March 27, 2018

6. Self Image Beliefs and Inner Conversations

Written by Rachel Eddins

Self image beliefs and inner conversations journal writing

Self Image Beliefs and Inner Conversations: What am I telling myself?

What is Your Self Image?

We see ourselves in a subjective manner. The way we see ourselves, or define who we are is our self-image. A self-image is a “picture” of how you see yourself. This picture of yourself might consist of an actual image or “picture” in your mind’s eye or it might consist of certain beliefs that you hold about yourself.

Our self-image includes:

  • Your beliefs about yourself
  • What you tell yourself about yourself
  • What you think about yourself
  • How you feel about yourself
  • How you picture yourself
  • How you perceive yourself

What are Beliefs?

A belief is nothing more than a system of thoughts that you tell yourself over and over and which you take to be true. A belief is maintained by the continual affirmation of these thoughts. This does not mean they are true, but rather that you have decided that they are true.

A belief can be about yourself, about others, about life or about the world in general. Beliefs determine your perceptions, many of your feelings and how you act in the world and in your everyday relationships. Any belief (whether it is about others, life in general, the world, etc) is rooted in what we believe (or feel) about ourselves.

When we are having troubles with our external world (i.e. our relationships) it is essential that we deal with our beliefs about ourselves. Otherwise we will expend energy trying to change the external world to conform to our beliefs (or worse, trying to “prove” to ourselves and others that our beliefs are “true”). The only way to change the external world (i.e. people, relationships, situations, etc) is to change ourselves. And changing ourselves means to change our beliefs. The result of changing our beliefs is to see the same situation in a new way.

To change we must first recognize that what we are thinking is the result of our beliefs, which are changeable, and not facts. Identifying our beliefs means paying attention to our self talk. Our beliefs are often unrecognized, yet they have a great impact on what we think and feel, how we interpret situations, our relationships with others and so forth. To identify your beliefs, start paying attention to the views you have about yourself or others. What are you saying in your mind? What assumptions are you making?

Beliefs are beliefs, not facts.

Once you’ve identified your beliefs, the next step is to acknowledge your beliefs as just that – beliefs. Knowing something and believing something are two different things, yet we often confuse the two. Believing doesn’t = knowing. Since our self-image is based on our beliefs about self and others, our self-image is not based in reality (or knowing). Our beliefs about ourselves have become a substitute for our true self. 

Our beliefs are formed out of our experiences and relationships with others, many of which were formed early in life. These beliefs may have been formed by direct experience or by omission.

For example, being told that you are smart repeatedly could have led to your belief that you are smart and never being told that you are pretty could have led to your belief that you are not pretty.

Human nature is to seek confirmation for what we already believe.

Since many of our beliefs get formed early on in childhood, we go through life looking for evidence to support them and often miss out on alternative beliefs. For example, if you believe that you are inadequate you may easily discount instances in which you were clearly more than adequate and focus on instances that confirm your inadequacy belief.

How Our Beliefs Impact Our Emotions

Many of the negative emotions we experience stem from reality not fitting into your beliefs (what “should” be). This can lead to feelings of anger, sadness, fear, loneliness, or guilt.

These emotions become problematic when we hold onto them by holding onto the thought that sustains it.

Otherwise, emotions, whether they stem from our beliefs or otherwise, can come and go in 90 seconds. 

When you can see the belief (image, thought) and let go of it, the emotion disappears right along with it.

What is an Inner Conversation?

Thinking is nothing more than an internal conversation that you are having with yourself, about yourself, about others or about reality.

You are talking to yourself every moment of your waking day. This “inner conversation” is not something that we always “hear” or reveal yet it governs virtually everything we do and say in any situation.

We all know this process well. Recall a time when you were first asked to perform in front of a group or class. What was your “inner conversation” at the time? It might have gone something like, “What if I make a fool of myself, I’ll probably say something real stupid, what if they don’t like me, what am I going to say, they’ll probably think I’m a loser” and on and on.

These inner thoughts may be so persistent that we don’t even hear them or they may have turned into sub-conscious beliefs that we hold about ourselves. “I’ll make a fool of myself.” “People think I am stupid.” “They don’t like me.” “I never know what to say.” “I’m not good enough.”

To the degree that we hold these beliefs as true will determine our self-image and greatly limit our freedom to be in the world.

Journal Exercise: Tune in to your inner conversations and beliefs about yourself.

The clearer you can “tune in” to your beliefs and inner conversations in any situation will determine the degree you are in charge of your life. Your beliefs control your behaviors – unconsciously you make choices on a regular basis based on what you are telling yourself.

How we view ourselves now in life is often a result of decisions we have made at earlier times and which we still affirm to ourselves over and over in the present.

A decision that we make about ourselves, about others or about reality becomes the core belief system that governs our behavior and outlook on life. And this belief is sustained by our thinking.

That is why this exercise is so important because you are focusing in on some of the “root” decisions you made about your life, which are based on what you tell yourself. By tuning in to what you are telling yourself, you are positioning yourself to re-evaluate some of these core beliefs.

Step 1: Review your relationship & life path exercises and identify strong memories.

Review your life path and relationship path journal exercises and identify time periods or situations that were significant or troublesome for you.

Notice any particular memories that surface and have a strong emotion attached to them from each of the time periods in your life.

