Journaling Exercise What is Your Self Image?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. 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?

We often treat our beliefs as facts or truths. Beliefs are simply thoughts that you have told yourself and affirmed over and over. 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?

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 (not all) 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.

Your True Self

Your true self is not a belief. 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. Your true self 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.

Journal Exercise

The purpose of this exercise is to begin to identify the way you see yourself now and to open up the possibility of seeing yourself differently. The way you identify yourself now is inherent in the environments and relationships with which you surround yourself. You place yourself in these environments because you want to protect the image of yourself that you have made.

Go back to the very first exercise (“My Life Space”) 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.

Take one of our self-tests to learn more about yourself.

Go to the next journaling exercise: Costs and Benefits of Unpleasant Emotions

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