The Self

The self is an individual person as the object of one’s own reflective consciousness. This reference is necessarily subjective, thus self is a reference by a subject to the same subject. The sense of having a self—or self-hood—should, however, not be confused with subjectivity itself. Ostensibly, there is a directness outward from the subject that refers inward, back to its ‘self‘ (or itself). Examples of psychiatric conditions where such ‘sameness’ is broken include depersonalization, which sometimes occur in schizophrenia: the self appears different from the subject.

The first-person perspective distinguishes self-hood from personal identity. Whereas “identity” is sameness, self-hood implies a first-person perspective. Conversely, we use “person” as a third-person reference. Personal identity can be impaired in late stage Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Finally, the self is distinguishable from “others”. Including the distinction between sameness and otherness, the self versus other is a research topic in contemporary philosophy) and contemporary phenomenology, psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience.

Although subjective experience is central to self-hood, the privacy of this experience is only one of many problems in the philosophical and scientific study of consciousness.

See also: Outline Of Self


Two areas of the brain that are important in retrieving self-knowledge are the medial prefrontal cortex and the medial posterior parietal cortex. The posterior cingulate cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex are thought to combine to provide humans with the ability to self-reflect. The insular cortex is also thought to be involved in the process of self-reference.

One's self-perception is defined by one's self-concept, self-knowledge, self-esteem, and social self.

One’s self-perception is defined by one’s self-concept, self-knowledge, self-esteem, and social self.


Main article: Psychology of Self

The psychology of self is the study of either the cognitive and affective representation of one’s identity or the subject of experience. The earliest formulation of the self in modern psychology forms the distinction between the self as I, the subjective knower, and the self as Me, the subject that is known. Current views of the self in psychology position the self as playing an integral part in human motivation, cognition, affect, and social identity. Self following from John Locke has been seen as a product of episodic memory but research upon those with amnesia find they have a coherent sense of self based upon preserved conceptual autobiographical knowledge. It is increasingly possible to correlate cognitive and affective experience of self with neural processes. A goal of this ongoing research is to provide grounding and insight into the elements of which the complex multiply situated selves of human identity are composed. The ‘Disorders of the Self’ have also been extensively studied by psychiatrists.

For example, facial and pattern recognition take large amounts of brain processing capacity but pareidolia cannot explain many constructs of self for cases of disorder, such as schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder. One’s sense of self can also be changed upon becoming part of a stigmatized group. According to Cox, Abramson, Devine, and Hollon (2012), if an individual has prejudice against a certain group, like the elderly and then later becomes part of this group this prejudice can be turned inward causing depression (i.e. deprejudice).

The philosophy of a disordered self, such as in schizophrenia, is described in terms of what the psychiatrist understands are actual events in terms of neuron excitation but are delusions nonetheless, and the schizo-affective or schizophrenic person also believes are actual events in terms of essential being. PET scans have shown that auditory stimulation is processed in certain areas of the brain, and imagined similar events are processed in adjacent areas, but hallucinations are processed in the same areas as actual stimulation. In such cases, external influences may be the source of consciousness and the person may or may not be responsible for “sharing” in the mind’s process, or the events which occur, such as visions and auditory stimuli, may persist and be repeated often over hours, days, months or years—and the afflicted person may believe themselves to be in a state of rapture or possession.

What the Freudian tradition has subjectively called, “sense of self” is for Jungian analytic psychology, where one’s identity is lodged in the persona or ego and is subject to change in maturation. Carl Jung distinguished, “The self is not only the center, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the center of this totality…”. The Self in Jungian psychology is “the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche … a transpersonal power that transcends the ego.” As a Jungian archetype, it cannot be seen directly, but by ongoing individuating maturation and analytic observation, can be experienced objectively by its cohesive wholeness making factor.


The self can be redefined as a dynamic, responsive process that structures neural pathways according to past and present environments including material, social, and spiritual aspects. Self-concept is a concept or belief that an individual has of him or herself as an emotional, spiritual, and social being. Therefore, the self-concept is the idea of who I am, kind of like a self-reflection of one’s well being. For example, the self-concept is anything you say about yourself.

A society is a group of people who share a common belief or aspect of self interacting for the maintenance or betterment of the collective. Culture consists of explicit and implicit patterns of historically derived and selected ideas and their embodiment in institutions, cognitive and social practices, and artifacts. Cultural systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other, as conditioning elements of further action. Therefore, the following sections will explore how the self and self-concept can be changed due to different cultures.

