Self-Discrepancy Theory

Welcome to our article on self-discrepancy theory, a powerful concept that explores the intricate relationship between self-perception, motivation, and emotional well-being. By understanding this theory, you can gain valuable insights into the different aspects of your self-concept and how they intersect.

Self-discrepancy theory suggests that individuals hold beliefs and expectations about their actual and potential selves that may not align with their lived experiences. It delves into the various “selves” that make up our self-concept, including the ideal self, the ought self, and the actual self. These selves can sometimes conflict with each other, resulting in discrepancies and mismatches.

This theory, which combines elements of motivational and cognitive theories, allows individuals to bridge the gap between their actual, ideal, and ought selves. By exploring how these different selves interact, you can unlock your true potential and live a more fulfilling life.

Key Takeaways:

  • Self-discrepancy theory explores the relationship between self-perception, motivation, and emotional well-being.
  • It focuses on the different selves that make up our self-concept: the ideal self, the ought self, and the actual self.
  • Understanding self-discrepancy theory can help you bridge the gap between your different selves and unlock your true potential.
  • Self-discrepancy mismatches can have emotional and behavioral effects, impacting how you perceive yourself.
  • Social, family, cultural, and media influences play a significant role in shaping our self-perception and body image.

The Three Selves: Actual, Ideal, and Ought

In the self-concept, three main selves play a crucial role in shaping our self-perception: the actual self, the ideal self, and the ought self. Understanding these three selves can provide valuable insights into the complexities of our self-perception and how we navigate through life.

The actual self represents the attributes and qualities that you believe you currently possess. It encompasses your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and personal characteristics. This self is based on your self-awareness and how you perceive yourself based on your own experiences and observations.

The ideal self represents the attributes and qualities that you aspire to have or that others would like you to have. It reflects the image you have of a perfect or better version of yourself. The ideal self is shaped by your goals, values, societal influences, and the expectations of others. It can be influenced by cultural beauty standards, societal norms, and role models.

The ought self represents the attributes and qualities that you believe you should possess based on societal or personal expectations. It includes the obligations, responsibilities, and duties you believe you should fulfill. The ought self is influenced by societal norms, moral values, and personal beliefs about what is right or wrong.

These three selves can often be in conflict with each other, leading to discrepancies and mismatches that can impact self-perception. For example, if your actual self falls short of your ideal self, you may experience feelings of dissatisfaction or a desire to change. If your actual self doesn’t align with your ought self, you may feel guilt or a sense of moral failure. These conflicts and discrepancies can affect your self-esteem, motivation, and overall well-being.

By recognizing and understanding the interplay between your actual, ideal, and ought selves, you can gain insight into your own self-perception and work towards aligning them more harmoniously. Embracing your actual self while striving towards your ideal self can help you grow and develop. At the same time, acknowledging your obligations and responsibilities, as dictated by your ought self, can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Taking a closer look at the table below, you can see the key characteristics of each self:

Self Attributes
Actual Self Your current qualities, behaviors, and characteristics.
Ideal Self The attributes you aspire to have or that others would like you to have.
Ought Self The attributes you believe you should possess based on societal or personal expectations.

By recognizing and embracing the different aspects of your three selves, you can navigate the complexities of self-perception and move closer towards self-acceptance, personal growth, and fulfillment.

Motivation and Self-Improvement

When it comes to self-improvement, motivation plays a crucial role in driving us to achieve our goals. The concept of self-discrepancy, specifically the discrepancies between our actual and ideal selves, can be a powerful motivator.

Discrepancies between the actual and ideal selves can be motivating and prompt individuals to take action for self-improvement. When we perceive a gap between who we are currently and who we aspire to be, it can create a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration. This feeling of dissatisfaction can serve as a catalyst for personal growth and development.

For example, imagine you have a vision of the best version of yourself – the ideal self. This ideal self embodies all the qualities, skills, and achievements you aspire to have. However, if you find yourself falling short of these aspirations, it can ignite a strong desire for self-improvement. This discrepancy between your actual and ideal selves creates a motivational drive to bridge that gap and become more aligned with your vision of the ideal self.

Similarly, discrepancies between the actual and ought selves can also fuel motivation for self-improvement. The ought self represents the attributes and behaviors we believe we should possess based on societal or personal expectations. When we feel that we are not living up to these expectations, it can serve as a powerful motivator to take action and fulfill our perceived obligations.

Understanding these motivational aspects of self-discrepancy is essential in channeling our efforts towards self-improvement. By recognizing the gaps between our actual, ideal, and ought selves, we can pinpoint areas of growth and set meaningful goals to bridge these discrepancies. Embracing self-improvement and actively working towards closing the gap between our actual and ideal selves can lead to personal fulfillment and a greater sense of self-actualization.