Jot down a sentence or two about each memory. Don’t get stuck in the memory, just focus on noticing what is and writing that down briefly.

Note the emotion association with the memory.

Use this list to help you identify your feelings. 

List as many memories as you can recall, both pleasant and unpleasant.

Step 2: Review your memories from step 1 and identify what inner conversations you may have had about yourself at the time.

Use the thoughts and emotions list to help you identify thoughts or inner conversations you may have had at the time.

What beliefs did you form about yourself? What was going on inside you at that time?

Write those down….

Keep your descriptions short – short phrases or words that describe how you saw yourself at the time, what you told yourself about yourself or others or how you felt about yourself.

Step 3: Identify what choices or decisions you’ve made about yourself in your as a result of your experiences.

There are two ways to consider choices and “paths” we take in life. The first way is based on the actual decisions and actions we choose that lead in a particular direction.

A decision to enter a marriage, choose a career or job, make a certain financial investment or even follow a particular spiritual pat” are all examples of actions that we take that lead in a particular direction.

Early on, we make decisions about ourselves which lead us down a particular path in life. 

Another type of path we take in life is the decisions that we make about ourselves. How we view ourselves, what we tell ourselves, how we feel about ourselves are all decisions that we make, and thereby influence some of our larger life decisions. Another way to look at this is the conclusions we make about ourselves, or the beliefs we form about ourselves.  

Once we make these decisions about ourselves, we continue to reinforce them throughout our life. For example, if I don’t perform well at basketball, I could conclude, “I’m not good at sports,” then avoid participating in sports, not practicing the skills and as an adult decide, “I’m not athletic.”

Similarly, if I’m criticized regularly I may conclude, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not worthy,” and reinforce this belief by the people I choose to interact with or the career opportunities I pass up, etc.

Feelings get attached to these beliefs and can be paralyzing or hold us back throughout our life.

Reflect on decisions self-image that have impacted your self-image.

Instructions: Take a moment now to review the relationship and life path exercises and choose a period or periods that represent a major intersection of your life.

Allow your eyes to close and place yourself back into this period of your life and reflect on the decision or decisions that you made at the time. When you feel ready, allow your eyes to open and begin writing about this particular time in your life…

  • What path did you choose … and what paths did you not choose, or give up on, in some way?…
  • Did the path or paths you did not choose appear to be important to you in some way?…
  • Did you need to explore this path to find out what was beyond?…
  • What was the condition at the time that contributed to you taking the path you chose?…
  • And how did you feel about yourself at the time?..
  • What was the major decision or decisions I made during this time period?
  • What choices did I have to give up as a result of this decision?
  • How did I see myself during this time? How did I feel about myself? What was my “inner conversation” at the time that influenced the choice that I made? How do I feel now about the decision that I made?
  • When I reflect on the decisions that I didn’t make, what emotions can I identify?
  • What lessons did I learn from the choices that I did make? How did I grow from the choices I made?


**It’s important to note that you are bringing your past choices, decisions, and beliefs about yourself to your conscious awareness. This gives you the opportunity to NOW choose a new belief about yourself. In therapy you can explore where these beliefs about yourself came from and take steps in a new direction. This allows you to open up a new potential in me that was never fully realized.**

Step 4. Journal exercise: what beliefs did you form about yourself throughout your life?

Go back to the Where am I Struggling journal exercise and consider one or two of the most troubling areas that you identified. Take each area and begin sentences with, “I see myself as…”. Complete your sentence with a list of terms that describe yourself within that context.

You will likely consider the more “negative” attributes of your self perception, but also consider the more “positive” attributes as well. Neither the positive or the negative attributes really represent your true self.

For example:

Within the context of my relationship –
I see myself as helpless
I see myself as losing out
I see myself as selfish
I see myself as imposed on
I see myself as depressed
I see myself as endangered
I see myself as failing
I see myself as imprisoned

After you have completed your list for each context, affirm to yourself…

I am not these beliefs. I am the observer of these beliefs.

Within the context of ________________________________
I see myself as…
Within the context of ________________________________
I see myself as…
Within the context of ________________________________
I see myself as…
Within the context of ________________________________
I see myself as…

I am not these beliefs. I am the observer of these beliefs.

Your True Self

Your true self is the observer of your beliefs. Your true self is already whole and complete and therefore does not need to be “fixed”, “changed” or defined. It is beyond definition and is already perfect. Your true self is revealed as you shed your beliefs about yourself.

We deny our true self through control, condemnation, judgment, avoiding, pretending, dominating and the like. We conclude in effect, that our true self is “bad”, “dangerous” “unacceptable” or “unlovable” so therefore we must invent another self that is “more acceptable”. We often protect our “true self” from others for fear of rejection, judgment, etc.

To keep our true self hidden from our awareness, we may also project this self onto others. We may believe that what we consider “bad” or unacceptable is not part of ourselves; it is in someone else. We may judge other’s behavior as “bad” or “unacceptable.” We may criticize, attack, punish, or accuse them.

Journaling to discover your beliefs can help you begin to shed them and shift your self-image to one of compassion.

Go to the next journaling exercise: What am I Feeling Right Now?

*Journaling exercises written by Cort Curtis, Ph.D, used with permission. 

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