The way individuals construct themselves may be different due to their culture. A western culture self is usually seen as abstract, private, individual, and separates themselves from the rest of the group. Whereas an eastern culture self might be presented as open and flexible. The self relies on the environment and culture it is put in. The self evolves and is constantly changing to the environment so that it is not threatened. Therefore, researchers wanted to study the differences between cultures and see if individual’s conceptual selves change due to their culture and environment.

Researchers Kanagawa and Heine have studied participants who lived in western and eastern cultures. Throughout the study the researchers concluded that western cultures such as North American and West European cultures are more independent cultures. The individuals in the western society tend to look only for positive attributes and strive for goals that will put them ahead of others. Western cultures are more goal oriented for individualism, instead of being more collective for the group to advance ahead. This is due to the culture that westerners instill, the whole culture concept is to out beat another individual to advance their own well being. The independent cultures create selves and self-concepts to worry about their own individual thoughts and feelings. Whereas eastern cultures such as those of Japan, Asian, Africa, Latin American, and South Europe are interdependent cultures. The culture is very different in eastern cultures because their culture is based on the collective, instead of focusing on one individual. For instance, Japanese culture focuses heavily on self-criticism and trying to improve themselves to become better individuals. They really depend on negative feedback and aspects of themselves so that they can advance and help the entire culture and society. The whole goal is to maintain harmony and balance within society. Therefore, Japan’s conceptual self is very different to western culture due to the environment and standards that each culture upholds. Eastern cultures are represented as interdependent because they only think and feel for others instead of thinking about themselves. In addition, the studies that these researchers have conducted show an important relationship between the self and how cultures can play a major role in shaping the self and self-concept.

Furthermore, the self is shaped by our social interactions and our physical environments. An individual’s social interactions occur when they’re in a specific society or culture. If these individuals grow up in a certain culture they’re going to conform to societal norms and pressures to follow a specific standard that their culture believes in. This is why culture is important to study and explore when searching how the self evolves and changes. To conclude, western cultures are more self-absorbed in their own lives whereas eastern cultures are less self-absorbed because they cherish the collective. The self is dynamic and complex and it will change or conform to whatever social influence it is exposed to. The main reason why the self is constantly dynamic is because it always looks for reasons to not be harmed. The self in any culture looks out for its well being and will avoid as much threat as possible. This can be explained through the evolutionary psychology concept called survival of the fittest.


Main article: Philosophy of Self 

The philosophy of self seeks to describe essential qualities that constitute a person’s uniqueness or essential being. There have been various approaches to defining these qualities. The self can be considered that being which is the source of consciousness, the agent responsible for an individual’s thoughts and actions, or the substantial nature of a person which endures and unifies consciousness over time.

In addition to Emmanuel Levinas writings on “otherness”, the distinction between “you” and “me” has been further elaborated in Martin Buber’s philosophical work: Ich und Du.

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Main article: Religious views on the self

Religious views on the self vary widely. The self is a complex and core subject in many forms of spirituality. Two types of self are commonly considered—the self that is the ego, also called the learned, superficial self of mind and body, an egoic creation, and the self which is sometimes called the “True Self”, the “Observing Self”, or the “Witness”. In Hinduism, the Ātman (self) is not an individual, but a representation of the transcendent god Brahman.

One description of spirituality is the self’s search for “ultimate meaning” through an independent comprehension of the sacred. Another definition of spiritual identity is: “A persistent sense of self that addresses ultimate questions about the nature, purpose, and meaning of life, resulting in behaviors that are consonant with the individual’s core values. Spiritual identity appears when the symbolic religious and spiritual value of a culture is found by individuals in the setting of their own life. There can be different types of spiritual self because it is determined by one’s life and experiences.”

Human beings have a self—that is, they are able to look back on themselves as both subjects and objects in the universe. Ultimately, this brings questions about who we are and the nature of our own importance. Traditions such as Buddhism see the attachment to self is an illusion that serves as the main cause of suffering and unhappiness. Christianity makes a distinction between the true self and the false self, and sees the false self negatively, distorted through sin: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9)

According to Marcia Cavell, identity comes from both political and religious views. He also identified exploration and commitment as interactive parts of identity formation, which includes religious identity. Erik Erikson compared faith with doubt and found that healthy adults take heed to their spiritual side.

See also

Self and Sufism

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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