Our self-image is all about how we see ourselves. It gives us a sense of our personality and helps gives us clarity and understanding about our life.
Our self-image is also about how we perceive ourselves in terms of our life. Self-image also determines what kind of person we think we are and what we believe others think about us.
It really boils down to how much we believe in ourselves and in our self-worth. If you hesitate to do things because of what others might think or have thoughts about yourself that you continually want to change, you may have issues when it comes to a healthy self-image.
In this article, we will review what self-image theory is, some examples of it, and ideas to improve your self-image.
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This Article Contains:
- What Is Self-Image Theory?
- Using Self-Image Therapy
- 12 Examples of Self-Image
- 4 Questions on Self-Image We Should Be Asking
- A Look at Self-Image in Kids
- 9 Ideas to Improve Self-Image
- 3 Exercises and Activities to Enhance Self-Image
- 3 Useful Worksheets
- 3 Assessments, Tests, and Questionnaires
- A Take-Home Message
What Is Self-Image Theory?
Self-image is the “total subjective perception of oneself, including an image of one’s body and impressions of one’s personality, capabilities, and so on” (Bailey, 2003).
Other psychologists have asserted that our self-image is our mental picture and has to do with our appearance and the integration of our experiences, desires, and feelings.
Which one is correct, you might ask?
When we have a mental picture of our measurable qualities, we see:
- The unchanging attributes that are present since birth, such as the shape of our eyes
- Any genetic attributes present at birth that might change, such as body proportions
- Any chosen acquired material things we may gather, such as money, possessions, or enhancements that help us define our self-image or public persona (Bailey, 2003)
Self-concept, on the other hand, has been defined as our self-identity, which consists of a schema or organized collection of feelings and beliefs about ourselves (Bailey, 2003).
The issue of self-identity is very complex and multidimensional. It has several components that work together to define who we are and how we identify ourselves.
Similar in concept is self theory, which is comprised of four factors (Business Jargons, n.d.):
- Ideal self
- Real self
- Looking-glass self
Self theory emphasizes a set of perceptions we might have for ourselves and the perceptions and relationships we have with others. Carl Rogers, an American psychologist, contributed significantly toward self theory.
Our self-image refers to what we think about ourselves. This includes our beliefs, such as about who we are, and how these beliefs form our identity.
The ideal self refers to the way we would like to be seen. This image might be very different from our self-image. The ideal self persona acts as a sort of stimulus that can motivate us to engage in activities that can bring us closer to our ideal self.
The real self is basically what others show you concerning your self-image. When others respond to us and share our beliefs about our perception, we take that feedback and adjust our self-image accordingly.
The looking-glass self is about our perception of others’ perception. In other words, tuning into how other people see us and perceive us and comparing that to how we see ourselves.
Using Self-Image Therapy
Having healthy self-esteem is something we learn over time. It’s something we should always be working on. If we receive positive reinforcements in our developing years, we may be more likely to have a healthy self-image in our adult years.
What happens if we don’t receive positive reinforcements during those tender years growing up? If we don’t feel good about ourselves, everything in our life can be affected.
Therapy can help us change the way we feel about ourselves. Working with a caring and supportive therapist can help someone gain a more realistic sense of self and help encourage them to take steps to feel better.
One therapy that is excellent for this is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can help improve low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (Fennell, 2005). This type of therapy is often called “person-centered” therapy or “person-centric,” which basically means that you work from the inside out.
While working with a therapist, you can recognize the things that trigger low self-esteem, like looking at yourself in the mirror in a bathing suit. You can begin to see that your opinions are often self-imposed.
Working with a therapist can also help you learn to reevaluate situations and opinions, as you work to reframe and change negative thoughts.
In addition to seeking therapy, there are other things you can do to help boost your self-image, including:
- Monitoring your self-talk
- Learning mindfulness meditation
- Taking a class to be more assertive
- Taking risks to develop your self-awareness skills and improve performance
- Making a gratitude list of things you are grateful for
12 Examples of Self-Image
There are many examples of a positive self-image.
- You act assertively without guilt.
- You don’t dwell on the past.
- You see everyone as your equal.
- You don’t allow yourself to be manipulated.
- You recognize both positive and negative feelings and share them with others.
- You find yourself doing different things to achieve balance.
- You seek out people who are positive like yourself.
- You accept challenges as opportunities to grow.
- You can handle constructive criticism.
- You are proactive and communicate clearly.
- You value yourself.
- You value other people.
These may seem like little things, but they are actually big things. Doing something small, like acting assertively without being pushy or feeling guilty, is a sure sign of a positive self-image.
Living in the present moment is also powerful. Those who often feel bad about themselves spend a lot of time dwelling on past mistakes. If you can let the past go and move forward, you will feel much better about who you are.
Seeing everyone as your equal is another good sign you have a healthy self-image. People who feel bad about themselves often see other people as better than them. Knowing and recognizing that each of us is the same is a sure sign of a healthy person.
