A person’s self-image is the mental picture about that individual resulting from either personal experiences or by internalizing the judgments of others. The response to the question, “What do I believe people think about me?” is what self-image means. Self-image may result from self-perception, how others view the me, or how the individual perceives others see them.
A more technical term for self-image that is commonly used by social and cognitive psychologists is self-schema. Like any schema, self-schemas store information and influence the way we think and remember. Self-schemas are also considered the traits, preferential traits, people use to define themselves. Thus self-image is quite resistant to change; individuals gather information about themselves that is coherent with the self-image.
Let’s think about this from another viewpoint. We are born into this world with its set of beliefs, customs, laws, rules and regulations. On top of this, our own family imposes upon us their religious beliefs, political beliefs, values and acceptable norms and rules. This continues outside of the family amongst our friends, and even at school. Thus we have not choice in this matter and as we grow up, develop awareness and start having our own beliefs, we absorb all of the input we have been receiving and shape our lives to fit in with the society, family, school, and the workplace. Our personality is shaped by external forces thrust upon us and thus we lose our innate identity. Now, everything we do is a result of this conditioning and to gain acceptance into the society we must follow the rules and regulations imposed upon us. Our whole life revolves around trying to gain acceptance and recognition, become part of the social circle, family and society. We learn to change our behavior and beliefs to be accepted by others. If we want to be part of a group or employed in a certain organization, we change our behavior and assume new persona to fit in, which is practiced over time to become ingrained in us. After a while, we get comfortable in our new “garment” and start believing that this is our true nature, personality or image. This is how we develop self-image without even knowing we are doing this as a result of lack of volition.
Poor self-image may be the result of accumulated criticisms, cultural values, or personality types. Children are especially vulnerable to criticisms; adolescents to cultural influences, and influence due to personality types is present everywhere. Preservation of a positive self-image results in bias, stereotyping, prejudice, and social disorders. Self-image is also the root cause of drama triangle. Victim role is the self-image resulting from experience of abuse and manipulation. The hero self-image seeks validation, approval, and boost to the ego.
Self-image is a choice. We can get rid of the image just as easily as we accept and wear it. Now if we took the label ourselves, is it not possible to just as easily throw it away? These images that people adopt become their nature and as a result of this we hear people saying things such as, “I get angry very easily because it is my nature. I can’t help it.” Or “I get stressed easily. It’s just my nature.”
There is a misunderstanding about “nature” and “habits”. Habits when repeated often over a period of time become etched in our neural circuitry and are misinterpreted as nature. Recent research on brain physiology has provided ample evidence towards plasticity of the brain. Just as easily as we adopt habits and behavioral patterns, we can develop new habits and behavioral patterns to replace old ones that don’t serve us anymore.
We respond to the external stimulus, such as comments, criticisms, and judgments from others and adopt labels to gain acceptance or approval and experience the resulting boost to self-esteem. In doing so we forget our true identity and become what we believe will bring us acceptance and approval. Basically we have been lying to ourselves (asatya – violation of the yama satya). Our true nature is something different from what we are showcasing to others as our true nature. This is self-deception. This is a disconnection.
When we say things like “I get angry very easily because it is my nature. I can’t help it.” Or “I get stressed easily…just my nature, ” this just means we do not want to take full responsibility. This makes it easy to blame somebody or something else external to us. What we believe is our true nature is a result of our circumstances, our response to the circumstances, habitual patterns, and belief systems. Habitual patterns when repeated often become embedded in our consciousness and appear as our nature. We made our habits our nature. Since we developed these habits ourselves, it is possible to change these into something else that better serve us. So habits are not something that will stay with us, rather habits with introspection (svadhyaya), discipline (tapas) and practice can be replaced with something else that will serve us.
Replacing our habits by something else that we desire and will serve us better, means we must undergo a process of change. The first step towards this is to lose the inertia and create action to bring about the change that is expected. In yogic terms, tamas must be transformed into rajas – apathy and insensitiveness into energetic, enthusiastic activity. The energy of this action should be harnessed and channeled properly or the energy of rajas is self-centered and dispersed; it must be harnessed to a higher ideal by will. The third step is to focus completely on the action or steps that are required to bring about change and complete the process of change to the desired state or outcome. Again, in yogic terms, when all this passionate energy is channeled into selfless action, the final state is marked by the happiness, calmness of mind, abundant vitality, and the concentration of genius, and represents the qualities of sattva.
About Kammitment: Led by scientist and life-coach Kamalesh (Kam) Rao, Kammitment helps we realize and make a commitment towards self-actualization, through tailored leadership coaching, workshops and programs for students and professionals in all stages of their lives, by drawing upon the time-tested principles of Yoga and Mindfulness. Kam has spent 20 years as a scientist and a manufacturing professional in the pharmaceuticals industry, and continues to consult with the industry. In his free time he leads executive coaching programs for Fortune 100 clients. A certified Yoga instructor, Kam lives in Oakland, CA and is an Improv actor who also enjoys Salsa dancing when he is not practicing Yoga or hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For further information, please email [email protected]