How Do I Develop A Strong Sense Of Self?

Updated June 03, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock

What Does “Sense Of Self” Mean?


“Sense of self” refers to your sense of identity or the awareness of who you are. Having a strong sense of self is integral because it helps you stay true to what you believe in. When you have a strong sense of self, you can weed out unhelpful external influences when you need to. Your sense of self influences the thoughts and feelings you have about yourself as a person. It relates to your self-esteem and confidence levels, both of which can impact your mental and physical health. Studies show that self-esteem and confidence are directly correlated to emotional wellness, making a strong sense of self incredibly important. Sometimes, a “sense of self” is also referred to as “self-concept.” The dictionary definition of self-concept is “the idea or mental image one has of oneself and one’s strengths, weaknesses, status, etc.; self-image.”

What Does It Mean To Have A Strong Sense Of Self?

Having a strong sense of self means that you have a strong sense of personal identity. You have a deep understanding of your personal morals and values are, you’re conscious of how you operate internally, you know what your likes and dislikes are, and you know what your strengths are. You can look at your actions and behaviors objectively more often than not, and you’re more likely to do what you know is right, even if it goes against the grain. People with a strong sense of self reap the following benefits:

  • Confidence
  • Healthier friendships and relationships
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Self-awareness
  • Increased ability to live a life that’s in line with one’s values

Ways To Develop a Strong Sense Of Self

Cultivate Your Value System

In acceptance and commitment therapy or ACT, there is a strong emphasis on values or living a valued life. Living a valued life isn’t a value judgment, as all lives are inherent in value. Instead, living a valued life refers to living in a way that aligns with your values. Whether or not you know anything about acceptance and commitment therapy, thinking about your values and developing a personal value system can be a beneficial exercise. An essential part of developing a stronger sense of self is taking the time to look at your values, morals, and deepest core beliefs. An activity you can use to cultivate your system of values is to take out a journal or a piece of paper and write them down. Your list of values could include family, friendship, creativity, justice, self-respect, helping others, or anything else. As long as you believe in it, you can add it to your list of values.


Also, look at your intentional values vs. your unintentional values. Is there something you spend time on that you wish you didn’t spend so much time on? For example, do you spend time preoccupied with your appearance or worrying about what others think of you to the point that it’s detrimental to your well-being? Does that align with your values, or is it something that you would rather work on so that you can refocus your attention?

Do The Things You Love To Do

When you’re developing your sense of self, it’s vital to do things that you enjoy. Part of knowing yourself is knowing what makes your heart sing, what makes you tick. Make time for your passions. Whether it’s visual art, music, sports, blogging, graphic design, or something else, engaging in your hobby is more than play. It’s a part of who you are, and so, it is a part of your sense of self and self-concept. It also has a role in your emotional well-being, physical well-being, and it can even benefit your career. Studies show that taking time for leisure can lower your stress levels and improve your mood.

If you are not sure what you like to do, think about this: Is there a hobby that you’ve always wanted to pick up? What about one that you used to engage in and want to return to? As you develop a stronger sense of self, one of the things that you can do is take a class, whether it’s a class related to something you’ve never done before or one that’ll help you learn more about something you already enjoy. You can use it to hone your skills, increase your confidence in that area, and meet new people. Having healthy social relationships where you feel uplifted and understood is extremely beneficial for our emotional well-being and can embrace our sense of self.

Join A Group


Similar to taking classes with people that relate to the hobbies that you enjoy, joining a group that relates to something you’re passionate about can be extremely helpful as you develop your sense of self. Go back to your value system and your hobbies. What are the things that stand out the most when you think of who you are? If you were to describe yourself to someone and asked what you spent most of your time on or cared about the most in life, what would you tell them? Your answer might give you some ideas for groups you can join. For example, you could join an advocacy group if that something you’re passionate about. You could also join a group for writers or musicians. There are groups both in-person and online where you can meet like-minded people and embrace the things you care about even more.

Spend Some Time With Yourself

Spending time with yourself is a great way to develop a sense of who you are without any external influences. If you are by yourself, you call the shots. You can take yourself out to a restaurant, work on an art project alone, journal and reflect on your thoughts, or do something else that you enjoy. You can even take a personality test that will help you get to know yourself better, such as the MBTI or Myers-Briggs type inventory test. The MBTI test is a popular personality test that looks at areas of a person’s personality, such as introversion and extroversion if you’re more logical and or intuitive, and so on. Social relationships are a very important part of our lives as human beings, but spending time alone sometimes is just as valuable. You get to choose the music that’s on, the movie you watch, and how long you stick with the same activity. Being alone can help you get into a place where you’re comfortable being in the driver’s seat of your own life and develop a greater sense of autonomy.

Work On Boundary Setting

Being able to set a boundary is a surprisingly vital piece of developing a sense of self. If you’re someone who has trouble saying no or tends to say yes to things that you don’t Agree with to appease other people, part of establishing your sense of self will be learning how to say no when you need to. Regardless of if saying “no” is something you struggle with or not, we can all work on setting boundaries and respecting other people’s boundaries. Here is an example of setting a boundary: Say that you have something that you don’t want to talk about and your friends or family always bring it up, you can say to them, “I am not comfortable talking about this topic, can we talk about something else?” State that that is your boundary, and don’t be afraid to reinforce it if you need to. While it may seem unrelated to your self-concept, boundary-setting is actually a big deal in your sense of self because it allows you to affirm your needs and is a component of self-respect.

Look At What Influences Your Current Self-Perception

If you feel like you don’t have a strong sense of self, it’s important to look at why that might be. For many people, external influences impact our sense of self in a way that could be negative or simply inaccurate to who we are. For example, the media praises certain attributes and either disregard or criticize others, making us feel down about who we are. Similarly, while many of us have great families, other people have toxic families that may negatively influence their sense of self. Perhaps, they were criticized growing up or told that the personal sense of identity they had started to develop was wrong or would not be accepted within the family. Maybe, the family unit struggled with boundaries. If you find that this is true for you, counseling is an option to help you work through these feelings.

Self-Discovery In Counseling


Counseling is an excellent place to work through any roadblocks you have in your relationship with yourself. You can talk to a therapist about your sense of self or self-concept, and they can guide you along the way. The online counselors at ReGain see both couples and individuals, and they are here to help you with any of your mental health, relationship, or life concerns. Search the network of mental health providers at ReGain and find the best fit for you.


The role of self-esteem in the development of psychiatric problems: a three-year prospective study in a clinical sample of adolescents

Self-concept | Definition of Self-concept

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