By Steve Andreas
Our self-concept is the ideas we have about ourselves based on our personal experiences. It is how we organize and think about our memories. It is like a map of the self that acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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If I think I am clumsy, this makes me notice any awkward behavior, which reinforces my belief and becomes a downward spiral. “This is who I am” further reinforces itself thru selective perception, behavior and memory
Even though our self-concept affects all our experiences, it is formed haphazardly. We can all improve our self-concept. Changes to our self-concept can spread to all areas of our life.
High self-esteem comes from a self-concept that is aligned with your values. You may even have values that differ from mainstream society, but still feel good about yourself.
You can’t get high self-esteem directly; it’s the result of your evaluation of your self-concept. Comparing self with others and falling short of the ideals we have accepted can result in low self-esteem
People who don’t think well of themselves usually don’t attempt very much and therefore don’t accomplish much. They also tend to escape from themselves through abuse of drugs, food, TV or other distractions. While we usually think someone who is overbearing or arrogant and self-important has high self-esteem, usually it’s the opposite.
Being unclear about our values from internal value conflicts therefore can result in low self-esteem. Conflicting values can arise from values that change over time and from values accepted from the larger culture that do not fit.
Discovering Your Self Concept – the positive database
Choose a quality, capacity or attitude that you know is true of yourself and that you like. How do I know I am X? There are likely to be a number of aspects.
- There is a simplified image or summary representation. This summary example includes the basic criteria for the other examples in the database
- Database of examples and experiences that underlie it
- The database examples might be visual, auditory or kinesthetic.
- A wide range and number of examples in different contexts, makes it more compelling.
- Location – where you represent them, at a distance, up high etc
- It can be simultaneous (all at once) or sequential (like a tape or book pages). Kinesthetic System Processing and Auditory System examples are more sequential. Having visual simultaneous representations allows you to have a large quantity of examples.
- It can be in any modality – visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Feelings summarize data but are less effective at presenting specific detail
- Associated (as though you were there) or dissociated. Associated examples are stronger and more compelling
- There will be Submodality differences – color, size, volume, tone. Usually memories that are large, colorful, close etc will feel much stronger and more real and important
- Aspects of time relates to continuity and reliability. Past examples tend to stay in the past. Future examples are predictive.
A Healthy Self Concept
- Durability and reliability – you don’t want your self-concept to collapse and disappear at the first hurdle. A wide range and number of examples in different contexts, makes it more solid.
- Accurately based on competence and backed by confidence. A big bright summary image of self with few examples to back it up creates overconfidence
- It is responsive to ongoing corrective feedback. Strong self-concepts are more sensitive to feedback – you notice differences more easily.
- It is unconscious and automatic – peak performance, flow state. Self-consciousness tends to interfere with effectiveness.
- Connection – separations come from making comparisons between ourselves and others and noticing the differences
- Free of Self Importance and Egotism.
You can directly change the content of your database examples, including deleting what isn’t useful.
- You can view events from your own, another’s or an observer perspective (Perceptual positions). Using all three perspectives provides more information.
- While a metaphor is a useful summary representation, sensory examples provide a reference of how to perform.
- Representations of others in our database in order to identify with them and take on their qualities can be useful as long as you only include valued representations. Comparisons with others puts you at risk of flipping into a negative database
- Qualities in a wide range of contexts can make adapting to change easier. If the qualities represented in a context like a job, losing it can be very disorienting.
- You may have content distortions and biases, such as seeing yourself at an idealized age or capability
Your mistakes can make your self-concept stronger and more accurate. How you represent counter examples to a quality has a major impact on how you think of yourself and how you behave.
Having no counter examples makes the quality less real. It can also create an impossibly high standard, and make someone resistant to feedback. Denying imperfections leads to the shadow self and an all or nothing approach (I am either totally good or bad). Flipping from a positive to a negative database of examples is very common.
Having too many counter examples or ones that are too large or prominent on the other hand can weaken or overwhelm the other examples. 5-10%, in the same modality, mixed in with other examples is a good proportion. It is important not to have future counterexamples.
Building a New Quality of Self Concept
This process is to create a new desired quality or attitude. It won’t override an ambiguous or negative self-concept because of the number of counterexamples. It uses the form of the positive database to assemble a set of memories into a new generalization. We have oodles of memories we can organize to prove just about anything we want about ourselves.
Experiences of dependence, often indicates where a quality is missing. That is, asking for reassurance or validation, complaints from others or envy/admiration. Another indication is only having examples of others when you think of a particular valued quality.
Transforming an Uncertain Quality
This process turns a weak, ambiguous or uncertain quality into a strong basis for who you want to be. Ambiguous qualities indicate there are roughly equal numbers of positive examples and counterexamples.
Overconfidence and self-importance is actually a sign of uncertainty and a shaky self-concept. When we are uncertain, we can create a false self to appear more capable than we actually are. When you know for sure you have ability, you don’t even think about it, you just do it
This process involves transforming and recategorizing counterexamples as well as examining and tuning up the structure of the positive template and the summary example.
Changing the “Not Self”
This process resolves the problems caused by thinking of who you are NOT, for instance, not graceful or anti communist, where you have nothing positive to identify with. Since the unconscious doesn’t respond to negation, it will respond to whatever is negated
There is generally a comparison involved in the “not self”, which makes our self-concept dependent on other and a good deal of self-criticism.
Need to make positive images of what they have been negating and change the summary label. The process involves either building the quality anew or transforming an ambiguous one
Transforming an Unwanted Quality
An unwanted quality has examples of either behavior you don’t want or large number of counterexamples. If you consistently behave in a particular way, that is a good indication of an unrecognized important value. In which case, you may only need to redescribe the quality.
By starting a new positive template, you can create a new database of positive examples that provides a basis for later dealing with the counterexamples. Then take the worst counterexample and transform it – what resources were needed?
Discovering and Changing Boundaries
Boundaries are about what we include in our self-concept, and identify with. Of course, they are metaphorical.
Weak boundaries can have others overwhelm our own needs. Strong boundaries can make connection difficult. Brittle boundaries can shatter, and soft boundaries provide little protection from intrusion.
Our internal boundaries usually protect against internal challenges. For instance, pain and discomfort from injury or disease, or internal urges that the person rejects in self like anger or excitement. Things inside yourself that you find repulsive hide alienated resources you can reclaim.
Although we all have experiences that we describe as “other or “outside of us” or “external reality” all of that actually happens inside our brain, and it a part of us.
Connecting with Others
How to be intimate, while retaining a strong sense of yourself. Having access to all our resources including the perspectives of others makes it easier to find solutions
Your experience of disconnection exists in your mind. You need to heal the internal world. If you stay connected with a destructive attacking force rather than opposing it directly, you can use the connection to change the direction of the force. When you feel disconnected, you are likely to act like a superior critic or judge and most people don’t respond well to that.
We can use submodality patterns to map across from disconnection to connection
One way to describe most unhappiness is that we develop “tunnel vision”, narrowly focusing in on a problem while ignoring everything else that surrounds is to see a problem “in perspective” means to see it in relation to something else.
A narrow perspective can also concentrate your attention and delete other concerns, events and information
- Visual Perspective Pattern assembles a collage of resources images integrated with the troubling images.
- Auditory Perspective Pattern integrates resourceful voices with a troublesome one.
- Kinesthetic Perspective Pattern needs the feelings of the experience of doing something – tactile feelings from the sensory nerves, muscular tension, position and movement of your body in the world around. This is not about the evaluative feelings (emotions). This pattern is useful to improve sport, motor skill or other kinesthetic performance. It uses physical activities to serve as resources.