In this issue ~~
As you move forward in your life, you go through numerous inner and outer changes. And with these changes, from working the "muscles" you use to cope with them, comes inner growth. Who you are changes. But sometimes, your image of who you are lags behind. It becomes important, from time to time, to take a look at your self-image and to update it, so it doesn't keep you stuck or drag you back into the past.
Let me make a distinction here between "self-image" and "personna." A personna is a mask we create in order to interact safely with the world, to protect our delicate psyche and appear socially appropriate in whatever circles we travel. A personna is layered on from the outside. Think of all the articles and books you see on how to project the right image for success, how to attract a mate, how to win friends and influence people.
Self-image, on the other hand, comes from within. It's how you see yourself, which, in turn, projects out to the world. It is more authentic than a personna, and it's something that you can work with and cultivate as part of your developing self.
We respond to our world – the opportunities that show up, the people we interact with – based on how we see ourselves. When you have an old, outmoded image of yourself, you behave and make choices based on who you were in the past, without including all your new growth, accomplishments and depth. Imagine if I still saw myself as the shy sixth-grader I was, who felt she had nothing of value to say. You wouldn't be reading this now!
We create an identity and image based, often, on the outer circumstances of our lives. We see ourselves as child, parent, spouse, employee or employer, friend, neighbor, teacher and many other roles. We behave the way people expect us to and assimilate that into our image. When we go through a drastic change, we experience an identity crisis. Retirement, for example, can precipitate a crisis if your identity is wrapped around your job.
Another part of our image is childhood labels. In family dynamics, each person takes on a role. You may be the smart one, the outgoing one, the good one, the nice one, the difficult one, the artistic one, the athlete, the charmer. You may also find a role assigned to you at school.
Although there are many other dimensions to you, you tend to take on these roles to fit into the structure and not upset the apple cart. And as a child, you don't have the understanding and power to choose otherwise. Leaving home can be an opportunity to break out of that mold, but it can stay with you mentally and emotionally unless you choose to let it go. How many of us, well into middle age, revert to teenagers when we visit our parents?
Our self-image becomes a synthesis of all these roles and behaviors, until it becomes as invisible to us as the air we breathe. It's just who we are. But we have choices. Each of us has a range of personality traits from which we can choose. If you don't like your assigned ones, you can make different choices that are more authentic for you.
Begin by consciously observing your current self-image and then deciding which traits you want to keep and enhance, and which traits you want to let go of or replace. Notice also how you've grown and how your image may not have caught up. By acknowledging the change, you make it a part of your image.
Turn your focus to what's good about you. It's all too easy to dwell on what we think is wrong with us, and we get a lot of reward for being humble and self-deprecating. Humility is a good thing when it balances a healthy self-image and self-esteem. Learn to accept yourself, warts and all. Work on the parts you don't care for, accept what you can't change and be forgiving of yourself for things you've done in the past. Remind yourself of your strengths and positive traits, and incorporate those into your new self-image.
Monitor your self-talk. We have people in our early lives who spoke to us negatively. Even when they're long gone, we carry on their legacy by continuing that negative talk in our minds. If you catch yourself putting yourself down, stop, forgive yourself and change the thought. We're all trying our best, and demeaning your efforts doesn't make you any better.
You can also deliberately create a new image for yourself based on where and who you want to be. You can dress a certain way, educate yourself about a new interest, learn to speak the lingo, join associations or clubs and meet people who are doing what you want to do, as well as cultivating personal qualities that you would like to enhance. In a sort of "fake-it-till-you-make-it" way, you begin to convince yourself that that's who you are, and you gain more confidence and comfort in your new role. Then, when opportunity comes, you're ready.
As you go through this process, there are a couple of things to look out for.
When you achieve something, you have a wave of excitement, a period where you feel greater than you were, and for a time, you ride the wave. But eventually, it subsides. You "absorb" the new achievement, and you settle back to your normal way of feeling about yourself. For example, if you feel you're never good enough, you may achieve something that disproves that, but once the glow wears off, you once again feel not good enough. Your accomplishment was great, but you'll never live up to it or surpass it.
It's important to take the time to acknowledge the new level of growth and achievement, perhaps by marking it with a ritual of some sort, and consciously making it a part of your new self. How does it change the way you feel about yourself? The way you behave? The new challenges you take on? The way you are with other people? Actively acknowledge your success, give yourself credit for it and then update your self-image to include the new skills, accomplishments and inner changes you've achieved.
You also need to be aware that there are people in your life who won't welcome changes in you; they're comfortable with you just the way you are. When we get into a relationship with someone, a certain dynamic takes place between us, like pieces of a puzzle that fit together. When one of us changes, it shifts the dynamic balance, and the other person might not like it. If they're not willing to adjust, the relationship may experience friction or fall apart.
When I was in my early 20s, I had a friend who, from time to time, pointed out that I didn't know how to handle anger. At the time, he was right, and it made him feel superior. Our friendship drifted apart, and we reconnected several years later. At that point, I had grown, and handling anger was no longer an issue for me. However, my friend continued to point it out as a problem. Our friendship once again ended, because he couldn't get comfortable with the person I had become and kept trying to fit me back into the old mold.
While we can't control how other people see us, we can control
how we see ourselves. When you carry a certain self-image, people
begin to treat you like you *are* that person, which reinforces
it even further. When your self-image is a positive one, it puts
you into an upward spiral, and you can build upon it. As you
acquire new skills and develop yourself, you'll be able to take
on new challenges that were previously out of reach. Just remember
to take your self-image with you on the journey.
To begin updating your image, write a list of your personal qualities, for example: strong, generous, oversensitive, hard worker, socially adept, shy, poor willpower, good friend, etc. Now, review each one. Is it still true for you? How have you changed in that area in the last 10 years? The last 20 years? How would you update that part of your image? What qualities would you like to add or eliminate?
"To gain confidence, we need to have a true picture of who we are and where we belong."
"Most of those who succeed in achieving their goals do it by creating an environment for opportunity. They feel that they are entitled to go after what they want in life... They open themselves to positive change by becoming positive, energized people. They don't limit themselves with a poor self-image or a negative attitude. They get rid of negative baggage that holds them back. They believe in themselves, giving others cause to believe in them."
"You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart. Then people are going to treat you better. You're going to find, yes you will, that you're beautiful as you feel."
(click on the book, tape or CD graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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