Those with a healthy self-image have learned to honor and recognize both positive and negative feelings without getting caught up in them.
Sharing your feelings with someone else can also help you feel better about what you are going through.
Working to build positive relationships and steering away from people who bring you down can also go a long way to boosting your self-image.
Other things that can be helpful include learning how to take criticism well, accepting challenges as a part of life, and learning how to value yourself.
All of these small things can go a long way to keeping your self-esteem and self-image positive.
4 Questions on Self-Image We Should Be Asking
Our self-image is an internalized mental picture we carry around. It defines how we think and feel about ourselves based on our appearance, performance, and relationships. All of these factors play a crucial role when it comes to our happiness and fulfillment in life.
What are some questions we should ask ourselves when examining our self-image?
According to the Cleveland Clinic (n.d.), our self-image is dynamic and always changing. It tends to be a process that occurs over a lifetime.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to gauge your self-image:
1. What do you like about yourself?
You might be surprised by how good it feels to sit down and reflect on what you like about yourself. Make a handwritten list, and don’t limit yourself to typical things like a nice smile. Try listing things like ‘strong legs’ or appreciating your ability to make time for others. Making this a daily or weekly habit can go a long way toward boosting your self-image.
2. Would you say that to your best friend?
The words you say to yourself every day can have a big impact. If you wouldn’t say something to your best friend, you shouldn’t say it to yourself. Try positive affirmations to move away from this destructive habit.
3. Do you show yourself that you are worthy?
If you don’t treat yourself to beautiful things every once in a while, you are missing out. Allowing yourself to buy something small or even taking a class you’ve wanted to take can make you feel genuinely worthy. In a family situation, you may often feel the need to prioritize the needs of other family members, but you need to look after yourself as well. Spoil yourself every once in a while.
4. Do you have healthy boundaries (Matson, 2016)?
Setting healthy boundaries is something we all need to do. Those who over-commit themselves and/or have difficulty saying no may get pushed around.
If you always apologize to people, you may fall into this category as well. It’s amazing how something simple like setting healthy boundaries can help improve your life and how you feel about yourself.
A Look at Self-Image in Kids
Kids with high self-esteem feel liked, accepted, confident, and proud of who they are and think good things about themselves (Lyness, 2018). They also believe in themselves. These are all signs of a healthy self-image.
Children with low self-esteem are often self-critical and feel like they aren’t as good as other kids. They also tend to focus more on their failings than on things they do well. Those with a poor self-image might also lack self-confidence and doubt that they can do things well.
When kids feel good about themselves, they tend to have more confidence and try more new things. They are also much more likely to feel proud of the things they accomplish and can even deal with mistakes in a healthy way.
Children with poor self-image may feel very unsure of themselves and like they don’t fit in. As a result, others may treat them poorly, and they may have a hard time standing up for themselves.
Self-esteem and self-image can develop as early as a few months old, believe it or not. It tends to develop slowly over time. If a child gets positive feedback and a lot of attention and loving care, they take those same feelings with them as they get older.
Parents can help build self-esteem in children by:
- Helping children learn to do things by showing them
- Praising children when they truly deserve it
- Praising other things besides getting an A or being smart, such as having a good attitude or making progress
- Being a good role model and leading by example
- Avoiding negative criticism
- Focusing on strengths
Have a look at these Self-Esteem Books for informative material to help you increase kids’ self-esteem.
9 Ideas to Improve Self-Image
There are many things you can try to build a positive self-image. Some of these are:
1. Stop self-criticism.
We all criticize ourselves every once in a while, but if you find yourself being overly critical, stopping self-criticism is a good first step. Nothing good ever came from someone continually criticizing themselves.
2. Smile when you look at yourself in the mirror.
Doing something as simple as smiling when you look in the mirror can help you feel better about yourself. Smiling at your reflection can help you feel more confident and help you work harder toward your goals.
3. Try listing 5–10 things that you love about yourself before going to sleep.
When was the last time you stopped and listed 5 or 10 things you liked about yourself? Making a list and writing things down will help you take an inventory of all your best qualities.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be refreshed and rejuvenated. This can also cause you to be overly critical and irritable. Getting a good night’s sleep can do a lot for your self-image because you feel better.
5. Wear clothing that flatters your particular body style.
Unflattering clothes may make you feel unworthy. No matter your body shape, some outfits will suit you and enhance your best features. Invest the time and effort in finding the right clothing for your body style.
Even if you have to wear a coverall or uniform to work, wearing quality underwear can boost your self-image and self-confidence.
6. Put your best foot forward.
Putting your best foot forward is another good tip. It might mean spending time on your skincare, getting your hair styled, or treating yourself to something nice like a manicure. Do this every day, and your self-image will get a healthy boost.