Remember, motivation is the driving force that propels us towards self-improvement. By harnessing the power of self-discrepancy and using it as a catalyst for change, we can unlock our true potential and create a better version of ourselves.

Key Takeaways:

  • Motivation plays a crucial role in self-improvement.
  • Discrepancies between the actual and ideal selves can motivate individuals to take action.
  • Feeling a gap between who we are and who we aspire to be can drive personal growth.
  • Discrepancies between the actual and ought selves can also fuel motivation.
  • Understanding and embracing self-discrepancy can lead to personal fulfillment and self-actualization.

Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Self-Discrepancy

Self-discrepancy mismatches can have significant emotional and behavioral effects. When your actual self doesn’t align with your own ideals, it can lead to feelings of dejection, disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration. You may feel like you’re not living up to your own expectations or falling short of who you want to be. This internal conflict can create a sense of unease and discontentment within you.

Furthermore, when your actual self doesn’t meet the ideals or perceived expectations of others, it can evoke powerful emotions such as shame, embarrassment, and concern. The fear of losing the affection or approval of others can be overwhelming, causing you to question your worth and place in their lives.

In addition, when your actual self doesn’t align with the perceived societal expectations, you may experience feelings of agitation, fear, and potential punishment. The pressure to conform can create anxiety and stress, leaving you constantly on edge and fearing the consequences of not meeting those expectations.

Lastly, when your actual self falls short of your own moral standards or perceived duties and obligations, it can result in feelings of guilt, weakness, and a sense of moral failure. You may question your integrity and judge yourself harshly for not living up to the standards you have set for yourself.

It is important to recognize and address these emotional effects of self-discrepancy. By understanding the impact that self-discrepancy can have on your emotional well-being, you can take steps towards self-acceptance, self-improvement, and aligning your various selves. Embracing your true self and finding a balance between your actual, ideal, and ought selves can lead to personal growth, increased self-esteem, and improved overall well-being.

Emotional Effects Behavioral Effects
Feelings of dejection Disengagement from activities
Disappointment Avoidance of social situations
Dissatisfaction People-pleasing behavior
Frustration Seeking external validation
Shame and embarrassment Desire for conformity
Concern for losing approval Comparing oneself to others
Agitation and fear Anxiety and stress
Potential punishment Self-criticism
Feelings of guilt and weakness Striving for moral rectitude

Influences on the Self

Our self-perception and self-concept are influenced by various factors, including social interactions, family dynamics, cultural norms, and media representations. These influences shape our views of ourselves, impacting how we perceive our identity, abilities, and worth.

Social Influences

Social interactions play a significant role in shaping our self-perception. Feedback, acceptance, and validation from others can highly impact how we view ourselves. Positive social influences, such as supportive friendships and healthy relationships, can boost self-esteem and promote a positive self-image. Conversely, negative social influences, such as criticism or peer pressure, can lead to self-doubt and insecurity.

Family Influences

Our family environment plays a crucial role in shaping our self-perception. Family members, especially parents or guardians, provide the foundation for our beliefs, values, and expectations. Their feedback, expectations, and behavior significantly influence our self-concept. Positive family influences, such as supportive and nurturing relationships, can foster a healthy sense of self. However, negative family influences, such as neglect or abuse, can lead to low self-esteem and distorted self-perception.

Cultural Influences

Cultural norms and values shape our self-perception in profound ways. Different cultures have distinct standards and ideals of beauty, success, and personal worth. Cultural influences affect how we see ourselves and interact with others. For example, in some cultures, physical appearance may be highly emphasized, leading individuals to place great importance on aesthetics. Understanding cultural influences helps us appreciate and respect diverse perspectives on self-identity and facilitates intercultural understanding.

Media Influences

The media, including television, movies, magazines, and social media platforms, significantly influence our self-perception. Media representations often present idealized images and standards of beauty, success, and happiness. Constant exposure to these visuals can create unrealistic expectations and lead to comparison and dissatisfaction. Moreover, the media can also perpetuate stereotypes and narrow definitions of identity. It is important to critically analyze and question media messages to maintain a healthy self-image.

The influence of social, family, cultural, and media forces on our self-perception cannot be underestimated. By understanding these influences, we can navigate their effects on our self-esteem and self-worth. Embracing our unique qualities, appreciating diverse perspectives, and cultivating a positive self-image can enable us to confidently embrace our potential and live authentically.

Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Understanding the concepts of self-concept and self-esteem is essential for gaining insight into how individuals perceive themselves and their level of self-worth. Self-concept refers to the overall idea of who a person thinks they are, and it is influenced by their experiences and interactions with others.

