Self concept is how we define ourselves; it’s a combination of how we see ourselves and how we believe we are perceived through the eyes of others, so it stands to reason that it would have a seismic impact on how we communicate.
It is in our interactions with others that our ideas of ourselves surface, and the nature of these ideals, whether positive or negative, can completely alter the dynamics of the discourse.
Of course, the context of communication, i.e. who we’re communicating with, the topic of conversation, and the format of interaction, can also completely alter our self concept.
All of these notions can very easily form a tangled mess when we consider how they flow into one another, so let’s try and unravel some threads and make some concrete observations about the relationship between self concept and communication.
The Role Of Self-Esteem In Communication
A notion of self concept isn’t the base-level examination of the self, rather, the examination of the construction of self concept is the most fundamental influence on our psyche and how we communicate with others.
These judgments we make about ourselves combine to form what we call our self-esteem (see also ‘Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem Never Exceed Your Personal Integrity‘).
On the whole, those of us with high self-esteem are content with the architecture of the self concept.
We are predominantly confident communicators, not only because we feel comfortable expressing ourselves, but because we’re not particularly worried about ourselves the way someone with low self-esteem might be.
This ability to let the self essentially drift on autopilot allows those with high self-esteem to become better listeners, as there is no force pulling attention back to the self during an interaction.
Conversely, those of us with low self-esteem are saddened or ashamed by the majority of the constituent parts comprising our self concept, and this negativity inevitably bleeds into communication style.
If we suffer from low self-esteem, we’re more likely to speak quietly, poorly, give monosyllabic responses that terminate interactions prematurely, or maybe even avoid interaction altogether.
Self-Efficacy & Communication
Low self-esteem isn’t always a prerequisite for diminished communicative abilities.
If you have low notions of self-efficacy in regards to your ability to communicate, even if you have an overwhelmingly positive outlook of your self concept overall, you may struggle to communicate with others.
In a nutshell, self-efficacy is our own score we give our individual abilities based on our adeptness at certain tasks.
For instance, if you’re a talented illustrator, your self-efficacy for drawing would be very high, whereas if you struggle with drawing very simple things, your self-efficacy for drawing would be low.
The important thing to understand here is that low self-efficacy leads us to false conclusions about ourselves.
It encourages us to avoid the task in question and make peace with being inherently bad at it, meaning we won’t address our shortcomings and improve.
When the ability in question is a form of communication, our skills plateau as we stop striving to improve them.
Self-Discrepancy & Communication
In self-discrepancy theory, it’s suggested that self concept is composed of three discrete, overlapping constructions of self.
- Actual self — This is the self composed of attributes you or others believe you to actually, presently possess.
- Ideal self — This self is composed of attributes you or others would like you to possess but currently do not.
- Ought self — This self is composed of attributes you and others believe you should possess.
Discrepancies between these different ideals can be positive.
For instance, the gulf that separates the actual and ideal self can inspire us to make positive changes that steer the true self in a beneficial direction, blurring the lines between ideal and actual.
However, discrepancies between these pillars of the self can also be devastating, affecting our worldview and how we communicate.
Here are the four negative discrepancy possibilities:
- Actual Vs. own ideal — We feel we are failing to achieve what we would like to, that we have wasted our time, and have little remaining use, leading to feelings of disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration. This can trigger reduced communicative capacities, as well as open the door to drastic interference of jealousy when we meet someone who has perhaps achieved the things we hoped for ourselves.
- Actual Vs. ideals of others — We feel shame and embarrassment for failing to live up to the expectations of those who want the best for us, leading to low self-esteem, and waning communication skills.
- Actual Vs. others ought — We fear punishment and exile for not meeting what we believe others think are our duties and obligations, thus bringing our self-efficacy down.
- Actual Vs. own ought — We feel that we are failing to meet the moral standards set by ourselves. This can completely alter overall sense of self concept in one moment of realization, after which, we may allow others to get away with deplorable behavior due to the belief that we are no better, and have no right to take the moral high ground. We become passive communicators, often withdrawing from discourses we perhaps would have thrived in previously.
The Infectiousness Of Mood: A Destructive Cycle
Once a negative self concept is established, it can be a difficult hole to get out of, as the forces that influence the self will continuously reinforce the negative.
It goes a little something like this…
Someone with a negative self concept develops low self-esteem as a consequence, which, in turn, drains their conversational energy (see also ‘How To Protect Your Energy‘), both in terms of their thinking/speech and their physicality.
The other parties don’t just pick up on this negativity but become infected by it, as it brings their own mood down, amounting to an apparent negative reaction to the interaction, which, in turn, lessens the already crushed confidence of the party with a negative self-image.
As self concept and self esteem define the individual, they also determine the parameters of communication when two or more people interact, and as communication is such a vital aspect of society, the nature of our self concept can determine the quality and potential of our lives.
This is why we should all try our hardest to build ourselves and each other up, breaking the cycle of negativity, and laying down a fertile foundation from which to grow as people.