7. Do things that interest you.
When you do things that interest you, you feel more fulfilled. For example, going on a short road trip with a friend or visiting a museum can help you feel happier and more confident. If you are stuck in a job that is monotonous and uninspiring, find a healthy balance by taking up art classes after hours or practicing another hobby that interests you.
8. Be authentic, and be yourself.
It’s also important to be yourself. If you try to fake it to be liked, people will notice. Be the best version of yourself you can be, and people will see your authenticity.
9. Let loose and have fun (Shethna, 2019)!
Sometimes we need to let loose and have some fun. It’s hard to feel bad about yourself when you are laughing and having a good time with friends.
These things may seem simple, but you might be surprised at how good they will make you feel.
3 Exercises and Activities to Enhance Self-Image
The PositivePsychology.com Toolkit has some excellent exercises to help enhance self-image.
1. Nonjudgmental Reflection
The goal of this tool is to help you reframe self-critical and judgmental thoughts into thoughts that are healthier, more realistic, and helpful.
When we are self-judgmental, we tend to form an opinion about ourselves that is not helpful. Utilizing this tool helps you become more aware of this type of harmful thinking so you can develop the capacity to provide yourself with unconditional positive regard.
2. Understanding the Inner Critic
The goal of this exercise is to help you become more aware of your inner critic. Examining self-critical thoughts and the way you talk to yourself can help you understand where these thoughts are coming from so you can learn to move away from them.
3. Training Self-Compassionate Thoughts and Behaviors
The goal of this intervention is to increase your daily awareness of self-critical thoughts and promote compassionate thoughts. The more you become aware of self-critical thoughts, the better able you will be to change them.
3 Useful Worksheets
1. Reframing Critical Self-Talk
This is a wonderful exercise for reframing hurtful thoughts. Most of us are very hard on ourselves. We don’t often stop to think about how much this hurts our self-image. This exercise can help you recognize those times when you are unkind so that you can soften your critical voice.
2. Writing About Intensely Positive Experiences
Research shows us that merely writing about positive experiences can help enhance our mood. This tool involves writing about positive experiences for three days in a row. As you focus on wonderful positive, happy experiences, may start to feel better. These mood tracker charts and ideas can also benefit you over a longer period.
3. Strength Exploration Meditation
This strength meditation involves choosing and focusing on a specific strength that you are interested in or want to work on. This exercise can be used to enhance strengths or envision yourself actively working on them.
3 Assessments, Tests, and Questionnaires
1. Acceptance and Action Questionnaire
This assessment is wonderful for measuring psychological flexibility, experiential avoidance acceptance, and actions. This tool is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Examining your feelings and assessing how in control you feel can help you find ways to enhance your self-image.
2. The Flourishing Scale
This assessment measures self-perceived success in critical areas of life, such as self-esteem, relationships, optimism, and purpose. Taking an inventory of those critical areas in life where you are flourishing can help you feel better about yourself, which can help boost your self-image.
3. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a 10-item scale that measures self-worth, both positive and negative, in terms of feelings about the self. All items are answered using a four-point Likert scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
The test is useful for measuring how satisfied you feel about yourself as well as how inclined you are to see yourself as a success or failure.
A Take-Home Message
The idea of self-image is vitally important. It impacts every area of life. Our self-image is something that develops throughout our entire life.
If you feel good about yourself, you will continue to build that positive self-image. If you don’t feel good about yourself and don’t take steps to counteract those feelings, your self-image will continue to deteriorate.
Nurturing your self-image is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself daily to help you live a happy and fulfilling life.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Self Compassion Exercises for free.
If you wish to learn more, our Science of Self Acceptance Masterclass© is an innovative, comprehensive training template for practitioners that contains all the materials you’ll need to help your clients accept themselves, treat themselves with more compassion, and see themselves as worthy individuals.
- Bailey, J. A. (2003). Self-image, self-concept, and self-identity revisited. Journal of the National Medical Association, 95(5), 383–386.
- Business Jargons. (n.d.). Self theory. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from https://businessjargons.com/self-theory.html
- Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Fostering a positive self-image. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/12942-fostering-a-positive-self-image
- Fennell, M. J. V. (2005) Low self-esteem. In A. Freeman, S. H. Felgoise, C. M. Nezu, A. M. Nezu, & M. A. Reinecke (Eds.), Encyclopedia of cognitive behavior Therapy (pp. 236–240). Springer.
- Lyness, D. A. (Ed.). (2018, July). Your child’s self-esteem (for parents). Nemours KidsHealth. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/self-esteem.html
- Matson, A. (2016, July 6). 4 Questions to ask yourself to improve self esteem. Annabelle Matson. Retrieved from https://annabellematson.com/cultivating-self-esteem/
- Shethna, J. (2019, August 30). 9 Wonderful steps to build a strong positive self image. Educba. Retrieved July 30, 2021, from https://www.educba.com/strong-positive-self-image/