It may not have the ring of “Me, Myself and Irene”, but the three domains of the self – actual self, ideal self and ought self – combine within our identity with an impact that we don’t always realise.
So what are they, and why are they important?
The domains of the self are how we internally represent our identity to ourselves.
- Actual Self – things that we believe to be true about ourselves and our lives
- Ideal Self – things that we’d like to make true about ourselves and our lives
- Ought Self – things we feel we have a duty to make true about ourselves and our lives
These representations come from various sources: the things that happen to us, the people we’ve mixed with who’ve given us a set of expectations, our heroes, the media, our own goals … the mixed life experience that’s made us who we are up to this point in time.
What this means is that we’re working from a place of conflict: between the aspirations that drive us towards ideal, and the obligations that drive us towards ought.
If there’s not a big gap between your ideal and ought selves, this makes things easier. But if Ideal is pulling you in one direction and Ought in another, this can cause a lot of inner stress.
To complicate things even more, the concepts underlying your Ideal and Ought selves aren’t necessarily your own. As we said, these internal representations come from all sorts of sources. So what you’ve internalised into your ideal and ought selves might not be your own dreams and expectations. They could very well be a parent’s – or a partner’s – or a teacher’s – or a general view of society about what “someone like you” should be doing.
Our identity is our own. But it develops over the course of years, under a lot of different influences. Sometimes we need to look at whether these aspects of our identity are truly our own.
We’ve talked about what happens when there’s a big gap between ideal and ought selves, but what if the gap is between actual and ideal? Or actual and ought?
Research has shown that gaps between who we are and who we aspire to be, or feel we should be (“self-discrepancies”) can have an impact on wellbeing. Gaps between the actual and ideal self can raise levels of depression. Gaps between actual and ought self can cause feelings of anxiety. Self has an deep impact on our lives.
Identity is a neglected area when considering both your results and your general happiness, motivation and satisfaction levels. But working to resolve the gaps between who you believe yourself to be, and the pressures of the ought and ideal selves, while still maintaining the focus on becoming the person you TRULY want to be, can have very positive effects.