Positive Self-Image. How To Achieve It?
Self-image is a concept that’s racked with ambiguities. For one thing, the human being is such a profoundly complex organism that there may be no accurate statement that could describe the totality of that thing we call the self. After all, if you add up all the beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, qualities, and attributes that we can say represent some part of us, you wind up with an infinite number of traits. Some psychologists argue that it’s mythical even to talk in terms of self at all, since so many millions of components go into this wondrous being we call the self. What is it anyway?
Instead of getting highly philosophical about it, let’s just acknowledge that each of has our own definition of the person we view ourselves as being, and the highest compliment we can pay to what we’ll call the self is simply to accept it. That means accepting yourself with all of your strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings, lovable and unlovable traits, habits, attitudes, thoughts, and feelings—all the ingredients that go into making you the person you are.
Does that mean that we close ourselves down to improvement? Absolutely not, because when you can distinguish between that total organism called the self and the traits and behaviors that you want to change, then change is possible, because you’ve defined it as being possible. That is the attitude that will make self-acceptance work for you. Self-acceptance, or the lack thereof, is formed in early childhood. Parents, teachers, and others who are responsible for us often make the mistake of addressing us with global terms when what they really mean to do is to correct our behavior.
For example, parents correct children by making over generalizations such as “You’re a bad boy,” or “You’re a bad girl,” rather than by specifying the behavior they’re trying to correct. Thus we learn—erroneously—that our mistakes reflect on us as a total person rather than simply on what needs to be corrected. For this reason, many people develop an attitude of putting themselves down whenever they don’t measure up to some standard.
Although it’s possible and even common to say that you may have been carrying around a poor self-image since early childhood, the good news is that you can acquire a positive self-image at any point in life and very quickly. The main thing that’s necessary is for you to refuse to put yourself down anymore. One of the most common myths about self-image is that it can’t be changed at all. Let’s look at this myth.
Many people tell me that they’ve been down on themselves as long as they can remember, referring to events that took place in childhood. But if you believe your destiny has been determined by what happened to you as a child, let me suggest that that attitude is only going to cost you. I’ve seen people who’ve had incredibly traumatic childhoods or who’ve been victims of unspeakable abuses during their most vulnerable years, yet who somehow have been able to come through with a positive self-image.
By the same token, I’ve seen others who talk glowingly about their childhood. In some cases, childhood could have been the most cherished time in their lives. Some people can point to practically no childhood trauma at all, but still have problems with their self-image, however happy, normal, or benign their childhood may have been. As I’ve observed many times and over many years, when helping countless people with self-image and self-confidence, poor self-image is an attitude that can begin regardless of your background and then take on a life of its own.
Many believe that only years of therapy can undo the factors causing a poor self-image. Even if you tried the longest of long-term psychotherapy which focuses on childhood trauma, several times a week for years and years, worked through all your childhood traumas, and became free of your past hurts, the best thing you could hope for is to have the self-image you would have had if your parents had raised you perfectly—a standard I’ve never seen in real life. In any case, you can shortcut the process considerably by developing that attitude now and simply refusing to put yourself down anymore.
This does not mean you can’t be critical about your behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and other traits, because after all, growth as a person depends upon recognizing things that need to be changed and making those changes. But by refusing to put your total self down anymore, you are simply refusing to overgeneralize. That’s nothing more than accepting the fact that no statement directed at the total self can really be accurate.
There are other, subtle ways of perpetuating a negative self-image. Perhaps you only focus on your failures and not on your accomplishments. No matter how much you accomplish, you don’t give your accomplishments anywhere near the recognition that you give those areas of your life where you believe you have not measured up. Perhaps you believe you’re a victim, or that life has passed you by. Victimhood is an attitude that results when you don’t take much responsibility for where your life is right now.
Instead of turning that disdain on yourself, you may blame other people, projecting a negative self-image onto others that you believe have somehow held you back. Some people devalue their accomplishments. They act as though they were impostors, who didn’t really accomplish the things for which they rightfully deserve credit. This attitude comes from operating under the assumption that you are, at best, merely acting as if you were competent and as if you had the power to pull things off. When you stop and think about it, though, it’s not very likely that you’re an impostor, because in the final analysis we can only be ourselves. In fact, I defy you to be anything that you’re really not.
Even if you make a living doing impersonations, in reality you are only yourself doing an impersonation; you’re not being someone else. So if you find yourself devaluing or denying your accomplishments, stop right there and take them back. They are yours, and no one can take them away from you—except of course you. If this sounds familiar, think of how much more you could enjoy if you refused to consider your successes flukes and to constantly tell yourself things such as “I should have done better.”
You could be putting yourself down simply because you believe that people around you should care about you. When they don’t, you ally yourself with them. Thus you devalue yourself simply because you haven’t gotten the approval of some other person. Let’s face it. There’s probably always going to be somebody who will deny you love and approval. To the extent that you define yourself as unlovable, you are not only allying yourself with your detractors, but you may also be negating the feelings of the people who really count—that those who do love and care about you. It’s unrealistic and perfectionistic to expect such wholesale approval.
