Self-image is your own personal view of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is a feeling of worth you have about yourself or the value you place on yourself. In short, it is your self-esteem, how you feel about yourself, your opinion of yourself, the way you see and look at yourself. Your self-image is made up of thoughts and feelings you have about yourself. It develops because of your interaction with the people around you, basically by their reaction to you.
Self-image may be positive or negative. The more positive feelings you have about yourself, the higher will be your self-esteem. ‘I’m pretty’. ‘I’m smart’. ‘I can do it’ etc. are good feelings that build up your self-esteem. The more negative feelings you have about yourself, the lower will be your self-esteem. ‘I’m afraid of all’. ‘I’m stupid’.’I’m boring’. ‘I’m ugly’ etc are signs of low self-esteem.
Many individuals suffer from low self image for a variety of reasons and need to build their self esteem in order to succeed in life. Remember, the only one who can make you excel is you and no one else. Remember, the only person who can build up or consequentially tear down your self-image is you. Although other individuals may aid in the process, the end decision is yours.
Poor self-image is at the root of many of our problems. It can sabotage relationships and careers, cause self-destructive patterns and hold us back from achieving our full potential.
On the other hand, a healthy self-image is an unconditional acceptance of oneself. It flows from a good self-esteem. When you feel valuable and lovable, you are able to meet life’s challenges and you are not overly concerned about what others think of you. You know you are valuable just because you are you!
Now you may ask why is it tough to have a good self-image? Because, we live in an age which gives too much importance to physical appearance: beauty contests, beauty parlours, physical fitness gymnasiums, slimming clubs, body-building centres, television commercials, magazines advertising the ‘perfect’ body, beauty tips pages etc. All this pressure makes us feel unattractive, over-weight, out of proportion – in short, a total mess!
Often we build our self-image on how we look, on how much money we make, on the size of our home, even the type of car we drive. In a materialistic society our personal worth is often measured by our net worth but we must work on our individual growth in terms of self all the time.
People make the mistake of comparing themselves with other people. ‘He/she looks stronger, smarter, prettier, and slimmer and trim, with more beautiful eyes and nose and a winning smile’. You are you and you don’t have to measure up to any other person. You are not inferior or superior to any human being. The creator has created each and every one of you with a touch of uniqueness and originality. You do not determine your success by comparing yourself to anyone; rather you determine your success by comparing your accomplishments to your own capabilities. You are “number one” when you do the best you can with what you have every day.
There are some others who generalize failures. When they get their maths sums wrong, they come to a general conclusion and say that they are not good in mathematics. Then there are others who look only at what they lack. They tend to count their troubles and not their blessings. They do not believe the positive things others say about them.
There are some factors that influence or affect our self-image. Your level of self-image is based on the unique experiences and personal relationships that have experienced in your life.
The origins of self-hate start at the pre-natal period itself. The foetus is a person who feels. Life begins not at birth, but at the moment of conception. All the anxiety and fear, happiness and depression and the acceptance and rejection that the mother experiences are indirectly passed on to the child-to-be born.
Immediately after the birth of a child, there is the need for a “bonding”, a necessary aspect influencing mother-child relationship. If that aspect is denied to the child, then he/she gets the feeling that he/she is unwanted.
The personality of the child is formed in his early childhood. The entire verbal and the non-verbal putdowns as well as all the positive affirmation and acceptance of love that he/she receives are subconsciously stored in the young mind and these form and make the child into who he/she will be in the future.
Therefore, the family plays an important role in forming our self-image, from birth up to the present moment. This also includes your relationship with your spouse, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters.
In school, the relationship with your classmates, teachers, administrators and counsellors as well as your experiences with school work, extracurricular and co-curricular activities, discipline, test scores etc add up to your self-image. If you make an effort to improve all the time you are sure to improve your self-image.
When you are on the job, your relationship with your supervisors, co-workers, employees, your experiences with ‘hiring & firing’, promotions and level of job responsibility, as well as your ability to support yourself and the family are important in building up your self-image. You can improve your self-esteem by picking up the positive behaviours and thinking of others.
In your social life, relationship with childhood and adult friends, your neighbours, your boy friend, girl friend, your experiences with clubs, sports teams and hobbies, as well as your relationship with members of different cultures, races and religions help build your self-esteem.
You may ask again, why should you think about your self-image? You need to think about your self-image because it affects the way you live, how you think, act and feel about yourself and others and how successful you are in achieving your goals in life.
