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The Importance of a Positive Self Image - How Do You See Yourself? Take This Test & Check Out Your Score

The Importance of a Positive Self Image

Have you ever heard the saying "only you can make yourself happy"? Well, as trite as it seems, it may be true. A surprising survey of adults by the American Psychological Association has shown that the most important factor to happiness and well-being is self-esteem. Also important were feelings of independence and competency, often brought about by high self-esteem. Surprisingly, common traits like popularity, power, money or luxury were rated the lowest.

Having a positive self-image can be difficult, especially if one is affected by life's hardships, such as a disability, poor health, or financial or other major problems. But there are things you can do to improve your self-image and self-esteem. These things can, in turn, improve other aspects of your life like academic or financial success, relationships, and even health.

What is Self-Image?

Self-image is how you perceive yourself. It is a number of self-impressions that have built up over time: What are your hopes and dreams? What do you think and feel? What have you done throughout your life and what did you want to do? These self-images can be very positive, giving a person confidence in their thoughts and actions, or negative, making a person doubtful of their capabilities and ideas.

Surprisingly, your self-image can be very different from how the world sees you. Some people who outwardly seem to have it all (intelligence, looks, personal and financial success) may have a bad self-image. Conversely, others who have had a very difficult life and multiple hardships may also have a very positive self-image.

Some believe that a person's self-image is defined by events that affect him or her (doing well or not in school, work, or relationships.) Others believe that a person's self-image can help shape those events. There is probably some truth to both schools of thought: failing at something can certainly cause one to feel bad about oneself, just as feeling good about oneself can lead to better performance on a project. But it cannot be denied that your self-image has a very strong impact on your happiness, and your outlook on life can affect those around you. If you project a positive self-image, people will be more likely to see you as a positive, capable person.

However, it's important that your self-image be both positive and realistic. Having a self-image that is unrealistic can be a drawback, whether that self-image is negative OR positive. Sometimes having an occasional negative thought or criticism about oneself can encourage change, hard work, growth and success. Sometimes having too positive an image of oneself can encourage complacency, underachievement, and arrogance. Finding the balance between feeling positive about oneself but having realistic goals is important.

Define Your Self-Image: What's Your Internal Voice Saying?

It's surprising how often, and how natural, it is to judge oneself. Have you ever asked yourself "what was I thinking?" or thought to yourself "that was stupid" when doing something? That was your internal voice judging you. In some people that internal voice can be too critical and harsh, leading to low self-esteem. In others, it may be so weak that they don't notice when they are mean or insensitive to others.

Listening to your internal voice and judgments of yourself is the first step to changing your self-image and esteem. Being aware of self-criticisms (or lack of criticisms) can help you determine your current self-image and decide if it needs to be improved and how.

One way to gain a better understanding of your current self-image is to imagine your reaction to certain situations. For example, if you start a beautiful morning thinking, "I can't wait to get outside and do things!" instead of chiding yourself for not getting out of bed, "don't be such a lazy slob; start moving", you are exhibiting a more positive internal voice.

But sometimes it's hard not to listen to an internal voice, even when that voice is critical. Sometimes a person passes internal judgments to protect him or herself from potentially awkward or uncomfortable situations. For example, telling yourself you aren't able to do something or convincing yourself that others won't like you is a way of avoiding potential failure or rejection. Because of this, people often put up with internal criticisms, even though they lead to low self-esteem.

But it is possible to protect yourself without limiting yourself. For example, you could place less importance on other's opinions of you ("so what if they don't like me?"), or emphasize the positive ("at least I wasn't afraid to try"), or you can practice silencing your internal voice or correct it when it exaggerates your negative traits. It's important that when you make internal judgments you also listen to the more rational part of yourself that can adjust for any unreasonable criticism.

Take The Test

How positive is your self-image? Answer these true or false statements and find out.

1. My glass is always half-empty, not half-full.
2. I'm always apologizing for things.
3. I'm always telling myself I "should" be doing this or that.
4. I constantly criticize myself.
5. What other people think about me dictates how I feel about myself.
6. I am critical of my mistakes and relive them over and over.
7. I always let the people who care about me down.
8. I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.
9. A partial failure is as bad as a complete failure.
10. I bend over backwards to please others.
11. I am not sure I have done a good job unless someone else points it out.
12. It's hard for me to forgive and forget. 
13. I have to work harder than others for relationships and am afraid that the relationships I have will fail. 
14. If I don't do as well as others, it means that I am not as good as them.
15. If I can't do something well, there is no point in doing it at all.


Give yourself 1 point for each question you answered with a "true".

0 - 4: You have a generally positive way of thinking and should feel good about yourself. Keep it up!

5 - 8: You may be struggling with some negative emotions. Take time to review your good qualities.

9 or more: You can be very critical of yourself. Challenge yourself to change your way of thinking!

Improving Your Self Image

Improving your self-image, like improving any skill, takes time and practice. Developing good self-esteem involves encouraging a positive (but realistic) attitude toward yourself and the world around you and appreciating your worth, while at the same time behaving responsibly towards others. Self-esteem isn't self-absorption; it's self-respect.

By working from the inside out (focusing on changing your own way of thinking before changing the circumstances around you), you can build your self-esteem. The goal of this positive thinking is to give yourself a more positive self-concept, while seeing yourself honestly and accepting yourself, and removing the internal barriers that can keep you from doing your best.

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