I regularly hear people say: ‘I have a realistic self-image, not a negative one. I am just not that good at a lot of things’. The word self-image already says it; it is the image you have of yourself. It is shaped by the many experiences and memories you have, that give you an idea of who you are.
Positive vs negative
A negative self-image is often so programmed in your thoughts that you normalise it; you don’t consciously think about it. When something goes wrong for example, you don’t think about the circumstances in which it happened, but you think of yourself. ‘Sure, I can never succeed at anything’. Do you have a positive self-image? Then you’re lucky! For you it is the other way around; if something doesn’t work out, you are more likely to blame this on the circumstances instead of yourself. But why does that happen?
Research shows that us humans are naturally inclined to pay more attention to information that confirms our existing beliefs, and to ignore the evidence that goes against it. This is called selective perception. In addition, there is also such a thing as selective memory. This ensures that memories that confirm our beliefs are always easier to bring up than memories that go against our beliefs. This makes it more difficult to think differently about ourselves. Does this mean that our self-image is unchangeable? No, definitely not! You can always improve your self-image, independently or with your NiceDay coach.
Sometimes people are scared to become arrogant when they let go of their negative self-image. Remember that there is a space between insecurity and arrogance! Maybe you know someone that you think has a positive self-image, but isn’t arrogant at all. Working on your self-image is an investment in yourself that costs you time and energy. Why would you take the effort?
The burdens of a negative self-image
Working on your self-image is valuable, because a negative self-image has its disadvantages. When you suffer from a negative self-image, you often have difficulties with doing the following:
- Trying new things. When you have a negative self-image you are often afraid of failure. You probably don’t believe in yourself before you’ve even started. By not trying any new things, you don’t get the confirmation that shows you projects do succeed or that you are good in certain things.
- Receiving criticism. People with a negative self-image are often afraid of criticism because they immediately accept it as true. They behave flawlessly to prevent them from possibly being confronted with any criticism. Acting perfectly all the time is extremely tiring and can result in exhaustion, but also takes the fun out of the activity!
- Receiving a compliment without immediately ‘putting it down’ by, for example, making up excuses, such as: ‘Well everyone would do this, that’s normal’, ‘It really doesn’t mean anything’, ‘Others would have done better’, and so on. The person who gave the compliment won’t feel taken seriously as a result and is therefore less likely to give a compliment again.
- Struggling with social situations because you don’t find yourself worth talking to or because you think you don’t have anything interesting to say. By avoiding these situations, you deprive yourself of the chance to get better at them and learn that social “clumsiness” is not so bad! And you might even find out that you are not as boring as you think …
- Maintaining a positive mood is more difficult if you have a negative self-image. You are more pessimistic and often feel gloomy, unhappy or tired.
- Achieve fewer results. By avoiding certain situations you will achieve less and will therefore be less satisfied. This applies to bigger things, such as speaking up during a meeting at work, but also to small things, such as nice contact with your neighbors or meeting new people.
Improving your negative self-image
There is no need to live with a negative self-image; you can do something about it. If you have a negative self-image and therefore mainly focus on what is not going well, you can train yourself to focus more on the positive. Even though this may feel uncomfortable and uncomfortable at first, it will automatically become your new normal. As a psychologist I have seen several people recover after a self-image training. Afterwards they thought themselves more worthwhile and dared more. They were also more satisfied with their relationships and their lives. I would therefore like to invite everyone to take action if you have a negative self-image, even if you are afraid that it will fail! Your NiceDay coach can help you with this.
What can I do today to improve my self-image?
- Make a list of positive traits and keep it.
- Collect compliments, in a notebook for example.
- Stop denouncing compliments you receive and practice saying “thank you” instead of ‘Yes but…’.
- Find a song that gives you strength and listen to it.
- Keep a positive diary for yourself.
- Use mindfulness and relaxation exercises to distract yourself from negative feelings and connect with an empathetic side of yourself.
- Would you like to read more about how you prefer to be for yourself? Then read this article on misconceptions about self-compassion.
Are you struggling with a negative self-image and notice that this has an impact on your daily life? Then it can be nice to talk to someone about this. You can find more information about online help via NiceDay here.