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Self Esteem & Self Image

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Self image is the internalised view that we have of ourselves.

In a healthy person, this view would value ourselves and other people equally.  It would also include a realistic understanding of our strengths and weaknesses.

Unfortunately a great many of us fall on one side of the line or the other.  By this I mean that we either suffer from low self esteem or an over inflated self image.  Both are disturbances in the human psyche and an indicator to poor psychological health and well being.  At first glance you may see these two states of mind as being polar opposites but in fact they are two sides of the same coin, both being an inaccurate view of our self worth and a sign of early childhood injury.  So what are the causes and how do we deal with it?

The view that we have of ourselves is formed very early in life, by age five or six, these matters will be already determined.

The widely held view by psychotherapists and counsellors is that these conditions are caused by relationships between child or infant and parents that are not nurturing.

In the case of the person with low self esteem their view of themselves simply mirrors the way that their needs were attended to. If you love me unconditionally and attend to my needs then I am loveable and worthwhile.  If you don’t then it is a direct reflection of my self worth. Generally the person with poor self esteem has a negative, angry and critical voice in their head thus verifying the parent’s actions. People suffering from this condition have difficulty getting on with their lives as a degree of self confidence is required to achieve our goals.
Ironically the person with over inflated self image has a potent defence against feeling the emptiness and worthlessness that is associated with all forms of parental neglect.

That defence is arrogance or egotism. Something that in western society is often mistaken for self confidence. This too can create problems as people with inflated egos are regularly confronted by disappointment, anger and depression when the world does not validate the idealised image of the self.  So how can we tell the difference between healthy self confidence and arrogance? The key is in the outcomes.

As the Dalai Lama states “we must look at the consequences of ones attitude. Conceit and arrogance generally lead to negative outcomes where as healthy self confidence leads to more positive consequences”.

It is important at this point to establish what is meant by positive and negative outcomes.

“A negative outcome is when the person’s actions are purely self interested without regard or care for others. Whereas a positive outcome, would be one that would contain a genuine concern for the other person’s well being.” Both of these two character types are likely to make their way into therapy at some time or other.

With gentle insightful and supportive care, therapists can help people to restructure and repair negative self image. This in turn leads to healthy self confidence.