Self-image: take this one critical step toward self-love
So many times I considered myself a “bad mother” because I raised my voice, and then was consumed with the thought for days on end. Last Spring, I convinced myself I was a “terrible gardener” because practically all of my seedlings were eaten away by snails and slugs. I hear others express similar self-loathing stories, such as not being a solid, loving partner due to little (in-)actions that occur in a day, a week. A big one is being made “redundant” at work only to be left feeling completely lost, rejected, purposeless (which might happen if your work comprises a huge part of your identity).
The impact of self-image
Our self-image plays a tremendous role in our everyday lives, affecting:
- how we see and think about ourselves
- how we feel at various moments (including self-love or -hate)
- what we do (or don’t do).
Some of course feel this effect more than others, especially those who recognize that their self-image is lower than they’d like and recognize how it negatively affects their state of mind and abilities. How does our self-image deteriorate in the first place?
Two sides of Identity
The bigger picture here has to do with identity, which involves two aspects: how we see ourselves (self image) AND how we think others see us, which is highly related to our ROLES. To give an idea of just how many different roles we take on, here’s an incomplete list of mine:
- NVC-based coach & trainer
- caretaker of my body
- caretaker of my home
- Southern American
- choir member
- elementary school volunteer
Roles inevitably involve labels, or boxed-in categories, each coming with a set of various expectations, stories and performance levels. We subconsciously “rate” ourselves all the time based on just how well or poorly we think we performed in our various roles throughout a given day. Sound familiar?
Here’s the interesting thing . . . if we relate our role performances directly to how we see/think/feel about ourselves, then we get into trouble. So how about stopping that habit, right now. Especially if you tend to rate your role performances low, it’s likely to be getting in your way of feeling positive about yourself, experiencing acceptance, living a content life, and achieving your goals. Separating role performance from self-image is a major key to happiness, I’ve found.
Stop equating self-image to role performance
For example, if out of frustration, I raise my voice to my son one day and as a result, rate my performance as mother as particularly low, then I’ll likely go to bed that evening thinking poorly about my entire being. I wake up in a bad mood. I’m more likely to get frustrated again and raise my voice. And the cycle of “bad mom performance / bad me” starts all over again. There is a way out of this . . .
Do not equate identity or self-image to any single role performance! Keep them completely separate so that you can keep yourself in perspective and out of the doldrums.
We can try and fail at any number of our roles, and I hope we DO, because most humans long to grow and develop – which we only do my making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again. Just like having to fall many times in order to learn to ride a bike.
Try the following exercise to help you separate your inner, whole self with any of your role performances.
An exercise for improving self-image
1. Imagine you’re on a small island by yourself, swinging in a hammock under a palm tree. The conditions are perfect, no one is asking or expecting anything of you, you have NO roles. Take a few moments to really visualize this – how does it feel? What do you think of yourself? On a scale of 1-10, if you had to rate your “me, myself, and I,” what would it be?
(I hope it was a 10. Why on earth not? There’s no performances to evaluate or judge – just the whole human you are, period.)
2. Now imagine that every day, you gave your “me, myself, and I” a 10, and that no matter if you were to rate several of your role performances far lower, you know you’re still a 10 inside. You’ve learned to separate these two aspects of identity, and your self-image is stronger than ever.
Start right now, and please let me know what happens . . .
(Acknowledgment goes to David Sandler, who describes this exercise in his book, "You Can't Teach a Kid To Ride a Bike at a Seminar," 1995).