The concept of the ideal self has played a prominent role in psychology throughout history. The earliest philosophies emphasized the idea of a perfect order in nature, which was mirrored within each individual as the perfect version of themselves. This type of thinking is not fundamentally different from the theories put forth by some of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.
Freud and The Ideal
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, divided the human consciousness into three categories: the id, the ego, and the superego. The ego ideal, as Freud called it, represents our inner conscience or the perfect version of ourselves. This is the voice in our head telling us what is right and wrong, what we should and should not do. The ego serves as the mediator between the id and the superego, ensuring that our basic evolutionary drives do not put us in danger.
When the ego is forced to compromise between the conflicting demands of the id and the superego, it can lead to unhealthy defense mechanisms. These include denial, resentment, and regression to a more immature state. On the other hand, when we establish healthy habits and relationships that satisfy both the id and the superego, and align with the demands of our external environment, our ego can shrink back down to a manageable size, and we will feel balanced, satisfied, and happy.
Rogers and The Ideal
Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, proposed the theory of congruence. This theory also separates the self into distinct parts: the self-image and the ideal self. The self-image is how we perceive our current actions and behaviors, while the ideal self is the person we would like to be. All of our goals and ambitions live within our ideal self, and pursuing those goals causes our self-image to merge with that ideal in a process that Rogers called congruence.
Rogers believed that the more our self-image and ideal self overlap with each other, the more congruent we will be. Our self-worth comes from whether or not we feel like we are becoming more or less congruent. When we feel that our goals are moving us closer to our ideal self, we will feel more fulfilled, satisfied, and happy.