What is our sense of self & why is it important?

sense of self

In this blog post, we talk about what a sense of self means, what is a good and a bad sense of self.

We also discussed what one should do to have a better self-image and perception. 

What is our sense of self?

A sense of self, or “how we see ourselves,” refers, as is already implied, to the way we perceive our own physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual characteristics.

The way we perceive ourselves depends on the degree of self-esteem (self-appreciation, self-respect, self-acceptance) that we have.

Thus, if we accept ourselves, if we appreciate ourselves for what we do well – it contributes to self-respect and self-confidence – if we accept that we have weaknesses without constantly criticizing ourselves for them – this is the basis of self-tolerance and, implicitly, compared to others – we can live comfortably emotionally. 

It must be understood that it is good to always have a balance between self-esteem and self-criticism, neither of the two extremes being effective.

The one who brags too much is, in the end, persecuted or even abandoned by others and the one who exaggerates himself awakens in others either feelings of pity, guilt or a feeling of superiority, attracting other criticisms. 

By keeping as much as possible the balance between an exaggerated sense of self and an exaggerated self-criticism we can contribute to our soul hygiene.

How do we know if our sense of self is good or not?

It is very simple. We all have what is called the “inner voice.”

If this inner voice has a tendency towards a pessimistic, negative and self-critical discourse with unfulfilled ambitions towards perfection, it is clear that the person’s sense of self is negative.

What is our sense of self & why is it important?

Why does our sense of self matter?

Our sense of self matters because it influences our behaviours.

When you have a good sense of self and self-image you can achieve your goals because a good self-image gives you the enthusiasm, energy and determination needed for this and the obstacles are perceived as challenges that must be overcome to achieve the goals.

A good sense of self makes you connect more harmoniously with others, by achieving goals you can have professional performance, social success, etc.

A negative sense of self and self-image makes you decrease your motivation or even annihilates it by lack of self-confidence (“what’s the point of trying anyway,  I won’t succeed”, “it’s hard”, “I’m not able” etc.) leading, further, to avoidance behaviours (“I will not go to the interview because I’m not good enough, so it doesn’t make sense …”).

Notice that a negative sense of self can create a vicious circle from which it is difficult to get out: you don’t do certain things because you don’t believe in your capabilities; and after giving up doing those things you blame yourself. 

In conclusion: when you give yourself enough value, you reach your goals more easily because you have self-confidence, believing in your own strength makes you mobilize exactly the resources you need to overcome obstacles and go in the desired direction.

When you don’t give yourself enough value, you negotiate weaker, you communicate harder, you act with more fear or you avoid acting and self-sabotage.

When you don’t value yourself, you annihilate the resources you would need to do something.

What is our sense of self & why is it important?

Your sense of self contributes to the evaluation of reality

When you have a good sense of self you can say: “I can do this or at least I can try” when you have a negative sense of self you can say: “I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I won’t be able to”.

The difference is that the one with a good sense of self will have the opportunity to prove whether he can or not, developing realistic beliefs about himself through a correct perception of abilities and weaknesses.

The one with the negative sense of self will only have the opportunity to enter the vicious circle described above, thus strengthening his negative beliefs.

  • the way we perceive our own strengths determines the way we evaluate reality
  • a good sense of self causes us to “risk and try” while accepting that we might accomplish something or we may fail, but it is worth trying anyway.
  • a negative sense of self makes us avoid an action by evaluating it as beyond our powers
  • a negative self-image makes us influential to the negative opinions of others that we take for granted and add to our negative opinions about ourselves.

Where does our sense of self come from?

The basics of how we perceive ourselves come from childhood when we still do not have a system of values to refer to.

We only have the opinion of our parents.

Parents are the first people who can appreciate us for what we do or can penalize us for the wrong things. 

For example, an extremely critical attitude of the parents makes the child understand that he is not good enough, that “he is not perfect”.

One of the ways of “evolution”, when the child becomes a teenager, is to look for those “trends” that make him “better, more interesting, more accepted. 

The child is looking for a community that will accept him as he is.

And then as an adult, he keeps his bad opinion of himself, thus making his existence difficult by self-sabotage as we described above. 

An extremely permissive attitude with exaggerated praise and lack of penalties makes the future “adult” have an extremely good self-opinion that will be “severely penalized” in his future relationships. 

In conclusion: the balance between criticism and praise is primarily the responsibility of parents, so children and future adults will know to maintain it.