Perfectionism, or trying to accomplish the impossible, not allowing yourself to make errors, along with that unattainable goal of having it all, is the perfect recipe for regret and frustration. Perfection keeps you from enjoying the success you do have, until you achieve that unattainable perfectionistic standard, which to my knowledge nobody ever has. It will keep you from enjoying the successes you do have, because you will constantly devalue yourself for not meeting some other goal. Most people believe the adage that to err is human, at least intellectually, or as it applies to other people or to errors that don’t particularly bother them. The key to having a positive self-image is simply to accept yourself, warts and all.
All of us have certain traits that are positive, negative, or even neutral. I’ve had many people tell me that they did not like themselves until their self-concept was challenged, but I can’t think of anyone who, when pressed, couldn’t point to something about themselves that they cherished. By the same token, those who talk of liking or loving themselves can just about always tell you about certain traits that they would rather be without or downright dislike about themselves. Building a positive self-image is nothing more than substituting some new attitudes for some old ones. When negative ones start coming into effect, consider them old habits that simply need to be challenged.
Strategies to Replace Self-Defeating Attitudes
Here are a few new attitudes you can use both to challenge and to replace those self-defeating ones. We all have things that take a little longer to grasp than we’d like them to. Comparing your inability to measure up to someone else’s perceived strength will probably leave you needlessly feeling inferior. Don’t compare your insides with someone else’s outsides. Everyone is, in his or her own way, vulnerable. You may be comparing yourself to a person who is simply successful in getting the image across that they want you to have. Maybe it’s real, and maybe it’s not, but no image someone projects to you is ever a reason to diminish yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to unleash your creative energies, which include those areas in your life where you’re different. People may try to defeat you, but don’t fall for it. In the end, you are the only one who can defeat you. Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, as Eleanor Roosevelt said a long time before the concept of self-esteem was in vogue.
- Your insights will increase your self-acceptance. They can make practically any problem a no-lose situation, because if things turn out right, you’ll know how you’ve won, but if they don’t, you’ve still learned a great deal. Insight will give you the wisdom for going forward and even more importantly, teach you that you can handle whatever it was you dreaded.
- There is no one whose love and approval are absolutely essential for your well-being. We would all like to have as much love, acceptance, and approval from others as possible, but to the extent that you define your own worth by how someone else relates to you, you’ve made yourself a psychological captive of that person. This principle can apply to a spouse or lover, children, bosses, coworkers, friends, members of organizations you belong to, and virtually anyone else you will run into during your life. As difficult as it may be to acknowledge at first, you are the only person whose approval your happiness depends on. As we will see later, you can learn to let go of just about anything else.
- Self-doubts are very much like anxiety in that the cure is to ignore them and to act as if they were not there. Although this may seem simple enough, many are prone to consider self-doubts as a kind of cancer: if you ignore them, they’ll become all-consuming and eat you up. Therefore you may believe that self-doubts must be listened to and acted upon. Nonsense. I can think of no better definition for standing in your own way. This can affect any area of your life.
Notice I’ve avoided using phrases such as liking or loving yourself. I do so because these attitudes represent the same over generalization error that putting yourself down does. Here are some more exercises you can use to build a positive self-image. Start taking stock of yourself. Make a list of your strengths and accomplishments. Look each one over slowly. Have you given yourself credit where it’s deserved? Have you acknowledged those things you can be proud of?
It’s OK to brag a little, especially to yourself, about the things you’ve accomplished throughout your life. When you start experiencing twinges of negativity toward yourself, use your list as a reminder that any negative statement that you globally make about yourself is inaccurate. Also make a list of weaknesses you would like to improve on, problems you would like to resolve, and other areas for improvement in your life. Now start to approach them one by one, but without the attitude that you’re powerless to change them.
This is another subtle way of undermining yourself. Of course, you will get in touch with certain limitations, but you’ll find that they are more the exception than the rule when you approach them without that stifling self-doubt. Be aware of how you respond to compliments. Do you reject them because you think they can’t possibly be true? Learn to accept them, even if you suspect they may not be. While you’re at it, when you catch yourself in the act of doing something well, feel free to give yourself a compliment.
By the same token, make it a point to take in constructive criticism and feedback. This information can be invaluable if you don’t allow yourself to get defensive about it. Once you’ve been able to accept the idea that it’s not a condemnation of your entire self to have something that needs correcting, the feedback will help you to identify more of your blind spots as others see them, and will be a power tool for improvement. If you’re raising children, try not to make the same mistakes that may have been made on you.
I remember once when my daughter was in nursery school, she came home very upset because her teacher called her a baby. When I asked her what happened, she said she refused to share one of her toys during an activity. I took great pains to explain to her that her refusal to share meant that she was behaving in a babyish way, but that did not make her a baby. After all, I said to her, “if you were playing hopscotch, and you were acting like a frog by hopping, would that make you a frog?” At that, she laughed and saw the point.
Then she agreed that her teacher was probably right, since by that age she certainly knew that not sharing was a babyish act. I can recall teaching her this concept many times throughout her growing up, and nothing makes me prouder of her than to hear her pass that principle on to her own children. There’s nothing more important that you can teach a child than to have a positive self-image. To the extent that this lesson is learned, it will spill over to every other aspect of his or her life and to yours as well.
Positive Attitude Training
How to Be an Unshakable Optimist
Michael S. Broder, Ph.D.
Read more here
A Four-Inch-Long Penis Is More Than Adequate