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Self image - self esteem, self confidence

Alexandra Siru

What is the "self - image" ?

The self image or "how we see ourselves" alludes to the way we perceive our physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual characteristics.

How we perceive ourselves depends on our "self respect" (self appreciation, self-acceptance). If we truly accept, appreciate ourselves for what we do well, if we embrace our weakness without permanently criticizing ourselves, we can live emotionally comfortable (and thus increase our tolerance towards others too).

One must understand that there has to be a balance between self-appreciation and self-criticism, none of the two extremes being efficient. Someone who praises himself too much will be, in the end, ridiculed and abandoned. On the other hand, someone who is constantly critic towards himself will generate feelings of compassion, guilt, or a sense of superiority, drawing towards himself more criticism. So, maintaining a balance between self-praising and self-criticism is very important for our psychic.

How do I know my "self-image" is a healthy one?

That's easy ! We all have our "inner voice". If that voice has a pessimistic, negative and self critical speech with unfulfilled ambitions toward perfection, means the self-image of that person is a negative one.

Why is the self image so important?

Because it affects our behavior. When we have a positive "self-image" on ourselves, we have the energy to fulfill our objectives, because the enthusiasm, the high spirit, the determination are there. And so we see obstacles as challenges which must be exceeded. This helps maintaining relationships hitting your aim you can reach professional performances and social success.

A negative self-image lowers or even neutralizes the motivation due to the lack of self assurance ("What's the point in trying ?", "I'm not good enough ..."). This leads to the so called "avoiding behavior" ("I'm not going to the interview, because I'm not good enough so what's the point ?").

Also, a negative self-image creates a vicious circle wherefrom it's very hard to get out : the person doesn't do certain things because he / she isn't convinced is capable.

This lack of action leads to self-blaming and self-criticism, thus cementing the negative beliefs about themselves.

In conclusion, when you believe in yourself it's easier to achieve goals because trusting yourself energizes the very resources you need in order to overcome the obstacles and so you're heading where you want to. Whereas when you don't trust in yourself you communicate, negotiate harder and you act with fear and so you "throw sand into your wheels". And so you kill all the resources you need in order to do anything.

Our self-image contributes to the reality evaluation.

When you have a good self-image you say : "I can do this, or at least I can try to !". When you have a negative self-image you say : "I can't do this, it's too difficult !"

The big difference between the two perceptions is that the person with the positive one is willing to prove himself that he can or can not do that thing. The person with negative perception will just stick to his vicious circle we described above, confirming his negative beliefs.

The ways we perceive our own strength determine the way we evaluate the reality.

A positive self-image allows us "take a risk", accepting at the same time that we might achieve something or we might just as well, fail. Anyways it's worth trying !

A negative self-image makes us avoid an action because we evaluate it as being above our capacity. Also, a negative self-image makes us vulnerable to the other people's negative opinions that we take for granted and we add them up to our own negative beliefs about ourselves.

Why what other people believe counts ?

Although our self-image is the reflection in our own conscience so it has internal factors, the self-image is often backed-up or sabotaged by external factors.

So, the question should be: "for who does other people opinion counts?" the answer is easy other people's opinions count for those who don't have a positive self-image about themselves and constantly need to relate to the exterior. When these people experience the success they feel good, but for a short period of time, and so they become addicted to success and when they fail, they tend to excessively blame themselves; these people experience constant uncertainty and anxiety, always being vulnerable because the self-image is always linked to the exterior factors. This is how different "trends" that occur among the teenagers can be explained: if the exterior reality expects you to be weak and you're uncertain when it comes to self-image, than you'll understand that you're good and accepted as a weak person, but this will never fully please you, because being unhappy or uncertain with yourself, you'll never be weak enough. And so anxiety, uncertainty and the vicious circle of depression, bulimia and so on appears.

When you have a realistic perception about yourself (when you know your own qualities and you accept your defects) and implicitly, a good self-image, the external reality confirms or infirm what you already know about yourself and this helps you improve what you already have, if needed.

Where the self-image comes from ?

Basically, the way we "see" ourselves has its roots in childhood. During that period of life, we don't have a value system to which we could relate to. All we have are our parents' opinions on our actions. Our parents are the first people who can disagree with our actions. For example, an extremely critical attitude draws the child into thinking he's not good enough, that he's not "perfect". One way in which the child responses when he becomes a teenager is to look for those "trends" which make him "better, cooler, more interesting, more acceptable", in other words, he looks for a community that accepts him for who he is. As a teenager and then as an adult he continues to think little about himself and so he makes it heavier for himself by self sabotaging / and so he makes his existence miserable by sabotaging himself.

