Living Up to Your Ideals *

David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.

Some people are so busy getting along in the world that they rarely reflect on the type of person they are — or the type of person they what to be. What do you think about yourself? Does your image of yourself match the person you would like to be? Is there any way to measure how well these self images match?

A famous psychologist, Carl Rogers, emphasized the importance of the match between our ego (our picture of what we are) and our ego-ideal (the way we believe we should be). When our ego and ego-ideal match closely, we are more likely to be happy and satisfied. If there is a great difference between the two, we tend to be more frustrated and dissatisfied. Even if the two differ, you can still feel better about yourself. This can happen when you are in the process of bringing ego into a closer match with your ego-ideal.

To find out what you think about yourself in some areas — and how well this matches your ideal self — respond to the following statements. Each statement begins with "I am a person who...." Respond to each statement by indicating in the appropriate blank how often each one applies to you.

1 — almost always
2 — often
3 — sometimes
4 — seldom
5 — never

_____ 1. feels I must win an argument.

_____ 2. plays up to others in order to advance my position.

_____ 3. refuses to do things because I am not good at them.

_____ 4. avoids telling the truth to avoid unpleasant consequences.

_____ 5. tries hard to impress people with my ability.

_____ 6. does dangerous things just for the thrill of it.

_____ 7. relies on parents to help make decisions.

_____ 8. has periods of greater restlessness when I must be on the go.

_____ 9. seeks out others so they can listen to my troubles.

_____ 10. gets angry when criticized by my friends.

_____ 11. feels inferior to my friends.

_____ 12. is afraid to try something new.

_____ 13. gets confused when working under pressure.

_____ 14. worries about my health.

_____ 15. has difficulty in starting to get down to work.

_____ 16. is dissatisfied with my sex life.

_____ 17. bluffs to get ahead.

_____ 18. goes out of my way to avoid an argument.

_____ 19. makes quick judgments about other people.

_____ 20. wonders whether my parents will approve of my actions.

_____ 21. is afraid to disagree with another person.

_____ 22. ignores the feelings of others.

_____ 23. feels angry when my parents tell me what to do.

_____ 24. likes to gossip about the misfortunes and embarrassments of others.

_____ 25. takes disappointments so keenly that I can’t put them out of my mind.

Now that you have filled in a number in each blank, go over them again. However, this time begin each statement with, "I would like to be a person who...." Responding to these statements the second time should give you a view of what your ideals are. You answers should be your own. Your ideals do not necessarily need to match the ideals of people around you.

After you have finished, look over both sets of answers. Does who you think you are correspond to who you want to be? Are there any statements that have large differences? If so, is there any way you can reduce these differences?

We can’t be all we want to be,
but getting closer to that goal
helps us to feel better about ourselves.

If you are dissatisfied with the discrepancies between your ego and your ego-ideal, bringing them closer together will help you feel better about yourself. Some people change their behavior to match their ideals better. Others may have unrealistically high standards that can only be met by deities or saints. It might be better for them to modify their ideals to bring them within reach.

If you believe you need to change, the best time to start is now. Some people can change on their own. Others need help to change. If you need help, it is available. Some potential sources of help are listed in the Yellow Pages under Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Mental Health Services or Social Service Organizations.

* Adapted from Worchel and Shebilke’s Psychology: Principles and Applications, Prentice-Hall, 1986, page 405.

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