Your self-image plays a major part in how you live your life. It determines the quality of your life and, often, how successful you will be. It also sets the tone, rhythm and meter for all your relationships, both personal and professional.
According to psychotherapists, a strong self-image can be the foundation for achieving a meaningful life and self-fulfillment.
Simply defined, your self-image is how you feel about yourself at any particular time.
It’s formed in many ways. Initially it’s molded by family, friends and your intellectual and physical abilities, and later on in life by job successes and failures. All these things influence how people feel about themselves, and they also influence the expectations people have about themselves at any particular time.
In the critical childhood years, parents are largely responsible for shaping self-image. They help shape a child’s mirror, or reflection of himself. Parents are a very powerful impacting force on children.
Your self-image can be likened to a mental blueprint. It’s a picture of what you think you are, not necessarily who you really are. Most of the things you do and feel are consistent with your self-image. Your subconscious mind, which is responsible for most of your behaviour, forms your self-image. Your subconscious mind, however, can’t distinguish between truth and lies.
Some researchers say that most of the things we believe about ourselves are negatives. We see and interpret everything around us through a negative filter. It creates barriers, blocking our path to getting what we want. The subconscious mind has been compared to a tape recorder, recording every word. It makes sure that everything you tell it becomes fact. If you’re convinced you’re going to blow an interview, for example, your subconscious mind will make sure you fumble questions and make a poor impression. But if you’re convinced you’re totally prepared for the interview and believe you’ll ace it, your subconscious mind will make sure you turn in an impressive performance.
Problems with self-image are one of the main reasons people seek help from psychotherapists. Most people’s image of themselves is often wounded by early life experiences. We tend to define ourselves, especially in our early years, by the way we are defined by others. If we have been treated with love and kindness, and if we have been made to feel special in some way, we often begin to feel that way about ourselves.
A positive self-image is often confused with arrogance or superiority. But there is no connection. If you have a healthy self-image, you don’t feel the need to assert yourself over others. Yet often, people with a poor self-image need to exaggerate their own worth at the expense of others by putting others down. Gossiping about other people is a way of saying that you are better than the person you’re gossiping about. But if you have a positive self-image, you can acknowledge your own worth and validate other people’s worth as well.
It certainly plays a part in the success equation. But there are other factors that play a part as well. A good self-image can set the stage, making great things possible. Presidents and CEOs of companies also must have the necessary qualifications, along with the creative and intellectual abilities that are required to do their jobs well. But they also have positive expectations about what they can achieve, which comes from their positive self-image.
If you are unclear about who you are and where you want to go, people can’t help you get there. Only you can chart your own course leading to success. You’re not going to reach it without a good self-image. If you have a strong self-image, you’re more likely to act in accordance with what you know to be true.
Alexander Aldarow, a psychotherapist and writer, separates self-image and self-esteem. Self-image, he says, is formed by comparisons you make between yourself and those around you. It’s a judgment call. “Sadly, it is often negative, because you can usually find someone better than you at almost everything,” says Aldarow. “Self-image in turn affects self-esteem.”
Others, however, say self-image and self-esteem are blood relatives. They work together. You can’t have a good self-image without self-esteem, she says.
How’s your self-image?
Grade yourself by answering the following questions:
1. Do you blame other people for your problems?
2. Do you hold onto guilt from the past?
3. Are you suspicious of people who say nice things about you?
4. Do you tend to let yourself go, physically?
5. Do you make decisions based only on external feedback?
6. Do you avoid risk and stick to only what you know?
7. Do you frequently ridicule others?
8. Do you see mistakes as failures rather than as an opportunity to grow and learn?
9. Do you have difficulty dealing with criticism? Do you become angry and defensive?
If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, you have a poor self-image.
Here are 10 tips for boosting your self-image
1. Reflect upon the good rather than the negative experiences in your life.
2. Form positive, achievable goals.
3. Examine unrealistic expectations.
4. Recognize that your history can’t be changed, yet you can positively control the present and lay the foundation for a positive future.
5. Learn from past mistakes.
6. Take responsibility for your feelings, actions and mistakes, rather than blaming others.
7. Don’t be overly critical of other people.
8. Learn from criticism.
9. Examine your relationships (professional and personal) to find out if your needs are being met.
10. Invest time in building friendships with people who complement you and support you.
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.