The extremely permissive attitude with exaggerated praises and lack of discipline creates a "man" who has a very good, but exaggerated and unrealistic self-image which will lead to very tough penalties in his further relationships.

These are just two extreme parental attitudes that may orientate the self image in one direction or another.

In conclusion : the balance between criticism and praise is essentially the parents' responsibility, as the children and further adults will know to maintain it.

Also, the parents are the first who implant in their children's minds the matrix of the value system to which the kids will be relating to in the future.

The clinical practice showed that people with low self-image tend to label themselves as being "realistic" and can't see the link between self-image and their parents' attitude : "it wasn't my mother who told me I was stupid, the reality showed that to me". But these people aren't aware of the fact that the way we perceive the reality and the values of : right or wrong, stupid or smart, beautiful or ugly, are not "inborn", but are internalized through "parental filter". As a child he doesn't have the notion of "right" or "wrong". A mother knows what's good or bad, and, yes, she has the right, in a way: there's no need for her to verbally criticize an action, but to insinuate, to demonstrate that it's wrong. Of course, the children must be taught about what's right or wrong, but in some other way. Plus, this is the age during which the self esteem and the self-image basis are set (0 to 3 years). At this age, the child is a genuine emotional entity and he can not think in "good" or "bad" terms, but through his parents' reactions.

What can we do ?

First of all we should sit back a little and ask ourselves : "is my inner voice really mine or is it my mother's or my father's or somebody else/s voice ?" This is because the self-esteem isn't built just like that, it's not easy, but it is a complex and long process during which the most important element is the will and the capacity to take care of one selves.

Here's what you can do, until you talk to a specialist :

  • make a list with all the accomplishment until now (the most uncertain ones will ask around, but ask the opinions of those people you can trust, and whose opinions really matter to you).
  • objectively evaluate the qualities you used to accomplish (the ones with low self-esteem will put their success on exterior factors, but there is a word of wisdom : "God helps those who help themselves").
  • Celebrate every success, praise yourselves for every accomplishment because it's what you did ! You made it happen !
  • transform every failure in a feed-back : better than blaming yourself. You should ask yourselves what went wrong so you can do better in the future. Remember that blaming yourselves leads back to the vicious circle.
  • take it easy; don't make great strides, because this will only unbalance you. If you're the kind of person that doesn't act or postpones the actions because you're afraid of failure, than I'd suggest to make a daily list with some objectives that are easy to obtain. At the end of the day analyze what went wrong and what didn't so you can do better next day. After a month of such practice begin establishing bigger objectives for longer terms. Be patient and assiduous in this technique so you take small but certain steps. The accomplishment of personal goals, no matter how small they are, always consolidates the self-esteem.

Also important is the awareness and the fulfilling of the fundamental human needs as Maslow described in his famous human need pyramid. I will now give you the version made by psychologists Corneliu Sofronie and Roxana Zubcov in "the order psychology. The Quantic psychology" (Perfect Publishing house, 2005).

  • X. The need of ideal, of errors, of perfection, highest human values;
  • IX. The need of accomplishment (self accomplishment, becoming what you really can so you feel fulfilled);
  • VIII. The need of social appearance (social intelligence, acceptance as a social individual, social integration);
  • VII. The need of morality ( knowledge, ethics and aesthetics rules which maintain the social order);
  • VI. The need of social utility : prestige, professional success, school;
  • V. The need of interior dynamic balance (the balance between micro and macro, between the individual and the social);
  • IV. The need of proximity (belonging to a group);
  • III. The need of identity (family - knowing and accepting the origins stands at the basics in personal identity formation); or "the need of identity and self-image";
  • II. The need of interior harmony : self assurance and assurance in general (the power to plan your life without being afraid); the need of a partner, or "the emotional and acknowledgement need for the interior balance". (K. Horney);
  • I. The primary needs (food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, sex) interpreted as the need of independence and freedom or "the need of freedom and superficiality" (K.Horney).

Even though the primary needs must be satisfied they bring little satisfaction on a short term. For a positive self-image, well consolidated and for a long time, the superior needs are very satisfactory.