What is a Sense of Self?

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

"The question of who we are, is a seed that can bear much fruit if given the chance to unfold. " Madisyn Taylor

There is a common aim in psychotherapy and counseling: to assist others in their human journey.

People often begin the process by learning about themselves and creating a sense of self.

A sense of self is defined as how a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs, and purpose within the world.

Personality characteristics, skills, likes and dislikes, your moral code or belief system, and what motivates you contribute to your self-image or unique identity as a person. In a nutshell, understanding your own goals, beliefs, and morals will help you develop a clear sense of self.

People who can easily explain these facets of their personality are commonly confident in their personal identity. If you can't name more than a couple of these traits, you may have a vague sense of self.

Everyone has a sense of self or a sense of personal identity, whether they are aware of it or not. In this article, I'll lay out a structure for learning more about this topic.

Even if you don't spend much time thinking about your identity, it affects your life. Knowing who you are helps you live a purposeful life and form fulfilling relationships, all of which will help you maintain good mental health.

Why is it Important to Have a Strong Sense of Self?

It isn't easy to decide what you want when you don't have a good sense of self. When it comes to making important decisions, if you are unsure or indecisive, you may find it difficult to make any decision at all.

As a result, you will find yourself drifting through life, propelled by others and events rather than your own momentum. This sometimes contributes to dissatisfaction; even though nothing seems to be wrong, you cannot pinpoint the root of your dissatisfaction.

Erika Meyers, a licensed professional counselor in Bend, Oregon, explains:

"Having a well-developed sense of self is hugely beneficial in helping us make choices in life. From something as small as favorite foods to larger concerns like personal values, knowing what comes from our self versus what comes from others allows us to live authentically."

A strong sense of self is essential, particularly in the face of so many external factors and variables that can change our lives in an instant and take us away from our foundations. A strong sense of self is what keeps people grounded and on track. A clear sense of self enables one to weather any storm without being blown away by the winds of change. The overall self-perception of each person is crucial because it serves as the basis for our lives' other aspects and elements. Trust and desire are also bred from a clear sense of self. Timidity and lethargy are symptoms of a weak sense of self. As a result, having a good sense of self, as well as understanding how to get one, is essential.

How Do I Know If I Have a Strong Sense of Self?

Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist, coined the word "identity crisis." He believed that a child's upbringing was critical in shaping their sense of self.

He described eight stages of psychosocial development, each of which builds on the previous. If we properly experience each, we will get a positive result. We reached the stage of 'Identity vs. Role Confusion' when we were teenagers. We learn to be true to ourselves in this setting.

If we do not have the safe atmosphere necessary to learn the essential lessons of our childhood, we are much less likely to thrive, and we will reach adulthood uncertain about who we are.

The 'Basic Trust vs Basic Mistrust' level, for example, lasts from birth to one year old. If our caregivers do not provide us with a reason to cultivate trust, we will grow up in a world that we perceive to be untrustworthy, and we will lack a secure foundation.

Trauma shatters a child's sense of self, and it can last into adulthood if you don't get help processing the trauma.

Check for these twelve factors that show you might not have a well-developed sense of self.

1. You change with your environment.

Many of us are more at ease around close friends and relatives than we are around strangers or coworkers. If you have a low sense of self, you may have a different personality for each social group.

If everyone at your workplace is studious and quiet, you will be studious and quiet as well. If your next career wants you to be chatty and cheerful, it won't be long before it appears that you've always been the social sort. It's as if your surroundings shape you more than your own decisions and personality.

2. Relationships shape you

You delegate decision-making to your partner or best friend, and you find yourself unexpectedly admiring their hobbies and interests or even dressing like them. And if you've just switched from wearing black and listening to classical to wearing cowboy boots and listening to country, you'll persuade yourself that what they want is what you want.

And if your partner doesn't like something or someone, you will do the same, even if it means giving up your friends. It's easier to be the person they want you to be than to say you have an identity crisis.

You probably live in constant fear of being abandoned or rejected.

3. You have significant shifts in your opinions

This can include significant political and religious views or minor topics such as pop culture, food, and fashion.

You feel like you can't trust yourself because you don't know who you are and have shocked yourself in the past with changes of opinion.

4. You are uncomfortable talking about yourself

When people ask you questions about yourself, it makes you feel uneasy. Perhaps you've learned good strategies for preventing this, such as shifting the topic or asking the other individual questions and then agreeing with them.

5. You get bored easily

Not committing to something is also at the root of a lack of identity, as though you're scared to settle down in case you obligate yourself to the wrong thing and make your life worse rather than better.

The fact is, as much as you want to know who you are, you fear finding out.

6. You fear intimacy

People who lack a strong sense of self can be afraid of true intimacy and refuse to allow anyone to get close to them. If you are unsure of who you are, you might be fearful that others may discover you are nothing special and dislike you.

Even if you seem to attract many 'friends' and are frequently in a relationship, there can be a lot of self-protection that prevents genuine connection with others. You'll almost certainly have a fear of intimacy.

