What is self-image? It is "who we
think we are"; it is our self-concept. The self-image is the
collection of traits which we recognize in the ego and our archetypal
fields; for example, we might recognize ourselves as patient, bold,
handsome, funny, talented, successful, etc.
benefits from a well-constructed self-image.
The self-image is one of the mind's "defaults." When we are
guided by intuition, we recognize the uniqueness of each
situation, and so we respond to those dynamics. However, sometimes
we are not aware of our intuition, and so the mind automatically
reverts to various defaults to gain information by which it can
plan a course of action; for example, the mind looks at the
self-image to discern, "Who am I, and how would that type of
person respond in this situation?" Then, if our stereotyped
self-image says that we are (for example) honest, our automatic
response will tend to be characterized by honesty.
A well-constructed self-image is an accurate presentation of
our capabilities; thus, it provides a fairly reliable guide as to
our possible success in endeavors which require those
capabilities. For example, we might have an image of ourselves as
"intelligent," and we truly have superior intelligence to back up
that image; in contrast, a faulty self-image might claim
that we are intelligent even though we are not, and so we enter
situations which require superior intelligence, and we fail.
A well-constructed self-image is inclusive; it allows us to be
and do whatever is necessary. In contrast, if our self-image is
restricted, we are restricted; for example, if the
self-image says that we are timid, we will be less-able to call on
our capacity for courage when a circumstance requires courage. But
if our self-image is inclusive, we acknowledge that we tend to be
timid, but that we contain all potentials and all "opposites,"
including courage. Instead of limiting ourselves to one side of a
duality (e.g., timidity or courage, extraversion or introversion),
we can have a self-image which permits both sides of dualities;
for example, we can say that we are flexible, creative, adaptive,
spontaneous, and intuitive -- thus allowing ourselves to go toward
either duality in any situation. Of course, every adjective
has an opposite; thus, for example, if we define ourselves as
"flexible," we might expect this description to grant us
considerable freedom for action -- but there will be times when we
need to be non-flexible, i.e., determined. This dualism
means that any self-image is only half-correct; there are
occasions when we are (and need to be) flexible, and there
are occasions when we are (and need to be) determined.
Thus, when we are working to improve our self-image, we remember
that it is only a default (and it is always limiting); in the long
run, our goal is to be more aware of our intuition, so that we do
not need this default, and instead we transcend it.
A well-constructed self-image grants consistency. Although we
want freedom to act in whichever way we are directed by intuition,
we have tendencies to respond in one way or another, e.g.,
patiently or impatiently. This consistency is useful in predicting
our possible response to an upcoming situation; for example, we
(and other people) know that we will respond with impatience to
that situation, so we will prepare for that response.
A well-constructed self-image allows us to have self-esteem.
Self-esteem is based on our opinion and feeling
toward our self-image; for example, if we create a self-image
which we deem worthy of approval, we have self-esteem.
A well-constructed self-image allows us to love ourselves. We
have created a "loveable" image which permits the flow of
life-energy through us; we don't "dam" the energy by "damning"
develop our self-image by identifying particular traits as "us." This
identification process occurs in various ways:
Observations of ourselves. For example, when we see ourselves
being angry, we might conclude, "I am a angry person."
Particularly when we are young, we might build our self-image by
identifying with role models, heroes, parents, and other people
whom we want to emulate. But as we grow as adults, we see our
innate qualities, and we discard the ones that we have adopted
Observations of people's response to us. Because part of
ourselves is the "social" aspect, a part of our self-image
pertains to our place in society. Does our self-image say that we
are attractive, friendly, and popular? This might seem to depend
on the responses we have received from our parents, friends, and
other people. But it truly depends on our interpretation
of those responses; for example, if our parents abused us, our
interpretation was (1) that we were a "bad child" or (2) that we
are all right, but our parents were abusive. The people whom we
select to be our friends are those who confirm our self-image,
whether that self-image is affirmative or derogatory; for example,
if we believe that we are not intelligent, we are most comfortable
with a person who treats us as a simpleton. ... External.
Self-image is the collection of traits which we believe are being
perceived by other people; for example, if we believe that people
perceive us as interesting, then our self-image can accept this
input, and so we tend to believe that we are interesting.
(However, our belief might be incorrect; for example, our
self-image might say that we are interesting while other people
believe that we are boring.) The self-image can extend outward to
include our possessions; thus, our self-image can include the
image of our business, our home, our car, etc.
for developing the self-image.
