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The Importance of Self-Esteem and Self-Concept in Mental Health

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The difference between self-esteem and self-concept are important distinctions to make when it comes to mental health. Although many people see these terms as having the same meaning, they are in fact quite different psychological concepts.

Self-concept reveals how we see ourselves and includes our many beliefs and opinions about ourselves as individuals. Self-esteem is related to how we feel about ourselves and our worth as individuals and can be either negative or positive. People who have higher self-esteem are more likely to be more confident and experience greater well-being.

These concepts have been defined over time by various philosophers and psychologists. Our notions of self-esteem and its importance for our mental health underpin much of how we choose to treat children from a young age – aiming to instill a greater sense of positive self-esteem in them.

Although self-concept is not as widely known as self-esteem, it is an important concept often discussed and thought about by psychologists and therapists. Below we explore these two concepts in more detail – providing self-concept clarity and a history of how self-esteem as a concept came to be.

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Why Are Self-Concept and Self-Esteem Important?

Our mental health depends on having a good self-concept as well as having high self-esteem. Our self-concept and self-esteem are important factors that influence how we relate to other people, communicate and interact with others, and deal with a variety of situations in life.

There’s a link between having a positive self-concept and high self-esteem – and enjoying improved mental health. Self-concept and self-esteem also influence our relationships with others and even our career success.

People who suffer from poor self-concept and low self-esteem may be more prone to depression and a range of other mental health issues.

Differences Between Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

To understand self-concept and self-esteem, it can be useful to look at how these two terms are different.

Essentially, self-concept has more to do with how we think about ourselves, which may be based on experiences we’ve had in our lives and what our beliefs are.

Self-esteem is more to do with how we value and view ourselves, which can change and be influenced over time.

Below are some key differences between self-concept and self-esteem, based on how they are defined, their history, theories in psychology, and influencing factors.

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The Definition of Self-Concept vs. Self-Esteem

Self-concept is shaped by the beliefs we have about ourselves and our abilities and character traits. For example, if you feel you are a good person, a good sportsperson, or an extrovert – those are all part of your self-concept.

Self-esteem is shaped by how you feel about who you are. Your self-esteem can be improved and it can also then improve your self-concept. You can uncover your self-esteem by asking “How much do I like myself?”.

The Theory of Self-Concept vs. Self-Esteem

Both terms were developed and defined by philosophers and psychologists over time.

Rene Descartes was one of the first to discuss the topic of self-concept and perception of self, which was later a focus of Sigmund Freud’s work. Carl Rogers also proposed a theory of self-concept, which sees it as comprising self-image, the ideal self, and self-worth.

The concept of self-esteem was first theoreticized by William James and later influenced by humanistic ideas from various thinkers. One of the most famous theories about self-esteem comes from Abraham Maslow.

While William James saw self-esteem as being made up of your feelings about successes and expectations, Nathaniel Branden differed in his theoretical understanding of self-esteem – seeing it as comprising self-efficiency and self-respect.

Factors that Influence Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Different philosophies of psychology propose different factors that influence a person’s self-concept or self-esteem. It’s widely thought that self-concept is influenced by our genetic and biological makeup – and by our environment and experiences.

Self-esteem is thought to be influenced by the same factors – and thinkers like Carl Rogers also link it with being influenced by, and related to, one’s self-concept (and having a congruent self-concept that matches our self-esteem).

Rogers also believes that you are able to achieve self-actualization when your “ideal self”’ is matched by (or congruent with) your self-image or actual behavior.

Self-Concept vs. Self-Esteem

The distinction between self-concept and self-esteem is important, albeit subtle. Below we explore in more detail the definition of self-concept and the definition of self-esteem. This includes concepts in psychology such as the “ideal self,” self-worth, the ego, and self-image.

Self-Concept – Who Am I?

If you ask yourself “Who am I?”, then you will start to unravel your own self-concept.

Self-concept includes your beliefs and opinions of things about yourself, such as what you look like, your nationality, your behavior, your personality traits, your gender differences, and your strengths and weaknesses. That’s why self-concept is often said to be made up of your social identity and personal identity, based on your experiences in the world and the feedback you get from interacting with others.

The world-renowned philosopher Rene Descartes, famous for his philosophical works on morality and ethics ,was one of the first to make links between our existence with our perception of ourselves.

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His academic self-concept theories led the way for Sigmund Freud’s work on the notion of self-concept. Freud went on to define the “ego” and other psychological concepts – and created some of the most well-known theories of personality.

Most recently, Carl Rogers enunciated the self-concept theory of personality. Rogers, who was part of the humanistic school of thought on personality development, saw self-concept as comprising three separate components: self-image, the ideal self, and self-worth (also known as self-esteem).

It is thought that one’s self-concept develops continuously and is influenced by a range of different factors. While there is some disagreement on these factors, most theorists agree on biological and environmental factors affecting self-concept.

Carl Rogers believes that people with a healthy self-concept have a positive (or congruent) self-image and ideal-self. It’s this congruence that gives way to positive self-esteem or self-worth. Rogers believes that when there’s this congruence, people are able to be fully-functioning individuals.

Self-Esteem – What Is My Worth?

Self-esteem is how we perceive our own value and worth as individuals. In very basic terms, it’s how much we feel we like ourselves.

People with positive self-esteem and view of themselves are typically people who have good self-worth and self-confidence. On the other hand, people with negative self-esteem and a feeling of low self-worth often struggle with their self-confidence.

William James was one of the first to conceptualize the term self-esteem. His conceptualization of self-esteem viewed higher self-esteem as being linked with having more successes than expectations.

Later the concept was influenced more by Carl Rogers and other humanists, with Abraham Maslow’s theory stating that everyone needs self-esteem. This modern concept has been adopted around the world, where there’s now an emphasis on making sure that everyone is able to, and encouraged to, develop high self-esteem from early childhood.

Nathaniel Branden’s nuanced approach to the concept of self-esteem was to see it as comprising both self-efficacy (i.e. how confident you are in your abilities) and self-respect (how much you feel you deserve to be happy, to receive love, and to achieve great things, etc.).

Just as the concept of self-concept is influenced by outside factors, so is self-esteem thought to be influenced by biological and environmental factors. And, just as self-esteem is influenced by self-concept, so can self-concept influence self-esteem.

Woman with Self-Esteem

Boost Self-Esteem and Improve Self-Concept

Over time, our self-concept can develop and change, based on our experiences in life and how we relate to people and our environment. Likewise, self-esteem can be improved or changed over time. Therapy is often a solution for many individuals looking to improve their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

If you want to have healthy self-esteem and are interested in ways to improve it, there are many resources you can rely on. In general, this includes taking positive steps to feel better about yourself such as being more aware of your own negative, self-limiting thoughts and beliefs and learning to replace these with more positive ones.

Self-esteem counseling sessions with registered therapists can also provide techniques to enhance your self-esteem and overcome a negative self-concept.