The way you see yourself is shaped by various factors such as personal characteristics, group or cultural memberships, and reflections of how others perceive you. These elements come together to create your self-concept, which serves as the foundation for your self-perception.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, is the evaluations and judgments that individuals make about themselves. It is influenced by several factors, including their self-concept, social comparison, and feedback from others.

Your self-esteem is formed based on how you perceive yourself relative to others and the standards you set for yourself. It is influenced by social comparison, where you assess your abilities, qualities, or achievements compared to those of others.

Both self-concept and self-esteem are interconnected and shape how you view yourself. A positive self-concept and high self-esteem can contribute to a strong sense of self-worth and confidence, while a negative self-concept and low self-esteem can lead to self-doubt and a diminished belief in your abilities.

Table: Self-Concept and Self-Esteem

Self-Concept Self-Esteem
Overall idea of who you think you are Evaluations and judgments you make about yourself
Influenced by personal characteristics, group or cultural memberships, and reflections of how others perceive you Influenced by self-concept, social comparison, and feedback from others
Serves as the foundation for your self-perception Reflects how you perceive yourself relative to others and the standards you set for yourself
Affects your level of self-worth and confidence Can contribute to a strong sense of self-worth and confidence or self-doubt and diminished belief in your abilities

By understanding the complexities of self-concept and self-esteem, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself and work towards cultivating a positive and healthy self-perception.

Social Comparison and Self-Discrepancy

Social comparison theory suggests that individuals evaluate and compare themselves to others to gain a sense of self and determine their place in society. It is a natural human tendency to look at others and make assessments based on their attributes, achievements, or social standing. By observing others, individuals can gain insights into their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This comparison process plays a crucial role in shaping our self-perception and overall self-concept.

“Comparison is a fundamental aspect of human nature. We constantly gauge ourselves against others, using them as a benchmark to evaluate our own worth and success.”

Through social comparison, individuals seek to answer questions that are important for their self-formation and identity, such as “Am I doing well compared to others?” or “Do I fit in with this group?” This process can provide valuable information about where one stands in relation to others and can impact their perception of themselves.

Self-discrepancy theory, on the other hand, explains how the perceived gaps between the actual, ideal, and ought selves can affect self-perception and emotional well-being. According to this theory, individuals have a concept of their actual self, which represents the attributes they believe they possess in reality. The ideal self represents the attributes they aspire to have, while the ought self represents the attributes they believe they should have based on societal or personal expectations.

When individuals engage in social comparison, they often compare their actual self to others’ ideal selves or what they perceive as societal standards. This comparison can lead to self-discrepancies, where individuals perceive a gap between their own attributes and the attributes they desire or believe they should possess. These self-discrepancies can influence self-perception by leading to feelings of inferiority, disappointment, or dissatisfaction.

To illustrate the concept further, consider the following table:

| Comparison Type | Impact on Self-Perception |
| Actual-Ideal Comparison | Can lead to feelings of inadequacy or unfulfilled aspirations |
| Actual-Ought Comparison | Can result in guilt or a sense of not meeting obligations |
| Actual-Actual Comparison | Can reinforce existing self-perceptions or self-satisfaction |

Table: Impact of social comparison on self-perception

Understanding the influences of social comparison and self-discrepancy can provide individuals with valuable insights into their own self-perception. By recognizing the potential impact of social comparison and the development of self-discrepancies, individuals can work towards a healthier and more realistic self-concept. This includes embracing their own unique qualities and focusing on personal growth and self-acceptance rather than constantly comparing themselves to others.

Media and Body Image

The media, both mass media and social media, have a powerful influence on our perception of body image. The images and representations of bodies that we see in the media often promote a narrow set of beauty standards, which may not align with the diversity of human bodies.

These media-driven ideals can lead to body dissatisfaction as individuals compare themselves to these unrealistic standards. When we constantly see images of idealized bodies, we may develop a negative perception of our own bodies, feeling dissatisfied and self-conscious.

Research has shown that exposure to images of “perfect” bodies in the media can negatively impact self-esteem and body image, especially among vulnerable populations such as adolescents and young adults.

It is important to recognize the influence of media on body image and develop a healthier relationship with our bodies. By challenging societal beauty standards and embracing the diversity of human bodies, we can promote body positivity and self-acceptance.

Effects of Media on Body Image Statistics/Research Findings
Increased body dissatisfaction 72% of women reported feeling worse about their bodies after comparing themselves to images in magazines. (National Eating Disorders Association)
Promotion of unrealistic beauty ideals Only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed in the media as ideal. (Social Issues Research Centre)
Impact on self-esteem Daily exposure to social media images of friends, peers, and celebrities negatively impacts self-esteem and contributes to body dissatisfaction. (Florida House Experience)

By being critical consumers of media and promoting body-positive messages, we can help shape a society that values diverse body types and nurtures positive body image.

