects.
H3: Ideal self
Your sense of self also includes your ideal self. The ideal self is who you’d like to be, and it may or may not correspond to who you actually are and what happens to you in real life.
When one’s self-image matches the ideal self, this is called congruence. However, complete congruence is very rare, and most people experience a certain degree of incongruence.
Significant discrepancies between a person’s ideal self and self-image can lead to cognitive dissonance when their behavior and experiences don’t match their feelings and thoughts, resulting in confusion. In turn, such confusion can prevent successful self-actualization.
Is a Sense of Self Important?
Many people don’t give their sense of self a lot of thought, and that doesn’t necessarily stop them from succeeding in life.
However, a healthy sense of self is very beneficial for a person, especially when it comes to decision-making. The better you understand yourself, the easier it is for you to make choices and separate your own wants and needs from those of others.
If a person has a weak sense of self, they might feel indecisive and uncertain when facing the need to make an important choice. An unstable or poorly defined sense of self can also be a sign of serious mental health conditions, including borderline personality disorder (BPD).
If you feel like you have no sense of self or have an unstable self-image, the best solution is to consider therapy.
But here are also some tips that will help you work on your sense of self and strengthen it.
How to Develop a Sense of Self
You can improve your sense of self by focusing your attention on your needs and desires, observing your surroundings, and dedicating some time to yourself. Here’s what you can do.
1. Connect With Yourself
Listen to yourself and think of who you are and who you want to be. Whenever you need to make a choice, don’t make a decision immediately but take your time and consider different options.
When people ask you to do something, don’t answer right away but think of whether or not you actually want to do it and how you might feel afterward.
2. Define Your Values and Beliefs
Developing a strong sense of self is impossible without having clear personal values. You should determine what matters to you and formulate clear opinions on the issues that you consider important. Your values will help you establish boundaries and make decisions that you won’t regret.
For instance, if you care about the environment, you might choose environment-friendly products. If you realize that you value honesty, you might abandon relationships with people who lie or manipulate others.
Keep in mind that it can be difficult to define all of your core values at once. This process might require a lot of observation and reflection.
3. Differentiate Yourself
People with a healthy sense of self often make decisions automatically, but developing such a skill may take some time. Whenever you need to make a decision, especially an important one, consider your values, goals, and priorities.
Don’t make your decisions simply based on what others would do in such a situation but think of what’s important to you. Understanding yourself is a continuous process, and you can improve your sense of self with every decision that you make, day after day.
4. Approach Challenges as Opportunities to Get to Know Yourself
Whenever you face a difficult situation, think of it as an opportunity to discover something about yourself and better understand your capabilities. Stick with a proactive attitude and reflect on your reactions and decisions.
Even negative events can be beneficial for you because you can learn more about yourself. The main thing is not to act impulsively and not to be judgmental about your values and priorities.
5. Talk to a Therapist
Therapy can help you reveal and explore some of your traits that would otherwise remain repressed in your unconscious or simply overlooked by you. A therapist can also help you recognize your common behavioral patterns and give you guidance and opinion on what you should pay attention to.
Of course, therapy takes some time, and its cost may be less affordable for many people who need help.
The good news is that you can use online therapy platforms like Calmerry. On this website, you can talk to licensed mental health professionals, adjusting your sessions to your schedule. This platform also offers a free mood tracking tool, and it’s much more affordable than in-person therapy.
It’s not easy to be yourself if you don’t know exactly who you are. A poorly developed sense of self can make a person’s life quite difficult, especially when it comes to making choices and setting priorities.
To strengthen your sense of self, follow our tips, and consider talking to a therapist if you need some help. A meaningful conversation with a professional can make a big difference.
Bio Kate Skurat
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has been working in healthcare since 2017. She mainly treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, grief, identity, relationship, and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience is focused on individual and group counseling.