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Self-image

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  1. What is self-image?
  2. The benefits from a well-constructed self-image.
  3. We develop our self-image by identifying particular traits as "us."  
  4. Techniques for developing the self-image.


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.


The benefits from a well-constructed self-image.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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" ourselves.


We develop our self-image by identifying particular traits as "us." This identification process occurs in various ways:

  1. 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 from outside.
  2. 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.


Techniques for developing the self-image.

  1. 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 portray.
    • 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 possible returns).
    • 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 occasionally."
    • 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 and calm."
    • 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."
  5. 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 angry.)


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