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What is The Self?
The term self-concept is a general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself. Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition:
"The individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is".
The self-concept is an important term for both social and humanistic psychology. Lewis (1990) suggests that development of a concept of self has two aspects:
(1) The Existential Self
This is 'the most basic part of the self-scheme or self-concept; the sense of being separate and distinct from others and the awareness of the constancy of the self' (Bee, 1992).
The child realizes that they exist as a separate entity from others and that they continue to exist over time and space.
According to Lewis awareness of the existential self begins as young as two to three months old and arises in part due to the relation the child has with the world.
For example, the child smiles and someone smiles back, or the child touches a mobile and sees it move.
(2) The Categorical Self
Having realized that he or she exists as a separate experiencing being, the child next becomes aware that he or she is also an object in the world.
Just as other objects including people have properties that can be experienced (big, small, red, smooth and so on) so the child is becoming aware of him or her self as an object which can be experienced and which has properties.
The self too can be put into categories such as age, gender, size or skill. Two of the first categories to be applied are age (“I am 3”) and gender (“I am a girl”).
In early childhood. the categories children apply to themselves are very concrete (e.g., hair color, height and favorite things). Later, self-description also begins to include reference to internal psychological traits, comparative evaluations and to how others see them.
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