You have innate strengths, weaknesses, and that one secret that you would never reveal in the comment section below. However, the world sees a different version of you. The “real you” might not be known by the world.
At one time, I believed that reality mattered, and perception did not. Now, I am beginning to realize I had it backwards. Reality plays second fiddle to perception and I’ll explain why later on. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Perception creates reality.
Thankfully, we still control how we are perceived, as others tend to perceive us as we perceive ourselves!
The Massive Propagation Of Self-Images
Self-image is the heart of personal development and it is the key to this perception/reality tug of war. For one, see yourself as a person incapable of changing for the better, and you most certainly won’t. For two, your thoughts and actions are propagations (i.e. expressions) of your self-image – you are who you think you are.
By these thoughts and actions, our self-image is interpreted by the world. The world’s interpretation is not always correct, and we don’t always send the message we intend, but the message we send is the one we believe subconsciously.
- When we send a strong signal, positive or negative, the world believes us.
- When the signal we send is weak, it shows the world we lack confidence in our identity.
- When we send out a mysterious signal, people are intrigued and want to “decipher” us.
An interesting dynamic occurs between an individual and the world. As the individual projects out his self-image, and the world responds to it, usually affirming it. I’ll give two examples, each representing an extreme.
Jon unconsciously projects to the world that he is not a valuable person. He slouches, doesn’t make eye contact, rarely smiles, and speaks in such a cowardly way that even nice people feel compelled to ignore him on instinct alone. Because his behavior screams “I’m worthless, don’t respect me,” the world takes his word for it. But when the world treats him as less valuable, Jon is crushed further. Life doesn’t seem fair, as his greatest fear of low worth has been confirmed as reality by society. Jon fails to see that he was most responsible for each negative response he received, and because of this, he can’t muster up the courage to try to be someone great. The cycle continues.
As far as Jon is concerned, the judge has spoken and the verdict is clear. Building his self-esteem back up is a constant losing battle, as any negative response is amplified in his mind because it matches his (extreme) initial disposition… “You were right Jon, nobody likes you.”
But Eric projects to the world that he is valuable. He makes great eye contact, holds his head high, smiles often, and speaks confidently when he has something to say. Because his behavior says, “I am valuable,” the world takes his word for it. As the world affirms his value, he finds even more reason to be confident. The cycle continues.
Both Jon and Eric respond well to compliments and good events, but where they differ is their response to negative remarks or events. Eric muffles most negative stimuli because it does not align with his self-image. He sees it as an outlier. Jon sees any negative remark as “proof” that the world doesn’t like him. We tend to filter comments and reactions to closely match what we already believe about ourselves.
You can see that how we perceive ourselves actually creates that reality. Fake it ’til you make it actually works.
Every one of us has a self-image right now. It is a snapshot of how we think and feel about ourselves as people. As Jon and Eric demonstrate, we are naturally resistant to anything which threatens our current image, even if our current self-image is wretched. This works to reinforce our beliefs because the only information that escapes resistance is that which we already agree with. But an astute person who wishes to improve, challenges EVERYTHING, including his current self-beliefs.
If our starting point of self-image has such a powerful self-fulfilling effect on our lives, then where we begin is critical. Childhood suddenly seems important, doesn’t it? It is!
As an exercise, examine your self beliefs and see if you can piece together where you got your self-image beliefs from. Once you know their source, it is easier to disarm damaging beliefs.
And as for positive beliefs about yourself, hang on to those.