Not too long ago, I returned back to work full-time, after my son turned one year old. We put him in daycare, and he used to cry every morning for the first month or so. It broke my heart and it made me feel as I wasn’t a caring enough mom.
Then, at work, I couldn’t quite focus, as I kept thinking about my son and how he’s getting on throughout the day. As I result, I wasn’t happy with my performance on the job either.
Working full-time and raising a child (or children), as many can probably concur, is not an easy task, of course. On the top of this, we also have many other additional responsibilities — as chores around the house, or trying to find time for our friends and family, and even to carve out some me-space to read a book or relax a little.
Stretching in so many directions can make our lives very challenging and can easily drain us of energy, motivation and happiness.
So, not surprisingly, I had the feeling that I was constantly behind on everything. I was trying to wear so many hats and none of them fit quite well. I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted in any of my “roles.” Goes without saying, I didn’t have too much love for myself either.
And I guess, if you ask any psychologist, they would say that I had developed some unfavorable self-views that were threatening to erode the quality of my life.
So, what do I do? — I kept asking myself for quite some time. A quick search online revealed I wasn’t not alone in feeling this way. Phew, that’s a relief, I thought.
It’s also barely a surprising statement that self-image — or how we view ourselves (no matter how skewed or erroneous these self-opinions may be) is a great influencer of our self-esteem. It’s an essential part of our characters — in fact, it shapes who we believe we are.
It’s woven into our every word, action, thought, behavior, belief or attitude. It’s a marker of how much generally we like or dislike the man in the mirror. Psychologists tells us that self-image is the mental picture of ourselves, generally of the kind that is quite resistant (but not impossible) to change.
It’s a complex mix of perceptions, beliefs, or self-observations and, unsurprisingly — heavily influenced by our individual circumstances — our parents, the settings, the location we grew up in, our ethnic background, and, nonetheless — our comparisons to others.
Additionally, it’s all filtered through a subjective lens, largely based on our insights of what our “ideal” self should appear to be.
All our self-opinions comprise what scientists call “self-schemas,” which simply denote how we describe ourselves and the various roles we play in our lives.
Schemas also help explain why we see ourselves the way we do.
They are our different dimensions or attributes.
For example, each of us can have multiple schemas, depending on their circumstances — say, “mother/ father,” “son/ daughter,”“wife/ husband,” “executive,” or “friend.” But we may also be closely related to personality characteristics, such as “lazy,” “smart,” “athletic,” “healthy.”
Naturally, schemas will very from a person to person. Plus, certain aspects are more important to us than others and pull a greater weight to our self-opinions and our sense of self-respect.
What’s of importance to grasp, though, is that schemas hold a significant power over shaping our opinions and evaluations, and hence — our self-esteem.
Studies have discovered that if, for instance, a person is schematic on appearances (i.e. looks are very important to them), he or she tends to exhibit lower self-image and esteem than those who are not. Alternatively, individuals who form a self-schema of a person with good exercise habits will tend to exercise more frequently.
Our overall self-image then is a collection of our multiple schemas (for clarity, this is not the same as multiple personalities!), which include how we assess ourselves in terms of our various dimensions as skills, abilities, physical features, occupation, etc.
It’s also worth noting that self-image is more encompassing picture of ourselves than only body image. The latter only relates to how we perceive our bodies and looks.
Clearly, if we predominantly use unfavorable schemas to define ourselves, it evidences low levels of confidence.
But a negative self-image can do more damage than to just make us feel down. Because it’s the barometer of how much we value ourselves, it’s often the main criteria we use to determine our overall worth as human beings.
Given its importance to self-esteem, the big question here is: how can we improve our unfavorable self-image?
Of course, the most straight-forward answer is to improve our self-schemas — that is, to start thinking of ourselves in a different, more positive way.
For instance, to refrain from using negative self-definitions as: I’m overweight, I’m stupid or I’m ugly.
These are not helping us improve in any way.
Rather, think in terms of perspective and future goals — are few extra pounds really relevant to pursuing a career in…teaching, for instance? Perhaps not. But getting better grades in school may be quite pertinent. So, correctly prioritize your schemas’ importance.
Of course, we all want to feel good about ourselves and that’s a significant aspect of self-respect, and we should absolutely aspire to self-improve. However — we also shouldn’t beat ourselves up too hard if we don’t look like supermodels.
Hence, look beyond your “looks” schema to other, more germane to your future attributes.
Another way to enhance our self-image is to spread broadly. This idea is presented in the so-called “Self-Complexity Theory” (SCT), which focuses on how we choose to define ourselves.
As already mentioned, we all have different roles and traits, such as a mother/father, daughter/son, professional, wife/husband, introvert/extrovert, vegan, runner, etc.
The theory calls these “self-aspects” and states that the more categories we utilize to describe ourselves, the greater our self-complexity. And the greater our self-complexity, the better it is for us and our self-esteem.
This is how it works. Let’s say we define ourselves as a mother, business woman, sister and a friend. If a negative event — a bad day at work or a divorce — affects one of our aspects, given that this aspect is a part of the overall constellation of our self-dimensions, the impact on our overall self-esteem will be lesser.
It’s a rather simple principle, as Dr. Linville — the psychologist behind the theory — explains it: to avoid serious hits on our self-esteem, we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.
This is how it works. Let’s say we define
ourselves as a mother, business woman, sister and a friend. If a negative
event—a bad day at work or a divorce—affects one of our aspects, given that
this aspect is a part of the overall constellation of our self-dimensions, the
impact on our overall self-esteem will be lesser.
For the above scenario to work, however, the concepts we use should be independent — to prevent a spill-over between the pieces, which will neutralize the advantages of having a broader self-definition.
Self-complexity, the theory advocates, develops through experiences — that is, the more diverse events and situations we collect, the more enriched our characters will become,and more heterogeneous the way we think about ourselves will be.
Admittedly, changing the way we think about the man in the mirror is not an effortless task, I’ve discovered. It requires three things — a time investment (very scarce resource fro most of us), a desire to better ourselves, and a dose of persistence.
But even more so — the successful story of boosting one’s confidence by improving our self-image starts in our minds, within ourselves.
This means that we have control over who we chose to become and the image we elect to project to the world.
If we perceive ourselves as week, unattractive, unsuccessful, for instance, these are the traits others will assess us on. Re-defining our schemas can make a great difference.
That is, we can opt to either be the villain or the hero of our own life story. And the beautiful thing is that this choice lies exclusively with each of us.
Rather than trying to wear a thousand different hats with mixed success, I pick only good few now–the ones that truly matter to me and my family. Because everything else is just the peripheral buzz of the world outside.