What is our sense of self & why is it important?

What can we do to have a better sense of self?

Make a list of your achievements so far (the most insecure of you can ask others but only people you appreciate and in whose opinion you trust, because the saleswoman in the corner may tell you that you are not sociable enough)

Analyze what qualities you need to achieve these goals.

“Celebrate” any small success, praise yourself for accomplishing anything because you had the courage to do it. 

Turn failure into feedback: rather than blaming yourself for failing, better analyze what went wrong and you can improve in the future or what you did wrong and you should not repeat in the future.

Remember that self-blame sabotages you now but also later, creating a vicious circle. 

Start with small steps, big steps can unbalance you. If you are the kind of person who avoids acting because of fear of not failing and postpones things for the same reason, I suggest you make a daily list of some easy-to-achieve goals, then at the end of the day analyze what went well and what didn’t, taking thus, decisions accordingly for the next day. 

After a month of such practice, set bigger and longer-term goals.

Be patient and persevere in this technique, you will take small but safe and stable steps.

Achieving personal goals, no matter how small, contributes to strengthening self-esteem and improving your sense of self. 

What is our sense of self & why is it important?

Equally important in strengthening one’s self-image is awareness and satisfaction of the fundamental needs of a human as A.

Maslow (1968) placed them in the well-known pyramid of human needs:

  1. Primary needs (food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, sex) translated into the need for independence and freedom, or “the need for freedom and superficiality” (K. Horney).
  2. The need for inner harmony, self-confidence and safety in general (being able to plan your life without fear of danger), the need for a partner, or “the need for affection and approval for inner balance” (K. Horney)
  3. The need for identity (family – knowledge and acceptance of origins as a basis in the formation of personal identity) or “the need for identity and self-image” (K. Horney)
  4. The need for proximity (belonging to a group, the need for friendly space, recognition)
  5. The need for dynamic inner balance for openness to the world (balance between micro and macro, between individual and social)
  6. The need for social utility, prestige, success through profession, school
  7. The need for morality (knowledge, aesthetics and ethics, rules that maintain social order)
  8. The need for social manifestation (social intelligence, acceptance as a social individual, social integration)
  9. The need for fulfilment (self-realization, to reach what you can reach to feel fulfilled)
  10. The need for ideals, heroes, perfection, high values ​​of humanity. 

Even if the lower (primary) needs are urgent and must be met, they are unsatisfactory and very short-term.

But for a good sense of self, the superior ones are very satisfactory and should also be made a priority. 

What is our sense of self & why is it important?

Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about what a sense of self means, what is a good and a bad sense of self.

We also discussed what one should do to have a better self-image and perception. 

When you have a good sense of self and self-image you can achieve your goals because a good self-image gives you the enthusiasm, energy and determination needed for this and the obstacles are perceived as challenges that must be overcome to achieve the goals.

What do you think about this?

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have! 

FAQ sense of self 

What does it mean to have a sense of self?

A sense of self, or “how we see ourselves,” refers, as is already implied, to the way we perceive our own physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual characteristics.

How do we develop a sense of self?

To develop a sense of self one has to work on their self-esteem.

Practice self-care, find your strengths and do what you are good at.

Have the courage to take risks and to evolve. 

What is influenced by a sense of self?

Our sense of self influences our attitude, our self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. 

What is a poor sense of self?

A poor sense of self means not knowing that you are good at, not knowing what your aptitudes and strengths are, not knowing your value and worth.

Why do I have no sense of self?

If you consider you don’t have a sense of self, you should consult a mental health professional.

Generally, everyone has a sense of self (a good one, or a bad one). 

How does a child develop a sense of self?

A child develops a sense of self when he is either criticized or praised.

Parents should not fall into an extreme, but try to praise and criticise their child in a moderate way.

Recommendations

  1. Healthy Sense of Self – How to be true to your Self and make your world a better place
  2. A Guided Journal to a Healthy Sense of Self: Thoughts to inspire peace within and around the world. 
  3. Body Sense: The Science and Practice of Embodied Self-Awareness 
  4. Hall of Mirrors – Shards of Clarity: Autism, Neuroscience and Finding a Sense of Self
  5. Evolution of the Cerebellar Sense of Self 
  6. The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives

References

Autobiographical memory and sense of self, by SC Prebble

Sense of self in recovery from severe mental illness, by L Davidson

What is our sense of self & why is it important?

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.