I believe that who I am (besides being a life coach by profession) is mostly composed of self-created schemas from my past that help me to better understand myself, the world around me, and how I can (hopefully) effectively function in it. The self, in this case, my self is an ongoing and evolving process that is designed to adjust to the many challenges and changes that come with living life. Essentially, the way I view myself in terms of my self-concept, and therefore how I think of myself, depends on the perception of my social identity, personal qualities, and generalisations I develop over time based on my experiences (DeLamater, 2018). This becomes the personality, which is uniquely varied, and are among the reasons why people behave and act differently to each other (Willig & Rogers, 2019).
As a therapist, one is taught that humans are inherently social and interact with themselves and others to achieve certain objectives such as to perceive, motivate, persuade, and control (DeLamater, 2018). The behaviours that not only motivate one to act toward another or oneself, but to also contemplate, analyse, and guide the decisions from the responses of the other is commonly known as reflexive behaviour. I often find myself taking part in lengthy conversations with myself as I examine the potential consequences of my actions to help me make the right choice. This is referred to as I. While the more passive, self-reflective part of myself that evaluates the decisions I made and the consequences that followed is referred to as me (James, 1890; Mead, 1934, as cited in DeLamater, 2018). For the me and the I to function, it must be able to differentiate from the me and the other.
As a young baby I had no concept of a differentiated world that separated me from it. My caregivers had to teach me how to discriminate myself from others so I could recognise my physiological and psychological features as a part of my self, and therefore, as me (Bertenthal & Fischer, 1978, as cited in DeLamater, 2018). Learning one’s name is a large part of helping to consolidate all these features into one distinguishable entity known as me, I, and myself. Additionally, I was taught speech and language to assist my own private communication between myself, and to be able to communicate to the world around me. By realising I can communicate with myself in private creates an inner world where I can store, retrieve, edit, and delete my thoughts, feelings, values, assumptions, and generalisations, further differentiating the I from the other.
A crucial aspect of navigating my way through society is by making use of what Hewitt (2000, as cited in DeLamater, 2018) called role taking, and is the ability to imagine scenarios and evaluate the consequences of my actions in these scenarios, while also being able to perceive such moments through the eyes of the other. This helps me to gain clarity on the choices I should make. This technique becomes a useful asset when I want to be accepted by others, such as potential friends, as it helps me assume what the generalised other(s) may expect of me so I can be accepted as one of them. Along the way I often self-evaluate my public performances to assess how to refine my self-concept and my situated self. I look for signs of approval vs disapproval, reward vs punishment, and rejection vs acceptance so I can assign more energy towards a negative or positive self-concept.
In counselling, a key component to becoming, and then living as an adult is how we define and nurture our roles and social identities. My role identity consists of husband, therapist, and student, and I reinforce these identities with the required decisions and consequent behaviours to claim for myself (Burke & Reitzes, 1981; Markus & Wurf, 1987, as cited in DeLamater, 2018). Whereas I define my social identity as a Caucasian, heterosexual, South African male, and ascribe to an individualist culture. In my society I assess my personal growth, and/or lack thereof, by the reflected appraisals I become aware of so I can compare my progress to others in similar fields or domains of interest. Furthermore, according to Burke (1991, as cited in DeLamater, 2018), I will use the social meaning for an identity as a reference point to better understand the current situation, as I have at my disposal the option to choose from a hierarchy of identities according to the salient qualities of the self-schema, and how much investment has gone into maintaining such an identity.
My sense of self and the associated identities assist the development and nurturance of my self-esteem as I evaluate and weigh them according to their salience. From family experiences to social comparisons, I am constantly measuring my self-esteem to understand if, when, and how I should rate my performance according to the feedback I receive. If I perform well my self-esteem will be more positive, as opposed to if I do not perform well. This is crucial for me as it will affect my behaviour and will either provide me with confidence to take on challenges, or I will not feel confident enough and therefore, opt out of a challenge. Regardless, I will protect my self-esteem and seek to verify my self-esteem expectations when I receive feedback. Furthermore, I will rather choose to associate myself with others who share my view of self so I can subtly manipulate appraisals in accordance with my expectations.
