The Costs & Benefits of Self-Image
The assessment we have of ourselves is hugely influential. When we describe people who evaluate themselves negatively we say they have low self-esteem. The implication of low self-esteem is that it throws up barriers to the things we are all entitled to. We become afraid to ask for what we want and you avoid situations or people that could help us achieve our goals. What's more, we transmit messages about our lack of worth and then leave ourselves vulnerable to being treated badly or overlooked. No wonder low self-esteem is so strongly associated with depression.
At what point do we begin to develop the mental picture we have of ourselves - our self image? Not surprisingly we can trace the development right back to childhood. During this stage of the socialization process our behavior, standards and abilities are under constant appraisal by significant people in our lives. The things we do are almost inevitably compared with others such as friends, classmates and even brothers and sisters. For some, it is a time of praise and rewards yet for others their attention is constantly being drawn to how poorly they function when compared to others.
Extend this process for a period of time and the scene is (potentially) set for the rest of a person's life. If we are treated as clever, pretty or handsome it isn't surprising we come to think of ourselves in those terms and therefore have an edge over people who don't share these qualities. Similarly, if others look to us to make decisions, we may come to regard ourselves as possessing leadership qualities. Then again, if we feel our views or decisions are being disregarded, or made fun of, or derided in some fashion in can be particularly punishing, especially for a young person who has no life experiences to fall back on in order to gain some broader perspective.
One thing we do know about self-images is they are no more than that. They are not truths in the sense of being objective or measurable and many of us probably know of people whose self image bears little resemblance to what others see. Think of the number of people who go on talent shows believing they can sing, play an instrument or tell a joke. Also, the more negative a self-image is, the more likely it is to be wrong.
Reminding ourselves of these things is important. In a previous Sharepost I wrote about thinking positively and behaving positively as being interrelated. Positive thinking is great but it needs to be matched with positive behavior. One feeds into the other. If you try to speak with more authority you will start to feel in control and so on. It's never to late to change the picture we have of ourselves. The way we act in a situation influences the way we feel about it. So it is with self-image, the more we practice positive thoughts and actions the more positive the picture we develop of ourselves.