It’s important to recognize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Embrace your unique qualities and focus on your health and well-being rather than striving for an unrealistic body ideal dictated by the media. Remember, you are more than your appearance, and your worth is not defined by how closely you fit societal beauty standards.

Continue reading to discover how the internalization of body ideals and self-discrepancies can further impact body image and self-perception.

Internalization of Body Ideals and Self-Discrepancy

The internalization of body ideals is a process in which individuals incorporate societal beauty standards into their own self-perception and value system. This internalization can lead to self-discrepancies, where the perceived gap between the actual body and the ideal body can result in body dissatisfaction and negative emotional outcomes.

When individuals internalize societal beauty ideals, they may develop unrealistic expectations for their own bodies. These ideals are often perpetuated by the media, which heavily influences our perception of what is considered attractive or desirable. Media influence plays a significant role in shaping body image, as individuals are constantly exposed to images and messages that promote certain beauty standards.

For example, glossy magazines, advertisements, and social media platforms often present images of flawless, thin, and muscular bodies. These images can lead to a negative comparison between one’s actual body and the idealized bodies portrayed in the media.

Effects of Internalization and Self-Discrepancy Examples
Body Dissatisfaction: Individuals may feel dissatisfied with their own bodies when their actual body does not align with the idealized body portrayed in media and society. Comparing oneself to models or celebrities with “perfect” bodies and feeling inadequate or insecure about one’s own appearance.
Negative Emotional Outcomes: Internalizing body ideals and experiencing self-discrepancies can lead to a range of negative emotions, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Feeling anxious or depressed due to the constant pressure to meet unrealistic beauty standards or experiencing a loss of self-worth because of perceived body flaws.
Unhealthy Behaviors: Internalization of body ideals can also contribute to the development of unhealthy behaviors, such as extreme dieting, excessive exercise, and even disordered eating. Engaging in dangerous dieting or exercise practices in an attempt to achieve the desired body shape or size.

It is important for individuals to recognize and challenge these societal beauty ideals, working towards a healthier body image based on self-acceptance and self-care. By understanding the role of internalization and self-discrepancy, individuals can develop a more realistic perception of their bodies and cultivate a positive relationship with themselves.

Gender Differences in Body Image

Gender differences play a significant role in shaping body image concerns. Women often feel pressured to conform to society’s ideal of thinness, while men may strive for muscularity as the desired body image. These ideals are influenced by cultural and societal factors that shape our perception of beauty.

For women, the emphasis on achieving thinness can lead to body dissatisfaction and negative self-image. The media often portrays thin bodies as the standard of beauty, perpetuating unrealistic ideals that many women feel compelled to attain. This can result in a constant pursuit of weight loss and body comparison.

“I always felt the pressure to be thin because that’s what society told me was beautiful. It took me a long time to realize that my worth isn’t defined by my physical appearance.” – Emma, 28

On the other hand, men may face pressure to have a muscular physique. The media often portrays muscularity as a symbol of strength and attractiveness. Men may engage in intense workouts and use supplements to achieve the desired muscular image, often leading to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviors.

Understanding these gender differences in body image is crucial for promoting a greater understanding of the pressures and expectations individuals face based on their gender. It is important to challenge societal beauty standards and embrace body diversity, allowing everyone to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.


In conclusion, self-discrepancy theory sheds light on the complex relationship between self-perception, motivation, and emotional well-being. By understanding the different selves that shape our self-concept and the potential conflicts and discrepancies between them, individuals can begin to bridge the gap between their actual, ideal, and ought selves. This understanding opens the door to personal growth and self-improvement, as individuals strive to align their beliefs about themselves with their actual experiences.

Furthermore, recognizing the influences of social interactions, family dynamics, cultural norms, and media portrayals on our self-perception empowers individuals to challenge societal beauty ideals and cultivate a healthier body image. This awareness encourages individuals to embrace their unique qualities and reject unrealistic standards, promoting a more authentic and positive self-image.

In summary, self-discrepancy theory offers valuable insights into the factors that shape our self-perception and influence our emotional well-being. By embracing the potential within ourselves and working towards self-improvement while staying true to our individuality, we can unlock our true potential and lead more fulfilling lives.

Source Links


  • eSoft Skills Team

    The eSoft Editorial Team, a blend of experienced professionals, leaders, and academics, specializes in soft skills, leadership, management, and personal and professional development. Committed to delivering thoroughly researched, high-quality, and reliable content, they abide by strict editorial guidelines ensuring accuracy and currency. Each article crafted is not merely informative but serves as a catalyst for growth, empowering individuals and organizations. As enablers, their trusted insights shape the leaders and organizations of tomorrow.

Similar Posts