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 Do I Mean by 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.

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.((Positive Psychology: What is Self-image and How Do We Improve It?))

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.

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.((Cleveland Clinic: Fostering a Positive Self-Image))

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!

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.

Excises to Help You Improve Your Self-Image

Use these exercises 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.

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!

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