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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

What Is Self-Image (And How to Change It for a Happier Life)

What Is Self-Image (And How to Change It for a Happier Life)

We all have different ways of looking at ourselves. Some of us are confident and perceive ourselves as being highly capable while others may be less-confident and unsure of their abilities. Some people look into the mirror and see positive things while others may see less positive things. All of these intertwining factors that make up how we view ourselves make up what is called our self-image.

Our self-image is the personal viewpoint we adopt towards ourselves which describes characteristics such as intelligence, attractiveness, talents, kindness, and many other traits.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at what self-image is and how you can change it for a happier life.

What Is Self-Image?

Put very simply, your self-image relates to how you see yourself both internally and externally.

This idea is exaggerated upon by Random House Dictionary who defines self-image as:

“the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself.”

So, why is self-image important?

Well, self-image influences how we view ourselves, how we interact with others, and even how we feel about our surroundings. Thus, it has pretty broad influence over our lives.

A positive self-image has the ability and potential to boost our physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. On the other hand, a negative self-image can decrease our well-being in each of these areas as well as our overall life satisfaction and functioning.

Self-Image vs. Self-Concept

A lot of people tend to get self-image confused with self-concept. The two terms are very similar, so the confusion is understandable. However, there is an important difference:

Self-concept is a much broader term relating to how you see, think, and feel about yourself.

Thus, self-image is a portion of what makes up our much broader self-concept. Self-image is strictly how we view ourselves, not how we think or feel about ourselves.

Self-Image vs. Self-Identity

Again, as was the case with self-concept, self-identity is a broader and more comprehensive term than self-image.

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The best way to distinguish between these two closely related terms is to say that self-image is specific. It relates to different aspects of our view of ourselves. All of these different snapshots that you feel when you look in the mirror then combine to produce your self-identity.[1]

Our self-identity is the whole image of who we believe we are, and how we would describe ourselves to the other people who are around us.

Examples of Self-Image

Just to make sure that we’re on the same page, we should run through a few quick examples of self-image.

As I’ve already hinted to, you can have both positive and negative self-images. You can even have both types and they can vary in regards to different aspects of your self-image.

What this often boils down to is that with a positive self-image, we recognize our assets, qualities, and overall potential. Additionally, a positive self-image allows us to be comfortable with and accepting of our weaknesses, flaws, and limitations.

Contrastingly, with a negative self-image, we tend to focus much more greatly on our flaws and weaknesses; we are less accepting of them, and we distort these imperfections as well as our failures.

So let’s start by running through a few negative examples of self-image, and then work ourselves towards the more positive examples.

Negative Examples of Self-Image

Typically, a negative self-image refers to when you have a poor view of yourself.

For example, people may feel as though they are unattractive, undesirable, unintelligent, or unhappy.

A negative self-image relates to our view that we are somehow falling short of the ideal version of ourselves. This normally results in us feeling negative towards ourselves when we see our reflection in the mirror.

This can be problematic as low self-image can lead to illnesses such as depression.

Positive Examples of Self-Image

Now, a positive self-image should be quite easy for you to imagine. A positive self-image would simply be the opposite of the examples that I provided you with above.

So viewing yourself as an attractive, desirable, intelligent, or happy individual would all indicate that you are embodying a positive self-image.

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Even if in some way, you feel that you are falling short of the ideal version of yourself, you don’t feel overly negative about it because you have all of these positive feelings towards yourself.

Put very simply, when you look in the mirror at your reflection, you experience positive feelings.

How Do We Develop Self-Image?

Our self-image is like us in the way that it is by no means fixed. It adapts and evolves as we grow as individuals and through our interactions with others.

For instance, as we practice certain skills and abilities, and as we learn and grow, we are much more likely to view ourselves as capable and competent individuals. Our self-image is continually assessing this type of information and the attitudes that we hold towards ourselves.

Another example might be related to our physical appearance. Imagine that you put on a few pounds over winter. I’m willing to bet that would negatively influence your self-image.

Contrastingly, imagine now that you stuck to a regular gym routine and got into the best physical shape of your life! This is a good example of our self-image likely changing in a positive direction as a result of our commitment.

However, it’s not just the things we do to ourselves that influence our self-image. It can also be influenced by our interactions and relationships with others.

