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How To Have A Well-balanced Self-image

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Why and How a Balanced Self-Image Matters

By Devin Logan on 2017-01-11

Comparison hurts self-image, while qualifying statements and acceptance improve self-image. It is important to have a balanced self-image because it fosters a freer, less negative mental life.

Self-image is how I see myself. Such a description seems like it should be strictly objective (aren’t mirrors supposed to portray the harsh truth, and nothing more or less?), but self-image is often anything but objective. Self-image is how I see myself when I look in the mirror: Is my skin clear? Are my teeth straight? Am I the right size? Self-image is also how I perceive myself: Am I intelligent? Am I good at what I do? Do I have real skills? If I have a poor self-image, I answer “no” to these questions. If I have a good self-image, I answer “yes” to these questions. But that is not the end of the discussion: self-image is not that straightforward. 

Comparison is the best way to erode self-image. When I compare myself to others, I evaluate based on incomplete information: I see myself in my best and worst moments. I often see others only in their best moments. I compared the best version—and primarily the external version, which is often tidier than the internal—of another to the mixed bag that is myself.

Her teeth are better, and he is better at mathematics. These phrases set up others in direct opposition to myself. These kinds of statements can be constructive: because he is better at math than I am, I am motivated to work harder. Because her teeth are better than mine, I am motivated to floss more often. However, using comparison and competition as motivation to improve is a losing game. My goal is to be better at him at math. Once I am better, my motivation ends. To regain that motivation, I need to find another way in which I am inferior, and work until I become superior. And on, and on. It will be a constant competition, a constant comparison. And in the end (is there ever an end?) I probably will not be any happier with myself. I won, but that is a victory over another person—it is not a personal victory and therefore my self-image probably will not improve.

 If comparison is the best way to erode self-image, what is the best way to improve it? A good starting point is the end comparison, but that is easier said than done. One way to start is to stop using descriptors that end in “er” or “est.” If his skin is clear, it is clear. It is not clearer than mine, or the clearest in the world. If she is good at photography, she is good at photography. She is not better than me, and she is not the best in the world. But what is she really is, objectively, better than me at photography? That is okay too—I am good at framing my shots, while she is good at taking pictures of people. I could get better at capturing people. This kind of thinking puts things into perspective. Instead of a blanket “better” or “best,” I qualify the statement and give myself some credit. 

Why does it matter what I think of myself? The state of my self-image affects how much I think and worry about myself and my appearance, characteristics, and skills. If I have a very inflated or very deflated self-image, I probably think about myself too often. If I am realistic about myself, I probably think about myself sometimes, but not too often. I am interesting enough to merit some thought, but not interesting enough to command all thought. I am also not so uninteresting that I must spend all my thinking trying to improve myself. There is a balance when it comes to improvement. That is the importance of self-image: balance. It is good to be realistic about myself, because it frees me up to do other things. If I am free to do other things, I will probably improve my skills and knowledge. And that will probably improve my self-image. If I do not constantly think about improving my self-image, I will probably improve my self-image. My mind is free from invasive, negative thoughts, and I am happier than I would have been if I was completely absorbed with myself and my self-image.

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