ACA Blog

Michael Walters
Sep 26, 2011

Perceived Self, Real Self, and Ideal Self—Continuous Assessment Leads to Improvement

No matter what your role or multiple roles you may have in your life, high expectations can be very beneficial to have because they motivate us to do better than we think we can. For the role of the student, for example, too often students will choose to take less demanding classes so that they can avoid failure.

However, by taking less demanding classes, they will not be prepared to acquire the college readiness skills which will enable them to be accepted to colleges of their choice and to be successful in college. High expectations for students, therefore, are needed to challenge students to do their best so that they use their full potential. Yet students also need to be realistic about themselves so that they do not become defeated or demotivated if they do not meet their high expectations. The focus of this blog is to illustrate how the Perceived Self, Real Self, and Ideal Self can help us develop expectations that are reasonable and lead us to our fullest potential.

Let’s start with some quick definitions. Perceived Self is how a person assesses himself and how he thinks others view him. Second, Real Self is how the person really is. Lastly, Ideal Self is how the person would like to be. To visualize these concepts, picture a triangle with each side of the triangle representing the Perceived Self, Real Self, and Ideal Self. The accuracy of how one views each of the three selves has implications for expectations.

When it comes to a school, a teacher can view a student’s grades to get an assessment of the student’s Real Self as a student. So if a student earned an “A” in algebra, the teacher is likely to have high expectations for that student continuing to do well in algebra. However, the student may have a Perceived Self that believes there must be some mistake or luck that he earned an “A” in algebra. As a result, the student may have lower expectations about how well he can do in the future with algebra classes. As you can see from this example, an accurate assessment of one’s Perceived Self and Real Self will influence expectations. For another example, a student in the 11th grade may have an Ideal Self of becoming a doctor. However, the Real Self of the student may show that the student has failed biology three times and anatomy two times. Consequently, major discrepancies or gaps between the person’s Real Self and Ideal Self have much influence on future expectations.

Summing up, high expectations can be very beneficial in helping individuals use their full potential. However, high expectations are most effectively achieved when a person has an accurate and congruent assessment of his/her Perceived Self, Real Self, and Ideal Self. As counselors, helping a client see discrepancies or gaps as well as consistencies and connections among the client’s Perceived Self, Real Self, and Ideal Self will provide support in formulating high and reasonable expectations that can help the client with goal attainment.



Michael Walters is a high school counselor and a licensed professional counselor. He has a special interest in strengthening family relationships and empowering individuals to reach their goals.

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