Theory of Self-Disagreement: the Ideal Self and the Real Self

Why do people react differently to the same setbacks? Faced with events, such as the breakup of a marriage or the loss of a job, some people suffer from depression while others develop anxiety.


Why do people react differently to the same setbacks? Faced with events, such as the breakup of a marriage or the loss of a job, some people suffer from depression while others develop anxiety. This is the event that tries to explain the theory of self-doubt formulated by E. Tory Higgins.

Theory provides a platform to understand how different types of discrepancies between representations of the ego relate to different types of emotional vulnerabilities.

Some people conceive their goals or standards as hopes or aspirations (ideal guides). Other individuals visualize their goals as duties or obligations (self demands). According to the theory of self-doubt, this difference between ideals and duties has the answer to the mystery of why people have different emotional reactions to the same negative events.

This theory proposes that the emotional vulnerabilities of people depend on the type of self-guide that motivates their lives: discouragement and depression when ideals dominate. Agitation and anxiety, when the demands dominate.

The theory of self-doubt holds that there are other probable selves (how can we become), which are inevitably compared with the current ego. Thus, a comparison can be made between the real and current I with the future I’s.

Higgins distinguishes three types of I: the ideal I, the ideal I and the responsible I. When there are discrepancies, people suffer emotionally. If the real self is discrepant of an ideal, people feel sad, disappointed, discouraged and depressed. While if it is the real self disagrees with a duty, people feel worried, nervous and tense; in short, anxious

Self-concept and self-esteem

The knowledge that individuals possess about themselves develops throughout life. Self-concept is elaborated based on personal interests, likes, feelings, values, roles, belonging to classes or groups or classes, decisions and beliefs.

The knowledge of ourselves, our identity, is fundamental for our social welfare. The construction of a positive or negative self-concept will influence the development of self-esteem. We reflect our level of self-esteem in many expressions, including those we direct to others.

On the other hand, in addition to the knowledge we have of ourselves, we also imagine how we would like to be. How we would like to be in the future. And that’s where the three types of I come into play.

The different I

The theory suggests that individuals are motivated to achieve a goal in which self-concept coincides with self-guides. For this, E. Tory Higgins differentiates three types of the Self.

  • The real me. How we believe we really are. It is a personal perception, a self perception and not what we really are. A representation of characteristics that we think we possess, a vision of reality that may or may not be true.
  • The ideal self. This is the I that we would like to be. In this I sneaks the I that we want to be for us, but also the I that we want to be for others. Thus, it gathers the set of aspirations and expectations we have about ourselves.
  • The responsible. I This dimension responds to the Self that should be. The attributes that someone (oneself or others) believe they should possess. That is, a representation of someone’s sense of duty, obligations or responsibilities.

The ideal self and the responsible ego set objectives and goals. The first one refers to the desires and the second responds more to a moral or ethical level.

Theory of Higgins Self-Discrepancy

The discrepancies between different I’s are, in reality, identity crisis. Two types of negative situations are created: the absence of positive results, which are associated with emotions related to depression, and the presence of negative results, which are associated with emotions related to agitation.

The discrepancy between the real I and the ideal I is characterized by emotions related to despair, such as disappointment and dissatisfaction and are associated with depression and low self-esteem. They are characterized by the anticipation of little positive results

I vos. It can also occur on that part of the ideal self in which the expectations that others have about us and that we make ours are collected. In this case the emotion of shame and loss of prestige is added.

When the discrepancy occurs between the real I and I responsible, that is, with what we consider our duty and our obligations, the emotions that occur are associated with agitation. Punishment expectations are generated, the person becomes vulnerable to fear, will feel threatened and self-criticism will occur.

Applications in psychology

The theory of self-disagreement has several applications in the approach to psychological problems and other fields. Understanding what emotions are awakening and identifying their origin or the factors that sustain them is important to restore psychological health, confidence and orientation towards the future.

Thus, this theory is widely used in the intervention on problems such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders. Also in areas of education, where it is applied in the face of procrastination, in helping students to choose their professional careers or the development of trust in athletes.