By Susan Simpson
Forget about practicality and real life for a moment and imagine your dream home. What would it be like? Every well-built home is imagined, then thoughtfully planned in the form of blueprints. Blueprints, diagrams, site plans, floor layouts and engineering drawings all set forth standards and desired outcomes that guide building contractors through the development process.
Humans also take form through imagination and building. We use blueprints or patterns when defining our self-constructs. This blog will examine one of these, Self-Alignment: how closely your view of yourself matches the “plan”—the way you would like to be.
In broad terms, Self-Alignment often indicates your level of satisfaction with the way you are: your qualities, characteristics and social roles. This attribute operates within the framework of “self-concept,” so let us start with this upper-level model.
The Framework of Self-Concept
Self-concept is the nature and organization of all the thoughts, feeling and perceptions you have about yourself. Self-concept shapes your internal and revealed response to “Who and what am I?” It is multifaceted, far-reaching and involves and/or influences other self-constructs such as identity, image, esteem, worth, confidence and efficacy.
While the scientific theories and controversies related to self-concept are countless, two heavy influencers, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow helped establish the idea of self-concept in the west. According to Rogers, everyone wants to feel, experience and behave in ways which are consistent with their “real-self” (how they think, feel, look and act) and reflective of “ideal self” (how they’d like to be). The real self can be seen by others, but because we have no way to completely know how others view us, the real self is our “self-image.” He believed self-concept has three different components:
- Self-image: The way you “see” yourself
- Self-esteem/Self-worth: Your emotional appraisal/value of yourself
- Ideal self: They way you sense you should be
A healthy self-image includes the potential for growth, happiness, willpower, realization of gifts, etc., but it also has shortcomings. The ideal self is used as a blueprint to assist the self-image in developing its potential and achieving self-actualization.
Although self-worth is used synonymously with self-esteem in Rogers framework, they are distinct. Self-worth is a deep knowing that you are of value and have great potential based on who you inherently are—no matter what you think, or feel or do. Underpinning self-esteem, it is derived from receiving and giving love. Without well-grounded self-worth, people (especially in the west) are more likely to become driven over-achievers and/or exaggerate reality in pursuit of increased self-esteem and/or a positive self-image.
According to Rogers, when self-image and ideal self are closely related, we show high congruence or Self-Alignment.
Significant overlap typically indicates a higher level of peace, composure and well-being. A substantial gap between the “I am” and the “I want to/should be” results in feeling “out of step” or misaligned with my own true self. Healthy individuals recognize that Self-Alignment is an ongoing process. As they develop, people become more informed, both as to how they are and how they would ideally like to be. As with all building processes, there will be reality checks, miscalculations and construction redos along the way. And as with all building plans, the ideal self is not static and will typically have many revisions.
Self-Alignment: A PAIRIN Imperative
Self-Alignment is third in the progression of the PAIRIN Imperatives—eight attributes proven to be foundational to personal growth and performance. It draws upon one’s existential or ‘being’ self, Emotional Self-Awareness and Self-Assessment as well as social roles, interactions and comparisons with others. PAIRIN describes Self-Alignment as the level of agreement between your self-image and how you would like to be. It is distinct from but indicative of self-esteem.
People high in Self-Alignment sense a minimal discrepancy between their actual self and the type of person they would like to be. When this sense of congruence is rooted in genuine self-worth, they feel little need to defend or boast. Poised and self-accepting, they are quick to value and extend high regard to others. High Self-Alignment can be problematic if based on counterfeit notions. Individuals will feel insecure when their high, but wobbly, self-opinion is contested. When challenged, they are easily destabilized or defensive. Self-respect can distort into an inflated sense of their own importance.
People with low Self-Alignment may feel temporarily or regularly frustrated by life situations. There is a recognized gap between their “I am” and “I should be.” While often kind, modest and considerate, they doubt their abilities to attain life goals or personal meaning and often struggle to cope with stress. This can lead to poor morale, moodiness or a tendency to give up before starting. While accommodating others’ wishes, they may be prone to withdrawal, self-pity, self-neglect or inner conflict.