As I explore the question of who am I, I can’t help but scrutinize Erikson’s life stage model theory to help me understand which life stages I have experienced and transcended, and the possible life stage I may be currently experiencing at this point in my life. Erikson postulates that each life stage will be met with an age-related crisis that one must resolve so they are better equipped to manage potential future crises (Van Wormer, 2017). I am at the seventh stage of life which deals with generativity versus stagnation. I am challenged with various crises that are not only based on this stage, but elements of previous unresolved crises from earlier stages. I work in the mental health industry as a life coach. However, while I feel I am following my purpose and attempting to contribute to society, I am being challenged by not only the many directions one can take and/or study in this field, but by being able to create a sustainable business for the long-term. Since I only started this career within the last four years, I recognise that the challenges of stage four and five of creating identity and industry were not completely resolved, and often create great confusion and inferiority complexes for me. Stage seven is an incredibly important stage for me as I already feel I have wasted so much valuable time by hesitating on my career. This has created a sense of regret that stems from the negative elements of stage eight.
When I examine who I am I notice that I can effectively differentiate myself from others. From my appearance, to the way I express my verbal and nonverbal language, to my private thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are all associated to me and mine. I am also aware of the imaginative process I create when I try to view myself, my point of view from another person’s perspective, and their response to me (hence assisting with reflexive behaviour). Since we are social beings a large part of how we form out identities is through our social relationships. By the feedback we get about ourselves from these interactions, we start to form a subjective perspective of how we may appear to others, which then incorporates into our self-concept or self-schema. My personality has been dramatically shaped by my associations with the people who have influenced my life. From my family to my friends, teachers, enemies, and mentors. Each person helped me to imagine how they perceived me and how I should behave when in their presence. Part of my youth was dominated by being unruly in school. Upon reflection I was hoping to gain respect from the “cool kids” by imagining what they expected from me, and then imitating their deviant behaviour, which DeLamater (2018) termed “the generalised other”. I also hoped to hide my inability to concentrate for prolong periods, and my struggles to retain academic information. I would rather be seen as naughty than stupid. Unfortunately, this created a negative self-evaluation and affected my self-esteem for many years, as I believed I was not good enough, or smart enough. A positive spin-off of my negative self-evaluation assisted me to study further, and I now embody the role of student. Although I suffered the consequences of my actions, I also established many friendships that demonstrated the fine qualities of the bonding and growth potential that a friendship can provide. It was through these connections that I met my wife and established my role as a husband, and because of these connections that I understood how to treat a woman with respect.
While a small percentage of the relationships I have had in the past were not satisfactory, for the most part, my relationships have been meaningful and important to my personal growth. My parents got divorced when I was young, and I had little contact from my father growing up. My mom and grandmother raised me, and made up the bulk of my family relationship, which allowed me to feel a deep sense of affection, acceptance, and involvement in the home, yet applied healthy means of noncoercive forms of discipline (DeLamater, 2018). Willig (2019) describes family relationships as social institutions that help children learn about who they are, and the world around them. While my family nurtured an overall healthy self-esteem, I unfortunately lacked confidence in some abilities and would often berate myself for my mistakes and failures. This I later learned was something my mom did to herself, and I imagine I picked it up from her when I was young. I was also highly influenced by a group of significant others in the form of my close friends. They assisted my social development, confidence, sense of adventure, and courage. My social identity became that of reckless, funny, caring, fun teenager that was popular among the members of the group. Then into my early adult years my wife became, and still is, my most influential relationship. Our bond has allowed me to express my compassion and love, but also the permission to explore my potential career roles, and the failures that have come with it, and to learn how to embody manhood that is cognisant of success, compassion, and personal growth. It is because of the relationship that I have with my wife that I now can conclusively state that I have a healthy self-esteem which places importance on my abilities, strengths, confidence, and intelligence.
DeLamater, J, D., Myers, D, J., & Collett, J, L. (2018). Social Psychology. Routledge.
Willig, C., & Stainton Rogers, W. (2019). Perspectives on social psychology: A psychology of human being (1st ed.). Routledge.
Van Wormer, K. (2017). Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Micro Level: Individuals and Families.