Self-Concept: Who are we?

The experience of loss of sense of self …


Has there been a time when you felt you were not the same person as before?  Did you have the feeling you were not yourself?

What do we mean when referring to Self-Concept?  “Self-concept is generally thought of our perception of our behavior, abilities and unique characteristics.  It is essentially a mental picture of who you are as a person.”  Kendra Cherry

We define ourselves individually with our attributes and personality traits, our relationships, with the roles we engage in, and socially by groups and communities we identify with.

Social and humanistic psychology theories propose different ways of thinking about self-concept.   Bev, 1992, explains the basic component is: when we sense we are a separate and distinct being from others.  From being separate we then define ourselves as an object of the world – the unique image we have of our self.  We further develop our self-concept with how much value we place on ourselves, our self-esteem or self-worth.

As we go through life we expand our self-concept and also fine tune it.  We engage in a self-discovery process.  We look at the internal components of what we do well, what we like, our physical construct, our beliefs, our values, our personality, and our DNA.  We interact and have experiences in the world which further defines who we are.   The roles we add to the definition – as son/daughter, student, worker, friend, and groups we belong to in the community, our religion, our activities with others.  It also includes how we integrate others perceptions and reactions to us.

We know who we are.

We have a self-concept.

Then something happens.  There is a change.  It can be a simple growth, lifestyle change – youth to adult role; being cared for to caring for; or changing jobs.

Other situations can be experienced as a greater change – loss of a loved one, a divorce, a failure, a trauma, an injury, or a chronic illness.  The significant change in our daily functioning impacts our self-concept – how we define ourselves.

We closely identify with our roles and the things we do.  When we are unable to do so we experience loss – grief.

We are confused with who we are and what we are worth.  We fight back denying the change or impact is had on what we can do.  We are angry at the “world” and the turn we have been served. We may withdraw or isolate ourselves.  We experience the sadness, depression of loss.  We go from, we can do anything to we can do nothing.  We feel inadequate or incompetent for our responsibilities at home, school and/or work.  We do not know who we are.  When we were a child not knowing was a discovery and growth process.  As an adult, it is a re-discovery and healing process.

How do we rediscover, re-develop our self-concept?

We need to become open to and gain conscious awareness of the changes, of how we function now.  We need to acknowledge our pre and post functioning.

That can be, we do not have a leg now; walking and running present a challenge.  Previously we ran marathons.  This is a visible obvious difference.

That can be, we do not think clearly, we do not connect or recall ideas as quickly, and we have an outpouring of all our emotions.  Previously we had clear concise thought processes, we solved multiple problems quickly, and we had emotions galore and expressed them effectively.

We may not have looked in depth at our prior functions which came easily and were well performed.  We need to understand how we did what we did automatically.  Then we can look at a strategy to develop how to regain that function.  We can begin re-defining our self-concept.

Let’s look again at the prior marathon runner.  With the use of prosthetics or wheels we can still engage in marathons or similar running/racing activities.  Through that we can re-connect with that part of our self-definition.  Or we can use that knowledge and adjust our function to that of a coach/trainer for marathons.  We are re-developing our self-concept and self-worth.

Let’s look at the individual that previously was a great problem solver.  We can develop a new concrete system for the ideas that still generated but not connecting so solutions can be created integrating the various possibilities.  We can allow more time to coalesce the thoughts to workable options.  We go from I can’t to how to.  We are rediscovering the components of our identity and adapting to the parameter which we have to work within.  We are accepting our new identity.

Our self-concept changes.

We recognize the loss.

We identify and acknowledge the changes in function and how we define ourselves.

We assess our pre and post components of our identity and functional ability.

We determine what we need to do daily and long term.

We strategize and figure out how to meet our daily needs of function and develop some for out new goals.

We accept and engage in our new persona.

There is loss, be we do not need to be lost.  We are self-defined.  We have a self-concept.

What experiences have you had?  Share in the comments below.  Let’s Connect!


  1. This post things out to me more than any of the others . I lost my sense of self such a long time ago that I can actually remember who I am all I know is I was constantly surrounded by people as I ran a music venue in an Arts centre. Then a much larger venue & hosted regular events at a number of nightclubs for many years. I was, what I like to say “The Hostess with the mostess” I had a good friends & was quite the social butterfly.
    Now I feel hopeless, I feel that I have failed in life, I can’t see how to move forward.
    I feel that, at age 48, it’s all too late, no matter how people tell me it isn’t.
    In my mind I have lived 2 thirds of my life & so time is running out. The idea of death & how soon it comes around has been a constant in my life since probably around the age of 3 or 4 when I realised there was no such thing as heaven and that when you die you’re dead and that’s it. Existential angst?
    And then we come to finding a site like this and thinking “there is a Glimmer of hope” but then, as is usually the way in my life, I come across The Hurdle, that hurdle being Money.
    Everything in life has a price to pay and unfortunately being in a situation where I am on a very low income and so some weeks there will be one or two days with no food, this means unfortunately in my life there is no extra pennies for anything other than things needed to exist.
    This means throughout my life doors shut as soon as the realisation is met that “this woman can’t pay”
    I think I may as well go with my first thoughts –
    it’s all too late

    • Jacci, Life has the full spectrum of peaks and valleys. Existential angst, is very real. What is your desired outcome for you, your life? Not necessarily things – but what do you want the expression of your life to be? What does that outcome look like? What steps can you implement today toward creating that outcome? What can you do to experience a little joy in the everyday, ordinary – sights, sounds, smells, sensing of the wind, rain, colors, textures? What can you do in the moment to create a desired outcome?

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