Where Does Self-Image Come From?

Self-Image vs Self-EsteemSelf-image comes from how we view ourselves and how we appear to others. But it is more than just that. How does our self-image differ from our self-esteem? First, let’s take a look at Webster’s Dictionary on the true meaning of self-image.

Websters Dictionary defines “Self-Image” as “one’s conception of oneself or one’s role.”  But is self-image different than our self-esteem? And how does each occur? What does our self-image do for us? And can we improve our self-image if we don’t like it?

Self-Image, Self-Esteem and True Self are not the same, but they are all related to one another. Let’s take a closer look at how they differ.   

The Difference Between Self-Image, Self-Esteem and True Self

Deepak Chopra states that “self-image is what we believe other people think of us.”  But it is also an “image” of how we want to be seen by others. For example, some people will donate more money at a fundraiser than they normally would do to impress other people. They want to be seen as a generous person.

Self-Image is more about how others perceive us and how we want to be perceived. Self-Esteem is how we truly feel about ourselves, even though it may not be an accurate view of who we really are. Our True Self does not waiver according to how we want to be seen or valued by others. It is the more accurate view of our Self.

Dr. Chopra goes on to say “The True Self lies beyond images. It can be found at a level of existence that is independent of the good and bad opinions of others. It is fearless. It has infinite worth. When you shift your identity from your self-image to your true self, you will find happiness that no one can take away from you.”

Dr. Chopra is saying that our “true self” is who we really are inside. He is talking about our sense of Self inside, that has not been negatively affected by hurtful experiences early in life. It’s who we really are inside that is impermeable to what others think of us. It is our True Self.

Self-Image is more about how others perceive us and how we want to be perceived. Self-Esteem is how we truly feel about ourselves, even though it may not be an accurate view of who we are. Our True Self does not waiver according to how we want to be seen by others. It is the more accurate view of our Self.

When people talk about changing their Self-Image they are really talking about changing their Self-Esteem. The goal is to align your Self-Esteem with your True Self. Therefore, if you want others to perceive you more positively, then you must first perceive yourself more positively.

The Difficulty In Changing How We View Our Self

That’s why a client in psychotherapy can have difficulty believing they are a better person inside than how they have always seen themselves before counseling. It often takes a lot of work to re-think their early experiences that they always evaluated by the little boy or girl inside of us all. That child’s mind could not have the capacity to fully think outside themselves until early adulthood.

Consequently, we tend to hang on to these misguided juvenile views of ourselves and naturally fail to reconsider them with our more mature understanding.

 As a child, we were unable to think beyond those things we thought we knew to be true, and could only have an elementary version of a true sense of Self. Even teens have a limited capacity to think independently of the major adults in their lives.

A more accurate understanding of our True Self won’t occur until well into adulthood. Even adults have difficulty in gaining perspective on their past and how it may have caused an inaccurate view of their true worth.

Therefore, this does not mean that our self-esteem represents our True Self. Many people have had negative experiences that have given them a false view of Self. Let’s take a closer look at how this can occur.

How Self-Image Develops

This is easy. Childhood. We want to please our parents, teachers, and friends. Pretty much everyone and anyone. This is how a child knows their worth: Valued?  Popular? A “good child”? Difficult child? Smart? Cute? 

Children tremendously value popularity from an early age. Children cannot see outside themselves. Therefore, everything they experience defines them. Every experience they have in childhood and early adulthood is filtered through this defining process.

Children and teens are not fully able to see and understand themselves beyond what they believe to be true. Their view of Self is formed through interactions with Mom and Dad, siblings, teachers, and friends. If these are positive experiences, the child learns he or she is valued. If the experiences are negative, the child learns he or she is not worthy of being valued.

As the child grows into adolescence and young adulthood, most likely their view of Self is still as the little boy or girl knew themselves. As they grow and mature, the early childhood view of their worth remains the same. If they felt nourished and valued they will see themselves as valuable. If not, they will see themselves as deficient and lacking good qualities.                  

Self-Image is more about how others perceive us and how we want to be perceived. Self-Esteem is how we truly feel about ourselves. However, unlike self-esteem, our “True Self” inside does not easily waiver according to how we want to be seen or valued by others.  It is our view of Self. 

 Some clients in psychotherapy have difficulty believing they are truly better than how they have always seen themselves before counseling.

Different Ways Our Positive “Self-Image” Affects Our Life

Here is where I am going to switch from “Self-Image” to our “Self-Esteem”. To truly have positive experiences through our view of Self, we need to be operating from our True Self, as Deepak Chopra states. Not our “self-image”. Remember, the Self-Image is more about how we want to be seen by others.

Our Self-Esteem is how we truly see ourselves inside. However, this does not mean that our self-esteem is accurate. How we feel is how we feel. But remember that those feelings and sense of worth are shaped by our experiences through a child’s view. A child’s mind cannot question things as an adult is more able to do. They are not able to have perspective and can think only in a concrete manner.

The better we feel about ourselves, the more we will risk in positive ways. For example, we may risk applying for a job we have never done before, but believe we can do it successfully. We might be more willing to risk rejection. We realize that if we don’t risk trying something, we may lose an important opportunity. And most of all, we can risk the unknown because of a firm belief in our abilities.

Dealing with the unknown can be unnerving. However, with a strong belief in ourselves, we will feel that regardless of how things turn out, we will always find a way to be okay. 

Different Ways A Negative Self-Esteem Affects Our Life 

If we don’t believe in our “Self”, we may not risk applying for a job we want for fear of failing. If we do apply for the job but don’t get it, then we will feel we were not “good enough” to do the job. But perhaps the job went to a more experienced person. That would not define our worth, however, because having experience is not the same as ability.

Low Self-Esteem might keep someone from asking a person out on a date that they really like for fear of rejection. This rejection will likely feel that it defines that person’s worth. This is not a valid assumption, however. 

Low or Negative Self-Esteem can create ongoing anger inside that easily erupts, even over something small. This anger can affect how we do our work, how others view us and create a depression in many people. 

How Our Self-Esteem Can Change Over Time

The healthier the self-image we have, the more positive experiences we can gain. The less healthy self-image we have, the more likely we are to feel angry, protective of ourselves, and depressed. However, we can change this over time. 

Remember, self-image is what we tell ourselves we have or believe others see in us. It does not necessarily mean that the view is accurate. It’s important to challenge the negative beliefs through the adult mind, that the child was never able to do. 

You can do this through professional help with counseling that will provide you the necessary skills to create a more positive and accurate view of yourself.

Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Absolutely! However, I will tweak this question just a bit. Our Self-Image, remember, is how we want others to see us. It is not a useful or valid term when we are talking about our True Self.  By letting others see our True Self we are valuing and believing in ourselves. We realize that no one is perfect, and especially we accept what Brene Brown Ph.D. often says, “I Am Enough!”

The best way to learn how to make positive changes is of course through seeking professional assistance with psychotherapy. By learning the skills and understanding why a person feels so badly about themselves, they can let go of old and inaccurate beliefs. Therefore, this allows them to discover more accurate and positive beliefs about themselves.

So YES! You can improve how you view your “Self” more accurately and lovingly. This will be life-changing for you…in a truly POSITIVE WAY!  Enjoy!

 

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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