High self-image makes you effective, productive, capable and lovable, while low self-image makes you ineffective, worthless, incompetent and unloved.
Human beings are constantly being conditioned, consciously or unconsciously, by exposure to the kind of books they read, the kind of movies and TV programmes they watch, the kind of music they listen to and the kind of company they keep. A person with low self-esteem can easily be conditioned to the chains of negativity.
Think of the mighty elephant that can lift in excess of a ton of weight with just its trunk. How do they condition the elephant to stay in one place with a weak rope and a stake? The elephant, when it is a baby, is tied to a strong chain and a strong tree. The baby is weak but the chain and tree are strong. The baby is not used to being tied. So it keeps tugging and pulling the chain, all in vain. A day comes when it realizes that all the tugging and pulling will not help. It stops and stands still. Now it is conditioned.
And when the baby elephant becomes the mighty giant elephant, it is tied with a weak rope and a small stake. The elephant could, with one tug, walk away free, but it goes nowhere, because it has been conditioned.
A main factor in self-image is negativity. Negative thoughts can erode your confidence and crumble your self esteem. If you find yourself surrounded by negative people or in a negative situation, try your best to remedy the problem. Often, individuals in an abusive relationship have their self-image shattered when a supposed loved one constantly berates them and questions their worth. Similarly, a negative workplace environment can lower your self esteem with colleagues or bosses finding fault with your work.
How can you improve your self-image? Very often, a low self-image starts when we begin to dislike parts of the body. This is the most damaging form of negative self-talk; because we cannot hide our body the way we hide our feelings from others. The following steps can certainly boost up your self-esteem:
Accept self-love as proper and right: Love yourself unconditionally. Tell yourself, ‘beneath the shape and size of my body, and the wrinkles, pimples and complexion, I am a beautiful person and I like the way I am for God has made me a unique individual.’
Accept your uniqueness: It is the best gift you can give yourself, your family, your past. Remind yourself that God has made you and God does not make junk. Avoid comparing your body with that of your friend (s) or so-called ‘heroes’ (footballers, film-stars…). You are unique.
Cultivate beauty-culture: God made you to be beautiful. So be well-dressed and well-groomed. A shabbily-dressed person reveals a poor self-image. But avoid being eccentric. Janet says, “I like dressing well. I get a lot of confidence and a sense of worth when my clothes are neat, clean, well pressed and appealing.”
Read books/articles which instil a healthy body image: Jack has this to say, “My friend knew I had a problem accepting part of my body. He offered me a good book: ‘Transforming body image, learning to love the body you have’, by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson, Ed.D. Believe me, it helped me a lot.”
Look well in the mirror every morning while you shave, brush your teeth, make up your hair, and say to yourself: ‘This is me and I like what I see.’
Affirm your strengths: To enjoy a better image of yourself, you must constantly affirm your strengths, not your limitations, and concentrate on what you do well. You must make the most of your natural aptitudes and abilities. A group of young people were asked to write down four positive points they find in themselves. When the exercise was over, one of them handed in a blank sheet of paper. When asked why, he simply said, “I find no good in me.”
Correct what can be corrected in your physical appearance and accept what you cannot change. Repeat often the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Take the wonder-tonic three times a day:
Every morning: Disinfect your mind of negative thoughts or feelings about yourself. Do this every morning as you get up. This is mental hygiene and leads to mental health. Marcel starts his day with the positive. It sets the tone for the rest of his day and prepares him to face the day ahead of him in a positive manner.
During the day: Do not ‘buy’ junk food, i.e. do not take in negative, unjustified criticism. Do not let anyone dump ‘garbage’ on you and run. This is as fatal as arsenic. Ranjan affirms, “When anyone tries to do this to me, I say to myself: I don’t need this, I don’t deserve this, and I don’t want this. I will not accept it as it doesn’t help me grow.” “I love myself I respect myself” Should be the basic idea of the self by you.
Before going to bed: Take the tonic to sleep well, i.e. practice an attitude of gratitude. Go back over the day that has been and recall to mind the things you did well, the problems you faced and the difficulties you overcame. This tonic ‘inoculates’ and ‘immunizes’ against negative thoughts. Be a fighter and take criticism as a guideline for you to improve.
(John Parankimalil, PhD. The writer is the Director of Don Bosco Institute of Management. He can be contacted through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org)