The Difference Between Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Although on the surface they may seem synonymous, these two concepts are quite different. Nevertheless, they both help you to get to know yourself better. In this article we talk about the differences between them.
The Difference Between Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Last update: 30 October, 2021

Distinguishing between self-esteem and self-concept isn’t easy. Indeed, although they’re different concepts, they’re often used interchangeably in everyday language.

Both self-esteem and self-concept condition thoughts about the self. This is one of the reasons why differentiating between them is complex. In this article, we’re going to explore the two terms and try to understand their usefulness in connecting the way you see yourself.

Self-concept: the image you have of yourself

Self-concept refers to the set of information in the way of ideas, beliefs, and concepts that you’ve collected about yourself. Thus, self-concept refers to the way in which you’ve cognitively constructed an image of yourself and which you can verbally account for.

In other words, self-concept refers to your self-perceptions. In fact, those that you’ve formed from your experience and interactions with other people and your environment. Self-concept is organized and structured and brings together different dimensions.

The way in which your self-concept is organized gives it a global and partially stable nature. At the same time, you have differentiated and variable self-concepts in different vital dimensions. For instance, academic, work, social or emotional areas.

For example, you might say that, generally, you’re a responsible, discreet, or careless person. However, when asked about specific aspects of your life, you may say that you’re extremely skilled at mathematics, precise and accurate in your work, or that you can sometimes neglect certain tasks.

Therefore, we can say that self-concept refers to a rational understanding of the self, has a predominantly descriptive component, and can easily be expressed in words. These characteristics mean that you can modify your self-concept through processes of cognitive restructuring and objective interpretations of your own experience.

Woman looking at reflection in mirror

Self-esteem: valuing who you are

The omnipresence of the term self-esteem makes it difficult to define. Basically, it’s a concept that refers to how you make judgments about yourself.

These judgments are evaluative in nature and often arise from the comparison you make between yourself and an “ideal self” that you’d like to achieve. The closeness or distance that you perceive between that ideal is often built from socially shared standards. These might be in the form of a hegemonic body or material wealth. They influence how you establish judgments about yourself and, indirectly, how you feel.

The evaluations that you make about yourself can be both positive and negative. These evaluations are subjective and are based on emotionality. They have a lot to do with how you feel and, at the same time, condition how you feel.

The relationship that self-esteem has with your emotional universe makes it extremely difficult, unlike in the case of self-concept, to give an account of self-esteem in words. It’s also difficult to intervene voluntarily on it. For example, you can try to explain your feelings, but there’ll always be something in your emotional world that remains indescribable.

Woman making a heart with her hands

The difficulty in differentiating between the two concepts

When viewing self-esteem and self-concept as theoretical constructs, there are several difficulties in determining and distinguishing between them.

On the one hand, they’re concepts that intersect to a degree. As a matter of fact, some authors see them as inseparable. At least insofar as self-esteem can be considered a constitutive part of self-concept. In other words, they believe that self-description can’t be separated from self-assessment. This is because, in the act of issuing a concept about yourself, an evaluative action is already implicit. This leads you to rank certain criteria over others.

On the other hand, the everyday use of these terms often makes them synonymous. Indeed, considering their close relationship, it’s hardly surprising that this happens. It’s important that you bear in mind that both concepts are linked to the way in which you see yourself and, at the same time, with the ways in which you’d like to be seen socially.

These aren’t concepts that refer only to phenomena in your psychic life but they’re reflected in your daily behaviors, in what you express about yourself, and in your expectations about how you’d like to be treated.

Being clear about these concepts and their relationship allows you to work on your self-knowledge. In addition, you become aware of the importance of being fair in the way you evaluate yourself, as well as the need to treat others in increasingly respectful and kind ways.

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