Self-concept-the way in which one perceives oneself-can be divided into categories, such as personal self-concept (facts or one's own opinions about oneself, such as "I have brown eyes" or "I am attractive"); social self-concept (one's perceptions about how one is regarded by others: "people think I have a great sense of humor"); and self-ideals (what or how one would like to be: "I want to be a lawyer" or "I wish I were thinner").
While a number of philosophers and psychologists have addressed the idea that behavior is influenced by the way people see themselves, investigation into the importance of self-concept is most closely associated with the writings and therapeutic practices of Carl Rogers. The self-and one's awareness of it-lie at the heart of Rogers' client-centered therapy and the philosophy behind it. According to Rogers, one's self-concept influences how one regards both oneself and one's environment. The self-concept of a mentally healthy person is consistent with his or her thoughts, experiences, and behavior. However, people may maintain a self-concept that is at odds with their true feelings to win the approval of others and "fit in," either socially or professionally. This involves repressing their true feelings and impulses, which eventually causes them to become alienated from themselves, distorting their own experience of the world and limiting their potential for self-actualization, or fulfillment. The gulf between a person's self-concept and his or her actual experiences (which Rogers called incongruence) is a chronic source of anxiety and can even result in mental disorders. According to Rogers, a strong self-concept is flexible and allows a person to confront new experiences and ideas without feeling threatened.
Social psychologists have pointed out that self-concept also plays an important role in social perception-the process by which we form impressions of others. Attribution-how we explain the causes of our own and other...