Throughout our lives we continually develop and construct an image of ourselves based on our interaction with the world around us and by reflecting on our experiences and how we feel. As we get older, the image that we have of ourselves becomes clearer and more consistent. We develop a better idea of who we are in the world and how we feel about ourselves. This becomes our stable and consistent core, the way we see ourselves. And this image of ourselves has an impact on how we react and present ourselves in different situations.
Of course, in different environments we might show different aspects of ourselves. We might have slightly different images of ourselves in the classroom versus with our friends versus with our families. But our core self-image usually stays stable and consistent and balanced. Being able to rely on this stability is what allows us to make good and appropriate decisions in any environment and stay true to ourselves.
When you stop to think about it, this self-image is actually made up of many small ideas or images we carry about ourselves.
If you had to describe yourself in 10 single words or phrases finishing the statement “I am a(n)______ person”, what would you say? It could include ideas like “I am a: happy; serious; courageous; quiet; chubby; self-confident; timid; studious; friendly; honest; athletic; popular….person”.
These adjectives that you connect with yourself make up your self-image. Of course we don’t often stop to think these things through so carefully. Most of this self-image just develops over time automatically without you thinking much about it.
Why does it matter?
There are two kinds of problems that can come up with self-image.
Have you ever known anyone who seemed really different each time you saw them? Maybe one time they were really quiet and serious and then another they seemed silly and childish and the next time bossy and demanding. It is very likely that if you’ve had to spend any significant amount of time with a person like this, you found yourself feeling confused and irritated. It turns out that in order to relate to other people, we need to have a kind of steady idea of who they are, how they react to things, and how we will react to their reactions. People having relatively stable self-images is pretty important in having and maintaining good relationships with others.
It is also worth noticing that people whose self-image and behavior vary drastically may be dealing with an emotional problem and this is something that might indicate a need for professional care.
Have you ever watched a talent show like “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent”? Typically in the first few episodes there are quite a few people who seem to be convinced they are incredible singers or performers of some kind who are obviously awful. These moments can be both funny (because some of these people seem to be just having fun getting onto TV) and sad (because some of these people seem to be totally “clueless” and kind of helpless). What do we mean by “clueless” here? Here is the second type of self-image problem. Some people have a really big gap between their self-image and their actual self. Singing in a talent show is just a small, specific example.
You can probably imagine, if someone is completely out of touch (“clueless”) about themselves, this can lead to all sorts of problems for them – they will make lots of bad decisions and have all kinds of trouble with other people.
Get to know yourself
So, as you continue to grow and mature, take some time to get to know who you are. Think about the ways (see if you can come up 10 items) you would complete the statement: “I am a ______person”.
And then maybe think about how others might complete that sentence for you or ask some family and friends how they might complete that sentence about you. How well do all these sets match up with each other?
As a kid we might imagine we are a super-hero or a famous actor. This is fine. As we grow up we need to imagine ourselves in lots of different ways. But as we mature we need to connect our imagination more and more with reality so we can develop a consistent image of ourselves. Without this, we can never really successfully connect with other people.