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Ideal Self vs. Real Self: Definition & Difference

Ideal Self vs. Real Self: Definition & Difference
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Manuela Heberle

Manuela has master's degree in counseling. As an adjunct faculty member at Park University, Manuela has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course. In addition to being a Student Success and Retention Coordinator at New Mexico State University in Alamogodo, she also taught psychology and student success courses. nts course. Her experience with New Mexico State University includes teaching psychology and student success courses, as well as working as a Student Success and Retention Coordinator.

Have you ever considered that there is a real self and an ideal self? In this lesson, you will discover the difference between the two, and the effect of two selves at odds. The lesson also offers a short quiz to help you measure your level of understanding.

Real vs. Ideal Self

In psychology, the real self and the ideal self are terms used to describe personality domains. The real self is who we actually are. It is how we think, how we feel, look, and act. The real self can be seen by others, but because we have no way of truly knowing how others view us, the real self is our self-image.

The ideal self, on the other hand, is how we want to be. It is an idealized image that we have developed over time, based on what we have learned and experienced. The ideal self could include components of what our parents have taught us, what we admire in others, what our society promotes, and what we think is in our best interest.

The Importance Of Alignment

If the way that I am (the real self) is aligned with the way that I want to be (the ideal self), then I will feel a sense of mental well-being or peace of mind. If the way that I am is not aligned with how I want to be, the incongruence, or lack of alignment, will result in mental distress or anxiety. The greater the level of incongruence between the ideal self and real self, the greater the level of resulting distress. Let's take a look at some specific examples:

Example #1: My ideal self-image includes honesty

When my parents ask me why I was late coming home from a night out, and I am honest and tell them that I didn't want to leave the party because I was having such a great time, then despite the ramifications (like being reprimanded), I will feel a sense of mental well-being.

If I am dishonest and tell them that my car wouldn't start, then the misalignment between my real self and ideal self will result in mental distress or anxiety. The fact that I lied results in negative feelings.

Example #2: My ideal self-image includes a strong work ethic

If I attend all of my college classes, read the assignments, study for the exams, and work hard on my term paper, the result will be a grade that is in line with a strong work ethic. I will feel peace of mind regarding the congruence between my ideal self and real self.

I flunk out of a few college courses and I am put on academic probation. If I admit to myself that I did not keep up with the assigned readings, didn't study for exams, and didn't turn in my term papers, then I will feel distress or anxiety as a result of the discrepancy between my actual work ethic and the ideal work ethic that I have generated for myself.

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