Material Self


The concept of the “material self” is a psychological term that refers to the part of an individual’s self-concept related to the physical world, particularly the physical body, personal belongings, and the environment one resides in. This idea was first introduced by the American psychologist William James and it is an essential part of an individual’s overall self-identity.

Understanding the term

To further understand the material self, it’s crucial to explore its components, relationship with the psychological self, and its role in identity formation.

Components of the Material Self

The material self consists of three components: the physical body, immediate family, and personal belongings. These elements are all tangible or physical aspects that contribute to a person’s self-concept and identity.

The Material Self and the Psychological Self

While the material self relates to physical aspects, the psychological self revolves around subjective experiences, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Together, the material and psychological self combine to form a person’s total self-concept.

Role in Identity Formation

The material self plays a vital role in the formation of identity. Material possessions, our physical attributes, and immediate environments significantly contribute to how we perceive ourselves and how we believe others perceive us.

Importance of the Material Self

Understanding the material self is not merely about acknowledging the tangible aspects of our existence. It serves a larger purpose in our lives.


The material self often acts as a form of self-expression. The clothes we wear, the house we live in, the car we drive – all these material possessions convey messages about our personality, status, and preferences.

Self-Esteem and Confidence

The material self can contribute significantly to self-esteem and confidence. Physical attractiveness, personal belongings, and immediate environments can positively or negatively impact a person’s self-perception and confidence levels.

Critiques and Limitations

While the material self is a critical aspect of self-concept, it is also essential to acknowledge its limitations and critiques.

Overemphasis on Materialism

An overemphasis on the material self can lead to materialism, where individuals might prioritize possessions over intangible aspects of life, such as relationships, experiences, and personal growth.

Vulnerability to External Changes

The material self can be vulnerable to external changes. Aging, accidents, or loss of property can result in dramatic changes to one’s self-concept, often leading to psychological distress.


To illustrate the concept, let’s consider some examples.

Example 1: Athletic Identity

Consider an athlete who takes great pride in their physical fitness and capabilities. This person’s material self is closely tied to their physical body and athletic achievements.

Example 2: Collector’s Pride

A person who collects vintage cars may consider these vehicles an integral part of their self-concept. The cars represent their taste, status, and passion, thus being a significant part of their material self.


In conclusion, the material self is a fundamental aspect of a person’s self-concept and identity. It incorporates tangible elements such as the physical body, personal belongings, and immediate family or home environment. It can significantly impact self-expression and self-esteem but should be balanced with other aspects of self to avoid overemphasis on materialism. Furthermore, being aware of the material self’s vulnerability to external changes can prepare individuals for potential shifts in their self-concept.