The Self Concept Theory

The self concept theory is most significant when working with individual clients. A clear and in depth understanding of this theory helps a social worker to deal with clients facing  psychosocial problems. Various schools of thought have influenced the theory of self concept. Scholars like Carl Rogers are most prominent when it comes to coining this term. 

Self concept in simple terms is the belief a person has about himself or herself. Every individual had some views and perceptions about oneself. The combination of these is called self concept.

When a child is born its brain is a ‘tabula rasa’. It means that it is a blank board on which anything can be written.  As the child grows, he/she interacts with the environment which contributes to the formation of self concept. 

The self concept includes three components

  • Self Image
  • Self Esteem
  • Ideal Self

Self Image

It is formed during the initial stages of development. It is the belief a person  holds about himself/herself. This belief or view may or may not be in reality. Sometimes people hold such beliefs about themselves which are distorted. Formation of self image is the result of interaction with the environment and is affected by various factors such as influence of parents, teachers, peers, media etc. 

Prominent basis on which self image is formed are:

Social roles and status

Every individual holds a specific status in the family and other groups which he she is a part of. Each status defines certain roles to be played. An individual forms self image of a son or a daughter, employer and employee, student or a teacher etc. Gender identity is also formed during the early stages of socialization process which impacts self image. 

Physical attributes

An individual forms self image based on the physical appearance. The person views himself or herself as tall, shirt, fair, dark, fat, slim etc. These beliefs are formed based on what others tell them or what an individual thinks about himself. 

Personal traits

Every individual has some personal traits such as agressive, polite outgoing, introvert etc. A person also has a belief about himself or herself about having particular personal traits. 


As a person grows he/she starts to understand the concept of life, death, spirituality etc. Questions such as who am I, from where I have come, what happens after death? starts to arise in one’s mind. They start to seek the answers and based on their information form a self image about their existence. Beliefs like “I am a soul”, “I am an energy” etc. forms part of the self image of a person. 

Self Esteem

It is the value or worth a person places on himself/herself. It is the feeling of self worth a person has about oneself. This is a result of comparison a person makes with others. An individual evaluates itself based on certain factors and forms beliefs about its value and worth. This forms a self esteem which various in degree and may be positive or negative. If a person has a high degree of positive self esteem, it is termed as high self esteem on the other hand if a person has high degree of negative self esteem, it is termed as low self esteem.  

A high self esteem leads to

  • Self acceptance
  • Confidence in oneself
  • Optimism
  • Others opinion do not bother them

A low self esteem leads to 

  • Self rejection
  • Low confidence or self doubt
  • Pessimism
  • Valuing others opinion too much

According to Argyly (2008) self esteem is influenced by 4 factors:

Behaviour of others towards an individual

Our self esteem is influenced by how people behave with us. If people praise us, admire us ,like our company, give value to our feedback and opinions then this leads to a positive self esteem about ourselves. On the other hand if people reject us, do not value our opinions, dislike our company then it leads to a low self esteem.

Comparison with others

As stated earlier our self esteem is formed by comparison with others. We compare ourselves with others and hold certain aspects at a very high value or which are highly valued  by society. If we do not have attributes which are valued by us and if somebody else has then this leads to low self esteem. On the other hand if we possess certain attributes which are highly valued and if others do not have them then it leads to low self esteem. 

Social roles 

Every individual plays a certain role in a society. Some roles are highly valued and some not valued as much. If a person performs roles which are valued then it leads to high self esteem. If performing roles which are not valued much in a society, it leads to low self esteem.


When a person starts to identify with the roles he/she is performing, their personality traits become according to the role. People also start behaving with them accordingly. Hence the self esteem becomes deep rooted in the self concept. 

Ideal Self

Ideal Self is what a person would like to become. It is often associated with personality features with whom someone identifies with. Ideal Self is what a person strives for becoming in life. For instance a person would like to become a doctor, or an actor. It is often influenced by the external environment to which he/she is exposed to.

The self concept gets distorted if there is a mismatch or huge gap between self image and Ideal Self. Rogers coined that a state of congruence exists if there is a greater overlap between self image and Ideal Self. If there is little overlap of self Image and ideal Self then a state of incongruence exists. Incongruence prevents a person to reach self-actualization as they are not able to rise above their self esteem needs. 


The theory of self concept helps a social worker  to understand personality problems and people’s inability to solve psycho-social problems. Interventions to improve a distorted self concept can solve many problems.  

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