We base our self-image on reality. Our self-image is the
simple, neutral perception of the "facts" regarding us. But surely
some of our perceptions are inaccurate; we need to test them and
perhaps revise them -- maybe improving an unpleasant image, or
deflating some grandiose notions. When our self-image is founded
on our actual characteristics, we gain in these ways:
We feel comfortable and fulfilled being the person we
We function more effectively because we know the strengths
that can be acted from and we know the weaknesses that must be
worked around. We know our limits and our abilities, so our
goals are neither too ambitious (and therefore likely to
unattainable) or too meager (therefore depriving us of greater
We are not worried that a phony role will be "found out." A
phony is neither liked nor trusted.
We have less of a craving for people's approval. With an
honest self-image, we know our good points (regardless of
people's confirmation), and we can accept our faults without
shame or denial.
We benefit from society's feedback; it affirms our identity
as a genuine person, rather than contradicting and thus
disturbing us. For example, if we have an incorrect self-image
as a generous person, but people dislike us for our actual
stinginess, we are likely to become confused and angry.
We realize that we are not our behaviors or our thoughts.
Throughout a lifetime (or in a single day), we might see ourselves
acting both angry and calm, worried and confident, loving and
cruel, and so on. Our self-image is not so flexible (or
vulnerable) that it can redefine itself every time we think or act
in a different way. Although we might recognize certain
consistencies and patterns, we need to take our self-image
lightly, remembering that whatever labels we put on ourselves are
only partially true; our behaviors and thoughts are occasionally
manifesting the opposite of those labels.
We notice the ways in which our life develops from our
self-image. To an extent, our self-image determines the character
of our actions, feelings, and thoughts, because we unconsciously
refer to it constantly: "What would I do in this situation?" For
example, if we have established a self-image of "a peaceful
person", we automatically tend toward peaceful behavior; we
spontaneously actualize our self-image. The process builds on
itself as a "self-fulfilling prophecy"; for example, if our
self-image says that we have a friendly personality, we behave in
a friendly manner, and then people respond to us as they would
respond to a "friendly person", and thus our self-concept is
confirmed and solidified. The self-image is powerful enough to
contradict our conscious will; for example, if our body image (a
segment of the overall self-image) says that we are overweight,
our mind will direct our behavior to consummate that idea despite
any superficial effort at dieting.
We can change our self-image. We do this by highlighting the
times when we are acting out our desired self-image, and merely
glancing at the occasions when we are acting out the opposite
(while still acknowledging, out of respect for reality, that
opposite). We already do this "selective awareness" (selecting
that which we notice) -- mostly on an unconscious level -- every
time we encounter a situation which confirms or disputes our
self-image; for example, we notice and remember more vividly our
moments of anger if we believe that we are an angry person. Now we
can use selective awareness consciously and purposefully. After we
propose a new self-image in our minds, the process of selective
awareness automatically seeks to "prove" the image's validity by
interpreting events (and then highlighting or disregarding them)
in such a way that the image is confirmed; to create a new,
constructive "complex" regarding our identity, we acknowledge all
parts of the events -- the visual images, the emotions, the
feelings, the physical action, and so on. In the examples below,
we are dismantling our self-image as an "angry" person and
replacing it with the more-realistic idea that we experience
all emotional states (including calmness):
We can isolate the times when we behave in an angry way,
but say that they are not necessarily part of a pattern: "I am
angry right now, but I am calm at other times."
We can reinterpret the situation so that it isn't taken as
a representation of our identity at all: "I feel anger right
now; emotions come and go, and they are not who I am."
We can re-define the trait. Any of our characteristics and
actions can be labeled in various ways. For example, by
analyzing our labels (without changing ourselves at all), we
might realize that we some of our actions that we formerly
labeled "angry" were actually expressions of qualities such as
assertiveness and firmness.
We can take notice of the times of the time when we display
the opposite of the undesired behavior: "I am calm right now; I
am generally a calm person, though I feel anger
We can create situations where the desired behavior is
likely to occur: "I'm glad that I came to the park; I am calm
among the beautiful trees and sky."
We can do actions which physically represent the state of
mind (and self-image) that we want: "I am lying in a hammock;
that is something that would be done by a person who is relaxed
We can review our memories to "re-remember" them in such a
way that they now confirm our new self-image. We do this by
using the previous ideas in this list and applying them to past
events; for example, "I argued with John yesterday, but I am
generally a calm person."
We know our real "self" beyond our self-image. Carl Jung wrote
about the differences between the self and the persona (the
assortment of roles we play in society). The persona is necessary
for our social functioning, but we feel unfulfilled and
unconnected when we live exclusively on that superficial level,
and when we see only the personas of other people without
recognizing the individuals behind their masks. (For example, that
is not an angry person; it is a person who is feeling and acting