Self-Image: How You See Yourself Matters

The way you see yourself changes as you grow up and try new things, meet new people, and learn more about who you are and what you like. You may see yourself as someone who has certain traits, such as being shy or outgoing, academic or athletic, energetic or easy-going. That’s your self-image, and that image has an impact on how you react and present yourself in different situations.

You may show different parts of yourself in different places. You probably feel and behave differently in class than you do when hanging out with friends, and you may be different around your friends than how you are with your family. But your core self-image usually stays the same. It’s how you see yourself no matter where you are or what you’re doing. 

Having a positive core self-image is like having a strong and confident version of yourself you can rely on when you feel stressed or challenged. It can help you make good choices that feel true to who you are and what you want, and remind you that you have the skills and strength to get through difficult things.

Your idea of yourself is also informed by beliefs you may have formed unconsciously over time, often in response to earlier experiences. These may never show up as distinct thoughts, but they have a powerful influence on how you see and feel about yourself.

Here are some ways you can get a better sense of your self-image and lay a foundation for a positive one. 

Describe Yourself

Your self-image is made up of many small ideas you carry about yourself.

To better understand it, try describing yourself in 10 words or phrases. You could consider descriptors such as happy, serious, courageous, quiet, self-confident, studious, friendly, honest, athletic, funny, smart, or caring.

You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how you would describe yourself, so this exercise can be helpful in getting a better sense of who you are. Because you don’t do it often, however, it may be challenging. Take your time with it and don’t be afraid to search for an online list of personality traits. You may even ask a close family member or friend who knows you well to share some positive traits they’d use to describe you.

Speak Kindly to Yourself

Try to pay attention to the things you say to yourself out loud or in your head. Do you say things like, “I’m smart; I can do this,” or things like, “I’m so dumb. This is why no one likes me”? 

The messages you say to yourself impact your self-image. When you say or feel unkind, unhelpful, or harsh things to or about yourself, you will feel less confident and more doubtful. 

On the other hand, when you say or feel loving, compassionate things to or about yourself, you are likely to experience a sense of opening or ease. It may seem like these small feelings or fleeting thoughts do not matter, but they actually make a big difference. 

When you carry negative beliefs about yourself, you’re likely to need help getting to the source of them so you can change them. You can get a head start by knowing what the beliefs are. You can work with negative beliefs by questioning and reframing them. For every negative thought you have about yourself, gently push yourself to balance it by adding something positive. If thinking positive things feels really hard, try to stay neutral. If you’re about to take a test and you’re worried you won’t do well, for example, you may think something like, “I’m going to take the test. It will be over in one hour, and I can move on.”

Observe Your Likes and Dislikes

Part of your self-image is learning about yourself, especially what lights you up or brings you down. Take some time to reflect on what it feels like when you are doing things you like—watching movies or shows, studying your favorite subjects, being with certain people, eating your comfort foods, or doing activities, for example—as well as what kinds of situations leave you feeling burdened, overwhelmed, or negative. Understanding it helps you know what makes you tick, and it makes it easier to make decisions and prioritize things that align with your insights and values. These are all insights you can use to support your own thriving.

Spend Time With People Who Make You Feel Good

The people you spend time with can have a big impact on your self-image. With that in mind, you may opt to spend your time developing friendships with people who encourage you and celebrate your wins.

Being around positive influences can help you feel good about yourself. You can do it for your friends too. Offer them your support and encouragement, and let them know when they’ve done something well or have a character trait you admire.

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