Self image is defined as the "perception of oneself," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The term dates back to 1678, and it still holds significance today. Why? Because having a good self image is probably one of the most valuable things we can hope to have in our lives. It’s the foundation of being truly happy with ourselves and to living our best possible lives.
We’re all going to be challenged personally and professionally, and we'll perhaps even be put in uncompromising positions that make us question ourselves and second guess who we are and our beliefs. Personality goes into question. That’s when having a positive self image or self-perception matters most. High self-esteem and good self-perception is what helps us avoid getting crushed by rejection and what motivates us to keep pushing for our dreams. Our feelings and beliefs about ourselves can lift us up, thanks to our high self-esteem. But, when we think negatively and have negative self-talk, we create self-fulfilling prophecies—that's when we need an attitude change, which isn't an easy process.
There's a lot of psychology behind self-esteem and self-concept. Researchers have looked into emotional self-awareness and the ensuing self-fulfilling prophecies for years, by looking at self-report measures and global self-esteem.
Self image theory or self-perception theory, for example, "describes the process in which people, lacking initial attitudes or emotional responses, develop them by observing their own behavior and coming to conclusions as to what attitudes must have driven that behavior," according to Learning Theories. Psychologist Daryl Bem originally developed this theory of attitude formation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "Self-perception theory is counterintuitive. Common knowledge would have us assume that a person’s personality and attitudes drive their actions; however, self-perception theory shows that this is not always the case. In simple terms, it illustrates that 'we are what we do.' According to self-perception theory, we interpret our own actions the way we interpret others’ actions, and our actions are often socially influenced and not produced out of our own free will, as we might expect."
A number of studies since have confirmed that self-perception theory exists, and furthermore, that self-perception theory (and positive self-concept or positive self-image) influences us in many unexpected contexts.
"Self-perception theory lends itself to be useful in therapy or persuasion-related contexts," Learning Theories explains. "Traditional therapeutical approaches might consider maladjusted behaviors and actions to be motivated by inner psychological issues. By employing self-perception theory, therapists can take the approach of starting with the behavior first to result in a change of attitudes, and ultimately a more lasting change in behavior. In one example, this approach has been used to have teens perform community service, which positively alters their self-image. They are thus less likely to experience teenage pregnancies and to engage in other risky behaviors.
"In the marketing and persuasion industry, self-perception theory has led to a variety of tactics based on acquiring a small commitment from a person that will lead to a greater possibility that the person will agree to larger requests from the seller/marketer. This is the basis behind the foot-in-the-door tactic, in which a salesperson might ask a person for something relatively small, such as filling out a questionnaire, which would make it easier to ask the person for a larger commitment, since the act of fulfilling the small request would likely lead to the person altering their self-image to explain their decision (i.e. I filled out the survey, therefore I must be the kind of person who likes their products)."
In addition to self-concept theory, there's "cultivation theory." It also delves into self-report measures to determine emotional self-awareness.
"If you are the last one chosen for kickball during recess, your peers are giving you an instruction that they don't feel you to be athletic," writes Pyschology Today writer, Michael J Formica MS, MA, EdM. "If your artwork is always chosen to hang in the hallway near the principal's office, your teacher is giving you the instruction that you're artistic. If your mother is constantly harping on you to clean up your room, she is giving you the instruction that you're sloppy. If your school guidance counselor 'dumbs down' the list of colleges and universities to which you selected to apply, s/he is giving you the instruction that you're not so bright.
"These are clumsy examples. But they point to a very important idea. Until we come to an authentic and unclouded idea of who we are, we are only a reflection of the opinions of other people; we are a reflection of what others believe about us, as opposed to what we believe about ourselves. People hand us instructions, hold opinions and pass judgment, and we buy in."
The writer adds that the psycho-social mechanism for this is described in detail by cultivation theory.
"Why it is exactly that we buy in to the negative side of things with more alacrity than the positive is a difficult question to answer; nonetheless, it's what happens," he explains. "And it is through this negative buy in, and consequent development of a negative self-perception, that we develop a sense of shame about who we are and our place in the world. Shame can manifest itself in any number of ways from anorexia to frantic overachievement. It is not so much an emotion or a condition or even something that you can put your finger on, it is more a sensibility. The anorexic, for example, feels so badly about herself that she quite literally wants to disappear. The narcissist, on the other hand, has an unbridled need to be noticed and validated. The recidivist addict latches onto a repeated cycle of self-destruction in order to punish himself. The serial adulterer seeks out consistent confirmation that s/he doesn't deserve his/her mate or doesn't deserve to be loved. We could throw out examples like these, both positive and negative, all day."
So self image and self-perception theory play a major role in our lives. Whether your self image has taken a beating and you’re looking to regain your inner strength, or you’re as positive as can be, it never hurts to check in with yourself and give yourself a tune-up! Here are 10 rules people with good self images always follow.
1. They give themselves credit.
While it sounds simple enough, how often have you earned something that you somehow attributed to luck or just being in the right place at the right time? People with a strong self image positively attribute their accomplishments to their own hard work and efforts.
2. They are present.
People with good self image are present and in the moment. They don’t focus on regrets nor do they spend time longing for a certain kind of future. They are focused on the immediate moment and what they can do right now to help themselves move forward.
3. They keep it real.
If you’re at all prone to dramatizing, you’ll appreciate this. People with positive self- mage don’t over exaggerate things. They generally see things as they are without catastrophizing them and have an ability to remain level headed.
4. They don’t dwell on things.
It can be hard to do, especially if you’re really disappointed about the outcome of a major event. But people with a good self image don’t have time to dwell on negative outcomes. Instead, they look for the takeaways and for what they can learn from the experience and figure out how to improve upon things for the next time.
5. They are in control of their emotions.
This doesn’t mean that people with positive self image aren’t emotional. Not at all. What it does mean is that, they aren’t ruled by them and that their relationships with others aren’t at the mercy of their moods.
6. They know how to let go.
Grudges and harboring negative feelings doesn’t serve them in any way. They’re skilled at letting go of negativity and making room for more positivity in their lives.
7. They’re not worried about the Joneses.
They don’t compare themselves with others. They are happy to be on their path, wherever that may be and are happy to fully own the path as theirs.
8. They are kind to themselves.
I’m not talking about taking time out for a massage, though there’s nothing wrong with that. But people with good self image don’t beat themselves up over things that are not in their control.
9. They know that perfection is an illusion.
We’re all striving to better ourselves in various ways, but if we have unrealistic goals we’re in for a lot of disappointment.
10. They take time to be grateful for what they have.
You might be able to have a good self image without doing all 10 of these things. But if you’re not grateful for what you have, it’s going to be pretty hard to like yourself.
If you don't think you have a positive self image, you can still work on it. According to Life Hacker, there are a number of things you can do:
1. Prep Work: Identify Your Own Self-Image Fallacies
2. Perform a Self-Assessment
3. Seek Outside Input (and Listen to It)
4. Challenge Yourself and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
5. Emulate the Habits of Others
"Our perceptions of ourselves will probably never be perfect (and a little self-delusion can sometimes help)," Life Hacker reads. "However, many of us go years without fulfilling our potential or trying new things because we simply don't perceive ourselves as able. Or worse, we live with flaws because it never occurs to us that they're problematic. If you don't think you can go after your dream job, you're worried you can't attract that person you're really into, or you simply lack confidence, the problem might not be your situation, but just your perception. Your ideas about yourself determine the course of your life, so don't leave them to chance."