Initial self-concepts

In a superb comment on Believing in receiving abuse, Michele said
The other challenge, as you point out, is that you have to change your self-concept to adopt new behaviors. You have to see yourself as being worthy of being in a different place. In some ways, what can help is to "fake it till you make it," practicing new behaviors until they feel more natural and you've earned that new of feeling about yourself. But for the changes to stick, you really do have to undergo a fundamental shift in how you see yourself--it's the only way that the new behaviors can become unconscious and natural to you.
One of the biggest challenges in changing our self concept is our initial experience that we obviously did not create the one we've got to live with. It appears to us that the world gave us our self concept without asking us who we suspect we are, how we really feel or what is our sense of who we're becoming. Instead, we start out as the product of how we are regarded, talked to, treated, and responded to by others. Who we think we might be or wish to be -- gets shot down by these contradictory inputs. We infer who we must really be based on how our presence plays out in the world. We connect the dots of what happens to us into a picture of who we must really be to get these experiences occurring to us. We are very clear this was not our choice, our doing or in our control. We assume our self concept happened to us and now we have to live with it.

Here's three, very common, initial self concepts that defy change:

We may embrace the very troubling self-concept that we are really nobody inside, pretending to be someone on the outside. We create a mask that hides how it feels to disappear when we are not the center of attention. We insist on showing off incessantly to chase after that elusive sense of validity, acceptability and significance in the lives of others. When we are immersed in a milieu of perfectionists, workaholics, control freaks or needy adults, this "nobody inside" concept is the likely outcome. We cannot find ourselves when others face us. We endure "unmet narcissistic needs". We don't get to be mirrored respectfully, reflected back coherently and oriented in ways where a consistent self concept emerges. We feel abused when we get ignored. This lack in our lives creates the dilemma of trying to change our self concept when it feels we really don't have one to begin with.

We may also form a self concept amidst a constant barrage of criticism, complaints, blame and false accusations. We grasp the significance of what we are experiencing. We realize we need to come up with our own confidence, pride, recognition and self-assertion -- or it won't happen. We develop the self concept of a "prima donna" and fail to realize what's happened. We know we're right every time. We're cocksure about what to do. We notice we're superior to everyone around us. We let it be known that we don't need any friendly advice, collegial input or other perspectives. We feel abused when we get criticism and blow up when it occurs because it seems excessive and ill founded. Any change in self concept appears to implicate taking more criticism, losing self respect, and listening to envious inferiors. The change appears absurd to consider.

We may form a self concept that harbors crippling inferiority, insecurities and neediness. We've endured countless degrading experiences. We experience ourselves being starved for anything that will build our confidence, conquer our self doubts and challenge our internalized contempt. This self concept forms around other's estimation of us. We conform to other's expectations to get their approval and avoid their rejection. We figure out how to stay on the good side, tell them what they want to hear and appear as no danger to their raging beast within. We constantly need to build ourselves up by tearing other's down or hoping our association with glamourous individuals rubs off on us. The oscillate between putting others on pedestals above our lowly stature and demonizing others as we look down on them from our superior elevation. We experience realistic appraisals as abuse. We lose our grip when faced with what others see, what really happened or what we're really feeling. We cannot change our self concept because it won't hold still. One minute we're conceited, the next we're ashamed. We've the extremes covered and cannot find the middle when who we are is dependent on others' approval.

When our self concept changes from any of these three initial formulations, the experience is life changing. The change in self concept is transformational and boggles our minds. It's a change we did not anticipate or could conceive of from inside our imposed ideas of who we must be according to others.

(to be continued on: Using feedback to change identities)


  1. Nice, On the Nose. Kind of embarrassing to have it all layed out after years of trying to put it into words. :P Great Job!

  2. Yeah I agree with that! I'm learning about self-concept from my college Human Communications class now.

  3. Thanks for adding a comment and for following my blog. Good luck with that class at Cal State!