For example, if you regularly interact with people who are supportive and encouraging towards you, then you’re much more likely to develop a positive self-image than if you’re regularly interacting with people who are negative and unsupportive. These relationships can reinforce the things that we see when we look in the mirror, regardless of whether the view we have of ourselves is completely distorted or not.

How to Create a Positive Self-Image

So now we know that our self-image isn’t fixed, and is influenced by many different aspects of our life, let’s talk about how we can work towards creating a positive self-image.

As with many of the changes we try to make in our lives, there isn’t a quick fix that will work for everyone and help them improve their self-image.

The first step is always about learning to accept and love ourselves.

You might start by making a list of your positive qualities and posting that somewhere you can regularly view it and be reminded of them. From here, you may identify things that you want to improve, making reasonable and actionable goals, and then working towards achieving them. As you develop these strengths, provide yourself with a lot of positive affirmations. Focus on the good things. Throughout this process, you want to refrain from comparing yourself to others.[2]

Remember, learning to love yourself is a long process. You are a unique individual with unique strengths and weaknesses. You’ve come a long way from where you’ve started. Appreciate that and use it to motivate you to go even further!

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Once you’re on this path, you may feel as though you want to invest more into improving your self-image. If you’re at this point, there are exercises that you can engage in to boost your self-image:

1. Make a List of the Things You Like About Yourself

This is a simple but effective exercise that you can engage in. You may find it difficult at first but as you get into the flow of things, it will get easier and easier.

This list of things you like about yourself can include some of your favorite qualities. Maybe you think you’re smart or attractive or funny!

It can extend beyond your qualities as well. Maybe you want to include some of your favorite personal skills. Some examples might include things like being athletic or artistic.

Making this list of positive traits and skills will help you focus more on the positive aspects of your self-image. Learning to focus on and appreciate these things more will help you to improve your self-image.

2. Make a list of the Life Moments You’re Proudest Of

This is another great exercise for you to engage in to help you focus more on the things you’ve been able to achieve in your life.

Sometimes, we forget how amazing we are as individuals. This list will help you to remember those things.

This list can include things that are as large as winning big competitions, getting recognized for a major contribution, or achieving some high-level accomplishment that you’ve been working towards for a long time. They can also be smaller things like learning to be more sociable or completing a task.

You also might want to consider how you’ve confronted challenges and barriers in your life and how your skills have allowed you to overcome those things.

Note how you worked towards the goal against this adversity and then were rewarded for the fruits of your labor. Just make sure that these achievements and proud life moments remind you what YOU have to offer this world, and what you are capable of doing when you set your mind to it!

3. Make a Life-Appreciation Bank

This is the last exercise that I have to share with you. And it’s a good one.

You see a lot of similar exercises out there now in things such as gratitude journals which have you reflect on a few things each day that you’re grateful for.

Basically, in this exercise, you’re going to create a list again. But this list will be a lot bigger than the last two. So make sure you have a bit of time to complete this exercise.

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Your goal here is to create a comprehensive and exhaustive list of all of the things you’re thankful for in your life right now.

Everyone will generate a unique list because everyone has a different life and different things that they’re thankful for.

Once you’re done the list, cut up each item and place them in a container of some sort.

Now, whenever you feel as though you need a little self-image boost, you will go grab and read one of these things from your life-appreciation bank.

You can choose how the rules work. Maybe after you read an item from the bank, you remove it or, maybe you’d prefer to throw it back in the mix. Maybe you want to read one or two things a day. Or, maybe you’d rather simply reach over and grab one as needed.

The rules are flexible and it’s up to you to create them. It’s your bank after all!

All that matters is that you end up with a pool of gratitude-bites that can help give you a little self-image boost as you desire.

Final Thoughts

This has been a fairly long talk on self-image so I’m going to wrap things up.

If you only take one main message away from this article, this is what I want it to be:

Your self-image is not permanent. It is a dynamic concept that will vary as you grow, evolve, and as the way you view yourself changes.

So don’t allow yourself to get stuck living with a negative self-image. You now have the tools to change your self-image for the better!

You owe that to yourself!

Featured photo credit: Jakub Gorajek via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Positive Psychology: What is Self-image and How Do We Improve It?
[2] Cleveland Clinic: Fostering a Positive Self-Image

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Mark Lynch

Featured Life-Balance, & Personal Development Author

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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