What is Meant by The Self?

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

“A man is but the product of his thoughts and what he thinks, he becomes.” Mahatma Gandhi

“Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.” Mahatma Gandhi


“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” The evil witch must ask this question of the mirror because, in reality, she looks in the mirror and sees ugliness. Of course, she wants the mirror to tell her otherwise. Her self esteem rests on what the mirror, others, think of her. The witch has poor “self esteem.” Her identity is that of a witch and, as such, she cannot be beautiful or fair.

The “self” is a term we constantly use. We refer to “self esteem,” self “concept,” “self image,” and others. Yet, what is meant by this? In actuality, the self refers to all of these things. It refers what how you judge yourself, how you think others judge you, how you imagine and think about your body, and what you believe others think of you. In a matter of speaking, the self refers to “what it’s like to be you.” The self is a mental model you have of yourself, an idea, a concept or way of thinking.

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What it is like to be you is something that is not static. It changes over time. It’s the result of your experiences. However, there is nothing solid about the self. It cannot be located in your body. It’s not in your brain the way the hippocampus is. There is no way to point at it. In reality, it’s a construct, an idea, a mental model you have of yourself, an idea, a concept or way of thinking.
As such, it is fluid, it changes over time.

This construct, the self, also rests upon the various roles we play in life. Roles such as daughter, son, father, mother, grandparent and worker all form pieces of a puzzle that, together, form the self.

Because no one else on earth experiences things the way each of us does, each self is unique. That is why the self can be referred to as the individual. You, the reader, is an individual, unique, different and as varied from the other readers as it’s possible to be. Simply, it is impossible for two people to have exactly the same experience because it feels different to each one of us.

As stated above, the self changes. In fact, it changes all the time. This is a positive thing because that fact gives each of us the power to change. For example, meditation and mindfulness gives each person the ability to become aware of the self and appreciate the complexity of yourself.

What is your self concept? How do you think of your self?

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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