Humans are social animals: we are dependent of others and like to do things together. How we behave and what we say can also be influenced by the people in our direct environment. Sometimes, it even looks like others even determine who you are, how much you are worth as a person and which qualities you possess. Nowadays, we are so caught up with what others think of us, or actually what we think others think of us, that we sometimes forget who we actually are!

Three times yourself

Edward Tory Higgins is the inventor of the self discrepancy theory. This theory states that individuals compare themselves to self created standards as well as to how others might see us. Higgins states that an individual has three ‘selves’:

  • The actual self: this is how you look at yourself.
  • The ideal self: this is who we would like to be.
  • The ought self: this is how you want to be seen by others.

Ideally, it would be nice when the actual self is exactly the same as the ideal & the ought self. Then the image of ourselves matches with who we would like to be and how we want to be perceived by others. If the actual & the ideal self differ a lot, this can lead to feelings of disappointment and sadness. Research states that clinical depressed patients have the biggest difference between the two selves. When the actual & the ought self differ a lot, this can lead to feelings of agitation, guilt, stress and even anxiety. Research states that people with social anxiety have the biggest difference between these two.

Tips for a better self image

Our dependency on others can lead to the underestimation of our actual self or to having too high expectations of our ideal & ought self. So it’s good to become aware of who we actually are and what we (can) expect of ourselves. And you can do it like this:

  • Describe yourself in 3 sentences and write down your strengths, qualities and characteristics. Also write down how your mother or your best friend would describe you. Is there a difference between the two descriptions? If so, why is that?
  • Keep a positive diary daily. Often, we forget all the positive things we do during the day and we tend to remember the negative. The way we look at ourselves should be determined by both!
  • Do you notice you experience anxiety in situations in which you value the opinion of others a lot? You can examine if the image you hold about yourself or the way you think others look at you is actually in line with reality. Is it true you’re not nice, not good enough, not a good parent or not a good friend? Or is it the anxiety that makes you think like this? Try looking at the situation from a different perspective! What would you say to a friend when he/she has similar beliefs about himself/herself? 
  • Think about your own standards and expectations. Are they realistic and achievable? Would you want others to be like this? Aren’t you using words like ‘always’ or ‘never’? Aren’t you describing everything using “I have to…”? Or are you actually pretty tough on yourself? Write everything down and think for yourself if you might have to adjust your expectations a little bit.


Do you notice you’re not feeling well and you can be a bit negative about yourself? Or do you want to improve your awareness of who you really are? Write down these exercises in the NiceDay app in a diary registration!


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Wouter Schippers

Hey, I am Wouter. I'm a NiceDay coach and psychologist. I like to play football and to make electronic music.

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