You may also have difficulty maintaining a friendship or social circle for an extended period of time, or you may find yourself hanging out with people who dominate you and tell you what to do.

7. You don't like being alone

When you're alone, you may feel depressed or fearful of the emptiness you're experiencing. Maybe you're looking for a way to get away from your emotions and the fact that you're not happy with yourself.

8. You are a people pleaser or a complete rebel

You're not concentrating on being yourself. You focus on being the person that others want you to be or being constantly contradictory.

9. Your moods depend on others

You will crumble if anyone criticizes you. You quickly feel unworthy if someone doesn't remember you when you need them to. You may rely on others to provide you with a sense of security, just to be disappointed if they don't.

10. You struggle to say no

Boundaries aren't your strong suit. It's easier to say yes and comply with what others want, even though you often feel taken advantage of afterward.

11. You don't know what you want

You might be indecisive, unable to trust yourself to make the right decision. You're not sure what your aspirations are, and you've had dreams before, but they've changed before you've made any progress.

12. You suffer from anxiety

You are constantly scanning outside of yourself for cues about how to be because you lack a sense of self. It's a frustrating situation. You can suffer from both general and social anxiety.

How to Build a Strong Sense of Self

After a significant life change, it's normal to have an identity crisis. When we lose a loved one or a long-held career, for example, we can begin to doubt our beliefs and goals.

It's time to make some changes if your identity problems prevent you from having stable relationships, causing anxiety and depression and causing your self-esteem to plummet.

Reflect on the following to establish and reinforce a concrete sense of self:

Spend Time Alone

You spend time with someone you want to get to know, right? As a result, getting to know yourself better would necessitate some quality alone time.

It may seem odd at first, but spending time alone, even without your family or spouse, is beneficial.


Operating from a place of honesty necessitates realistic self-knowledge and self-awareness. Make sure you understand what makes you tick: your ideals, convictions, and characteristics, as well as how you see the world and communicate with others.

If you want to maximize your self-discovery, try:

  • new activities

  • volunteer somewhere

  • meditate

  • journal/write

Accept Yourself

One of the essential qualities to cultivate is self-acceptance. Self-esteem is bolstered by accomplishments and success, which increases feelings of self-worth when there is something to be proud of.

When you embrace yourself, you don't just look at the positive aspects of yourself. You have a complete picture of who you are — good and bad. You aren't afraid to brag about your abilities, qualifications, and accomplishments. You also recognize your flaws, mistakes, and hiccups without attempting to conceal them or engage in self-recrimination.

Self-acceptance recognizes that flaws are an inevitable part of life. It's about being rational and truthful with yourself — with humility, empathy, and the courage to face the parts of yourself that need work.

Define Your Values

Personal beliefs and values are essential facets of one's personality.

Your belief system will assist you in identifying what is most important to you and determining your position on important issues. A desire to protect animal rights, for example, can lead you to choose cruelty-free products and make more informed food choices.

Values will assist you in establishing boundaries with those in your life. For example, if you value integrity, you could make it clear that you won't be able to maintain a relationship with someone who lies to you.

You don't have to figure out all of your values at once, but try to consider some of them as you go through your day and connect with others.

Distrust Your Fears

There's a lot to be concerned about: the state of the planet, the uncertain economy, your future, and unexpected and unwelcome changes. Fearful thinking, on the other hand, has a propensity to exaggerate and catastrophize. Your fears may seem incredibly convincing and real, to the point that you may be scared enough to hide. However, avoiding fear does not make it go away. Only by confronting your fears and acting on them can you gain courage, trust, and self-assurance.

Consider How to Achieve Your Ideals

Conflicts between your ideal self (who you imagine yourself to be) and your actual self (who you are) can lead to feelings of disappointment, if not depression.

To put it another way, understanding who you are may not be sufficient, but it is a good start. Failure to respect and honor your sense of self can have a detrimental effect on your emotional well-being.

Consider what you can do to integrate your life with your personality until you have a more developed sense of self. For instance, you might consider what changes you can make in your professional life or your relationships with others.

Make Your Own Decisions

Many things happen in life that we don't have control over. Giving in to feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, procrastination or passivity, doing what others want you to do, or blindly believing what you are told are all surefire ways to undermine any sense of personal control.

The majority of your decisions should be made with your health and well-being in mind. If you have a partner or baby, you'll want to consider their needs as well, but this shouldn't mean neglecting your own.

Remember, you can't pour from an empty cup.

Perhaps you've previously allowed others to make important decisions for you, such as your college, job, or where you live. If that's the case, starting to make choices for yourself could be unsettling, if not terrifying.

However, it's OK to start small. Practice doing something because you want to, rather than because others tell you to.

You have the ability — and the right — to choose how you react to life's events and map your path forward, regardless of the circumstances.

You have a solid inner compass when you live with self-awareness, know and understand yourself, stand your ground when necessary, and walk your own path through fears and obstacles. You are not easily swayed or persuaded to change who you are. Claim the only true pillar of stability any of us can possess: a strong sense of self.

Are you living with a strong sense of self? Take the quiz here:


Let me know how you fare in the comments below.