Chapter 9: Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Communication

59 Self-Concept

Returning to the question “what are you doing?” is one way to approach self-concept. If we define ourselves through our actions, what might those actions be, and are we no longer ourselves when we no longer engage in those activities? Psychologist Steven Pinker defines the conscious present as about three seconds for most people. Everything else is past or future (Pinker, 2009). Who are you at this moment in time, and will the self you become an hour from now be different from the self that is reading this sentence right now?

Just as the communication process is dynamic, not static (i.e., always changing, not staying the same), you too are a dynamic system. Physiologically your body is in a constant state of change as you inhale and exhale air, digest food, and cleanse waste from each cell. Psychologically you are constantly in a state of change as well. Some aspects of your personality and character will be constant, while others will shift and adapt to your environment and context. These complex combinations contribute to the self you call you. You may choose to define yourself by your own sense of individuality, personal characteristics, motivations, and actions (McLean, 2005), but any definition you create will likely fail to capture all of who you are, and who you will become.

Self-Concept

Self-concept is “what we perceive ourselves to be,” (McLean,, 2005) and involves aspects of image and esteem. How we see ourselves and how we feel about ourselves influences how we communicate with others. What you are thinking now and how you communicate impacts and influences how others treat you. In a previous chapter you reviewed the concept of the looking glass self. We look at how others treat us, what they say and how they say it, for clues about how they view us to gain insight into our own identity. Developing a sense of self as a communicator involves balance between constructive feedback from others and constructive self-affirmation. You judge yourself, as others do, and both views count.

image of a photographer in a mirror

Photo by Pablo Guerrero on Unsplash

Self-reflection is a trait that allows us to adapt and change to our context or environment, to accept or reject messages, to examine our concept of ourselves and choose to improve.

Internal monologue refers to the self-talk of intrapersonal communication. It can be a running monologue that is rational and reasonable, or disorganized and illogical. Your self-monologue can empower and energize you or it can unintentionally interfere with listening to others, impede your ability to focus, and become a barrier to effective communication.

You have to make a choice to listen to others when they communicate through the written or spoken word. Refraining from preparing your responses before others finish speaking (or before you finish reading what they have said) is good listening, and essential for relationship-building. It’s good listening practice to take mental note of when you jump to conclusions from only partially attending to the speaker or writer’s message. There is certainly value in choosing to listen to others in addition to yourself.

One principle of communication is that interaction is dynamic and changing. Interaction can be internal, as in intrapersonal communication, but can also be external. We may communicate with one other person and engage in paired interpersonal communication. If we engage two or more individuals, group communication is the result.

To summarize, self-concept involves multiple dimensions and is expressed as internal monologue and social comparisons. Self-concept can be informed by engaging in dialogue with one or more people, and through reading or listening to spoken works; attending to what others communicate can add value to your self-concept.

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