The self is a key construct in several schools of psychology. Usages differ between theorists and fields of study, but in general the self refers to the conscious, reflective personality of an individual. The study of the self involves significant methodological problems, especially concerning consciousness. Some of these are taken up in philosophy of mind and metaphysics.

Perhaps the best-known account of the self is Freud's theory of the tri-partite function of the self, involving ego, id and superego processes. Many theorists, however, would bring under the heading of the self only what Freud regarded as ego processes.

Major concepts within the theory of the self include

  1. self-awareness
  2. self image
  3. self control
  4. self destructive behavior including self mutilation
  5. self disclosure
  6. Laing's "divided self" theory of schizophrenia
  7. self efficacy
  8. self esteem
  9. self monitoring
  10. the self-perception theory of attitude change
  11. self talk
  12. self-actualization
  13. organismic self and/or real or ideal selves.

A critique of the concept of selfhood

'Selfhood' or complete autonomy is a uniquely western approach to psychology and models of self are employed constantly in areas such as psychotherapy and self help. Edward E. Sampson (1989) argues that the preoccupation with independence is harmful in that it creates racial, sexual and national divides and does not allow for observation of the self-in-other and other-in-self.

The very notion of selfhood is an attacked idea, necessary for the mechanisms of advanced capitalism to function as they do. Nikolas Rose (1998) proposes that psychology is now employed as a technology: one that allows humans to buy into an invented and arguably false sense of self. It is said freedom, Rose writes, that assists government and exploitation rather than the antithesis of it. The quantifying and classifying process is referred to by Michel Foucault (1975, 1977) as being the issue of ‘the calculable man’: when the masses are classified they can be exploited as individuals and it is individuality that allows this to occur.

It is said by some that for an individual to talk/explain/understand or judge oneself is linguistically impossible, requiring the self to talk/explain/understand or judge its-self. This being self-referential, or reification also known as a Circular argument -Thus, if actions arise so that the self attempts self-explanation/understanding confusion may well occur within linguistic mental pathways and processes.