It’s a good idea to update our self-concept the way we update our clothes and electronic devices. Many of us still make do with self-concepts based on what people thought of us in the 3rd grade or the role we played in our childhood family.
Our self-concept is what we believe about ourselves, based on how we were treated in childhood. When we were young, people around us were like mirrors that reflected who we were and what was expected of us in life. For better or worse, we took this in to create our image of ourselves. These interpersonal mirrors either expanded or limited us, and their quality of reflection varied from grossly distorted to perfectly accurate. Fortunately, even if we grew up with a negative self-concept in some areas, we can always change this in adulthood.
Self-concepts get formed very early, and may not accurately reflect our current abilities or achievements. If our internal self-concept doesn’t keep up with our outer accomplishments, we can begin to feel like imposters. We might find it difficult to fully own what we have done in life because it doesn’t feel like it really originated from us. We then may secretly fear being exposed as frauds, like children playing dress-ups. But the real problem is that we need to update our self-concept.
Besides parents, interactions with siblings and peers can have a huge impact on a child’s self-concept. For that reason, adults should never overlook a sibling’s verbal abuse or bullying at school as just a normal part of growing up. Disrespectful treatment in childhood from anyone induces an insecure self-concept as not being on an equal footing with other people. At the very least, adults should be aware of the fact that their children’s self-concept is constantly under construction, needing support and protection in the same way we would buy them helmets for bike-riding.
Emotionally immature parents especially have trouble helping their children build accurate, secure self-concepts. These immature parents are so self-preoccupied that they cannot see their children compassionately and objectively. Instead their children can be burdened with self-concepts limited to old roles that served their parents’ emotional needs. Unfortunately, these children as adults may not realize that they could be so much more than who their parents told them they were.
In the minds of emotionally immature parents, their children never grow up. These parents continue to view their adult offspring as largely unformed and childlike inside. They still only see their adult children in roles that support the parent’s self-image as the most important, authoritative person in the family world. As children mature and reveal their innate individuality, such parents may ignore, dismiss, or mock their interests in a way that keeps their children feeling sheepish and unsure about themselves as adults. This results in a mismatch between what the adult children are actually capable of, and how they think of themselves.
Fortunately, children’s innate strengths and talents often surpass parental expectations and keep on developing. With experience and mentoring from other interested grown-ups, people can actualize and build a new self-concept even if their parents haven’t been supportive. However, such adult children might retain a little hollow place inside when it comes to owning their successes in the world. What they have accomplished just doesn’t jibe with what their parents taught them about themselves.
Without childhood recognition for your true capabilities and potential, you may sometimes hit gaps in your self-concept like holes in Swiss cheese. You may be successful and well connected in life, yet have blank spots in your self-concept when it comes to feeling lovable or confident about your abilities. Without an adequately updated self-concept, recognitions of accomplishment may feel awkward or undeserved. The current facts of your life may merit a positive self-concept, but emotionally you may cringe a little when expected to believe it about yourself. It can take some deliberate effort to update your self-concept and reclaim confidence in yourself.
Make it a priority to ferret out and rid yourself of outdated inaccuracies in your self-concept. Whether or not you had emotionally immature parents, it is important to continually update your self-concept so as to keep current with who you have become over your life. You are always growing and adding to your existential resume, and your self-concept should reflect that.
Have you sat down recently and made a list of your strengths and accomplishments, as well as the kind of person you have become? Ask trusted friends and supporters to name some positive qualities they’ve noticed in your life and personality. Meditate on and incorporate these updated self-descriptions. Your job is to study and accept these qualities in yourself until they feel like a part of you.
Think about who you have really become. Don’t go through life feeling like less than you are. You have the right and the power to create a self-concept that fits you perfectly.