Homebuilding is no simple undertaking; the process is complicated and nuanced. Likewise, while critical to an individual’s development, Self-Alignment is one of the trickiest PAIRIN attributes to interpret and strengthen. It’s components—self-image and ideal self—are complex and offer more than one explanation. Moreover, they both interact with self-esteem which is profoundly influenced by life events, relationships, comparisons and other people’s “messages” and expectations. High or low feelings of self-esteem can affect (artificially inflate or deflate) Self-Alignment. Likewise, high or low Self-Alignment can sustain or undermine self-esteem.
Carl Rogers believed that individuals “build” or self-actualize as they move toward Self-Alignment. He also acknowledged that high Self-Alignment does not always equate to strong Self-Alignment.
PAIRIN provides several additional measures along with related training on how to further decipher this subtlety.
In many ways, Rogers regarded the strongly self-aligned person as an ideal—a process rather than an end or completion of life’s journey. Building or strengthening Self-Alignment takes deliberate planning and concentrated effort. It takes overcoming negative childhood experiences, acknowledging your intrinsic value as a human being, and then working to acquire the skills needed to confront the many challenges and adversities we encounter in life. The action items below describe how to replace unproductive mindsets and behaviors with countermeasures that fortify and promote Self-Alignment.
- No Need to Perform! Accept Self-Worth — It is important to recognize that you are a unique human being, inherently good and creative. Apart from anything you do, you are precious, worthy of respect, self-care and kindness. You may need to focus upon, reclaim or deepen in the truth of your self-worth. Two primary sources that influence our self-worth are childhood experiences and evaluation by others. Seek relationships with those with whom you feel open, unconditionally accepted and valued. Self-worth is derived from giving and receiving love.
- No Need to Protect! Take Rejection — Those with shaky Self-Alignment often feel like a failure if someone is disapproving or rejecting. No one is liked by everyone! The more you can believe that your value is not derived from the number of people who like you, the less you need to feel bad or be ashamed of your shortcomings. Instead, congratulate yourself if someone doesn’t like you because you are being a genuine person.
- No Need to Push (or Pass)! Offer Strengths — Those with shaky Self-Alignment tend to focus on their weaknesses rather than focusing on their strengths, sometimes claiming that there isn’t anything in which they excel. That is unlikely true. It is essential to pay attention to strengths no matter how small they may seem. Find a coach or mentor to help you identify current strengths and reinforce these through frequent exercise and focus on them.
- No Need to Pretend! Acknowledge Mistakes — No one is perfect! Recognize that flaws and mistakes are part of the human condition. They don’t make you less than others. Instead, like all others, you have flaws, and you make mistakes. In fact, the more actively you participate and pursue goals in life, the more mistakes you will make. But being “in the game” and actively involved allows you more opportunity for success as well. Don’t play it safe, and always accept yourself—faults and all.
- No Need to Put Down! Speak to Yourself Kidly — Harmful self-talk must die! Frequent self-criticism and belittling labels can only undermine you as a fully functioning person. Eliminating negative self-talk doesn’t mean you can’t recognize and address problems; it means being careful in how you talk to yourself. Rather than “I am faulty,” learn instead to acknowledge “I am at fault” when appropriate.
Forget about practicality and real life for a moment and imagine your dream self. What will you be like? Be guided by the blueprint as you build and remember—becoming who you are is inextricably tied to who you see in yourself.
Rogers, C. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On Becoming a person: A psychotherapists view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.
The Self-Concept Author(s): Viktor Gecas Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 8 (1982), pp. 1-33 Published by: Annual Reviews Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2945986.
Soenens, Bart & Vansteenkiste, Maarten. (2011). When Is Identity Congruent with the Self? A Self-Determination Theory Perspective. Handbook of identity theory and research. 381-402. 10.1007/978-1-4419-7988-9_17.
Winnicott, D. W. (1965). “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self”. The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. New York: International Universities Press, Inc: 140–57.