Personal Reflection on the Self
At the core of personal identity is the question – who am I? The self endeavors to maintain a consistent relationship with its various aspects and the external world by creating identities discovered and defined by association with the external social environment. The self is concerned with its external presentation and the impressions it makes upon others. The interplay between the self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy and environmental influences provokes an external presentation of the self in a social world that continually demands acceptance, acknowledgment, accommodation, and adaptation (Orth, Trzesniewski, & Robins, 2010). Social surroundings affect the awareness of the self, and variations in the environment such as age, health, and socioeconomic status motivate specific behaviors directed by personal interest and bias (Orth, Trzesniewski, & Robins, 2010). As the self is concerned with its external presentation, it accommodates and adapts in a variety of situations (Myers, 2010). In my personal examples of significant developmental experiences, I continue to experience change, growth, and redefinition as I reevaluate, redefine, and refine my sense of self while accommodating my internal and external influences.
Defining the Concept of the Self in the Social World
The relationship between the self and others affects self-awareness while influencing how the self responds and adapts to specific situations (Myers, 2010). Social relationships provoke an evolving definition of self as these associations continue to force self re-identification and redefinition. The self has a deeply rooted capacity for self-protection and self-preservation, and uses cognitive abilities to support and maintain stability to its fundamental character. The self-concept is composed of schemas that are “beliefs about the self that organize and guide the processing of self-relevant information” (Myers, 2010, p. 39). Using these mental templates, individuals can organize and accommodate various aspects of their internal world while providing a safe integration into the external social world (Myers, 2010). The personal self-schemas include models of current self-descriptions along with those of the possible self. The self-schema of the possible self includes ideas and hopes for positive potential while simultaneously harboring and avoiding visions of the feared or dreaded self (Myers, 2010).
Although humans seem to know themselves better than they know anything else in their world, self-knowledge is flawed, especially in the personal perspective of behavioral motivations (Myers, 2010). Influences upon the self (such as cultural ones) are mostly invisible to the self and external observation and unconscious processes influence and often undermine conscious choice and behavior (Myers, 2010). According to Myers (2010), humans tend to diminish the significance of emotionally stimulating and traumatic events while overestimating their ability to cope with these same situations. Although humans have continuous exposure to the internal dialog of the self’s inner sanctum, the perspective of the self is limited, biased, and often undeniably wrong.
Personal Application of the Self
Influences on the self include the roles in which one participates, personally created social identities, comparisons to others, long-term and daily successes and failures, culture, and the judgments of others. Perhaps my most significant self-schemas are those that define me as a parent, student, and intelligent and considerate caregiver to my husband. My possible selves include a brilliant and thriving psychologist, significant guide and essential friend in many relationships, and an integral and involved family member. On the other end of the spectrum is my fear of appearing self-righteous, unyielding, self-serving, and biased. During times of difficulty and challenge, I sense a looming fear of the inability to accomplish my lofty goals. I consciously choose to trust the more positive aspects of my desired and possible self while relegating my fears and sense of insufficiency to the rhetorical internal dialog that occupies space within the confines of my mind. I have found the belief of such dialog leads to the exact insufficiency it provokes. Like others of my species, my self-knowledge is flawed as many of my intentions, behaviors, and self-identities have a mysterious genesis. I perpetuate biases that serve my sense of self whether or not they have any basis in reality, and I “perceive [myself] as more intelligent, better-looking, and much less prejudiced than [my] average peers” (Public Opinion, 1984; Wylie, 1979 as cited by Myers, 2010, p. 65).
Self-esteem is defined simply as one’s sense of self worth. As stated by Myers (2010), there is a spectrum on which lies the vast disparity between positive thought and perseverance and excessive self-confidence that provokes unrealistic goal-setting and socially- alienating narcissism (Myers, 2010). Personally, I consider my self-esteem average, although I set realistic, though sometimes lofty goals. I am mostly appropriate in my (self-serving) understanding of my superior capacity for accomplishment, understanding, tolerance, and compassion combined with my general lack of belief in much of my own internal dialog. I have learned that as I am influenced by the internal praise and acclaim, I will as readily be affected by the internal criticism and admonition. I have a sense of the adaptive and vacillating nature of my own self-esteem, and as such, strive toward acknowledging, accommodating, and relying upon a more stable aspect of my human spirit. Life's greatest achievements as well as its powerful disappointments contain equal pleasure and experience (Myers, 2010). The weight and significance of each is determined by individual perception.
Self-efficacy is the determination individuals maintain regarding their personal competency and the effectiveness with which they affect their world (Myers, 2010). The perspective with which individuals regard their level of self-efficacy directly relates to their ability and tendency to set and meet challenges and goals, and the perseverance with which they undertake and surmount them. The ability to undertake and surmount challenges and persevere in the attainment of goals perpetuates a stronger sense of accomplishment and a greater sense of self-efficacy (Sachs-Ericsson, Medley, Kendall–Tackett, & Taylor, 2011). I have a strong sense of personal efficiency with an understanding I can undertake even unreasonable challenges, set higher than average goals, and persevere to accommodate and accomplish my designated agenda. I consider failure an integral part of human life, not one I readily anticipate or aspire to, but one I accept in the sum of my undertakings. Failure does not affect my sense of self-efficacy, but does influence my determination to accept, learn from, and create a stronger framework from which I will surmount future challenges.
Two Social Experiences that affected Personal Development
My personal development has been affected significantly by having children who, as they developed, had an uncanny ability to mirror my best personal traits along with my personal agendas, biases, and maladaptive notions and behaviors. Watching and guiding my children's development has taught me more about myself than the sum of my experiences during the years prior to having children. Making decisions about their lives showed me dimensions of my character, ethics and values, and reflected my less than patient behavior, my capacity to love and foster, and authentically engage with my children. Exposure to other parents' core beliefs and decision-making, often highly contrasted my own, and provoked extensive soul-searching and a genuine desire to understand myself and continue the journey toward my desired possible self.
My second and equally influential experience is my role as caregiver to my husband who is dying of cancer. I constantly face my inability to understand and accommodate his transition between life and death, as I explore my existing capacity to love, honor, and provide comfort in a world in which I have neither compass nor handbook to guide me. I frequently question the character of my inner self and life itself, simultaneously finding simple joy and an ever-increasing capacity for care and compassion. The experience continues to diminish, expand, limit, provoke, incapacitate, strengthen, stimulate, and demand my greatest self as I face my deepest fears and the failures of my lesser self.
The self is a composite of many aspects largely structured and constructed by exposure to others. Social experience provokes change and accommodation in the self and the transition between the possible self and various self-schemas. The relationship between the various selves is supported by self-esteem, and self-efficacy, the interplay of which becomes the representative external product of the self. In my personal existence, relational experiences stretch and cement my personal sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem as I surmount challenges, account for personal failures and continue to accommodate and refine my abilities and shortcomings. These ongoing experiences provoke a continued movement toward my possible self.
Myers, D. (2010). Social Psychology (10th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Orth, U., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Robins, R. W. (2010). Self-esteem development from young adulthood to old age: A cohort-sequential longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(4), 645-658. doi: 10.1037/a0018769
Sachs-Ericsson, N., Medley, A. N., Kendall–Tackett, K., & Taylor, J. (2011). Childhood abuse and current health problems among older adults: the mediating role of self-efficacy. Psychology of Violence, 1(2), 106-120. doi: 10.1037/a0023139