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It seems like a silly question to ask, right? After all, you are around yourself twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Who else could possibly know YOU better than YOU?
While the answer to that question might be “no one,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know yourself as well as you think you do. Various studies in psychology have proven that people can do things they didn’t think they were capable of. Some results were positive, while others had implications that bordered on the stuff of nightmares.
One of the most famous experiments was the 1971 Stanford prison study. A mock prison was set up in the basement of the Stanford psych building. Twenty-four undergraduates were selected to participate. Some of them had to act like prisoners, and some had to act like guards. Researchers observed what went on via hidden cameras.
This experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but it ended after six days because the “guards” quickly took to exhibiting abusive behaviors. They would use psychological torture and, according to research team leader Philip Zimbardo, “…had (the prisoners) engage in increasingly humiliating sexual activities.” The most shocking part about all of this was that none of the students selected to be the guards had any prior criminal record.
The idea of self-concept and having good self-esteem are two different things. Canadian-American psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden defined self-esteem as “the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness.” While this is different from self-concept, it should be noted that a clearer self-concept can LEAD to higher self-esteem.
So what does it mean? Self-concept is a set of beliefs you have about yourself. There are three things that contribute to having a clear idea about these beliefs:
1. You are confident in your beliefs. You know what your traits are, and no one else can convince you otherwise. For example, if you believe you are caring, then no one can make you believe you are actually heartless.
2. You have a consistent set of beliefs. They do not contradict each other.
3. Your beliefs stay the same over time.
Why is a clear self-concept so important? Because if you don’t know what your values are, then you don’t know what is important to you. In an unstable, ever-changing world, where nothing is certain, it is imperative that you are at least certain about yourself.
Your life starts with YOU…and if you don’t know yourself, then you will not know how to experience or interpret the world around you. A clear self-concept can also lead to better romantic relationships. If you know what you value, then you will seek out partners with the same values. This is absolutely imperative because if you are not on the same page with your partner regarding the things you consider to be the most sacred, then your relationship will NOT last.