4-7 Self Concept

Your Self Concept is literally how you conceive of, or in the literal sense, create your self, your identity. It’s by creating your self image that you define who you are for yourself and everyone else.

Frequently people think this a matter of fate and is unchangeable. Yet it has changed for everyone as they progress through life, with or without any intent. What this section will give you is a few simple ways you can start making changes in your self image that you choose. Here is Steve Andreas, the developer of this technique, explaining it further:

“Our self-concepts are beliefs or generalizations about ourselves. Every  generalization is the imposition of our limited minds on an infinitely complex and changing world.  The usefulness of a generalization lies in the fact that it can be applied to a wide variety of different situations. The danger in generalizing is that we accomplish this by deleting detail, and ignoring differences. As Aldous Huxley once said, “A concept is like a funnel. When you put an elephant through a funnel, it doesn’t end up looking very much like an elephant.” Furthermore, from a given set of experiences, we can generate an infinite number of different generalizations by selecting different sets of data and ignoring others. We would all be completely lost without generalizations. However, we can also get lost within them.

Experience (events, as perceived)  + selection + collection –> Self-concept

                  Self-concept (generalization)  + evaluation: ( +/- )  –>  Self-esteem

Self-concept is a generalization from experience that gives you a sense of who you you  are, (or more accurately, how you think of yourself), and is composed of a multitude of different qualities.

Self-esteem is based on your evaluation (+/-) of your self-concept in relation to your values.  If you like the content of your self-concept, then you can enjoy “high self-esteem,” and if you don’t like it, you will have “low self-esteem.” (Self-esteem is at a larger logical level than self-concept, since it is a generalization about a generalization.)

The Power of Self-concept

Changing the self-concept is particularly powerful in changing a person’s responses and behavior, because the self-concept is:

One of many possible generalizations, based on selecting a set of experiences (out of all the experiences we have had) and assembling them. A relatively large generalization in terms of scope or extent;

Something that goes through time and across contexts,  (like your name) so that changes in it tend to generalize very widely in time and space;

A process that describes itself, so it is self-referential or self-generating.  It is an example of a “feed-forward,” generative system that creates itself.

“Neurological levels”

It may be useful to think of the self-concept in relation to the “neurological levels” of change, as described by Robert Dilts:

Connection/spiritual (experience of oneness)
Identity (“I’m a kind person.”)
Belief (“The world works systematically.”)
Capacity/attribute/attitude (ability to learn)
Behavior/skill (driving a car)
Environment (home, air, food, etc.)

The value of considering “neurological levels” is that it provides an easy way to track the general scope or extent of the generalization that you are working with.  However, these levels are not strictly separate, but can nest within each other.  Identity, for instance, can include all the other levels, from “I’m a seaman” (environment/behavior) through “I’m dependable” (capacity/attribute) to “I’m a Christian” (connection).

The generalizations we make about ourselves are powerful and useful guides to our behavior.  Exactly how we make these generalizations in our internal experience determines the extent to which they are useful.” – excerpted from the “Portable NLP Master Practitioner Program” by NLP Comprehensive, Section 8 pages 1-2

Steve also suggests checking for these qualities when considering new elements and modifications to your self concept.

Criteria: When I began modeling self-concept, I had a list of criteria for a useful self-concept. I wanted it to be:

a. Resilient, durable and lasting (there when you most need it).
b. Accurate (a good predictor of your attitudes and behavior for both yourself and others).
c. Self-correcting and responsive to feedback.
d. Unconscious (as in peak performance).
e. Connecting with others, rather than separating.
f. Free of self-importance, arrogance, and all the other signs of egotism.


You’ll have your greatest successes with this process by choosing small elements of your self concept to work with. Small changes add up, just like the saying about small acorns growing into mighty oak trees.

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