Changing your self-image can change your life

Changing your self-image can change your life

How you think about yourself—your self-image—influences every aspect of your life.

“Your thoughts direct your behaviors and your behaviors direct your destiny,” says Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “What you think about yourself influences what you do each day. Your thoughts are cumulative: They add up to where you’ll be five years from now.”

What is your self-image?

Your self-image includes what you think about your:

  • Personality

  • Appearance

  • Finances

  • Vocation

  • Hobbies

  • Relationships

  • Intelligence

  • Accomplishments

Cultivating a healthy self-image can help you achieve your goals, feel confident and show up as your authentic self. Let’s look at what influences your self-image and how you can cultivate a healthy view of yourself.

How comparison influences your self-image

In our social media-obsessed society, your self-image may be clouded by thoughts of comparison. Buttimer notes that the American Psychological Association found that people who spent more than 20 minutes on social media experienced a significant drop in mood. 

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” she says. “It robs you of your full humanity and uniqueness. It’s also abrasive to your spirit, whether you find yourself better than, less than or equal to someone else. Comparison objectifies you and the other person.”

Comparison affects people of all ages and creates a false narrative of what your life should look like.

“As a psychotherapist, I can tell you that what people post on social media and what’s going on behind the curtains aren’t congruent,” she says. “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”

How your thoughts influence your self-image

“Watch out for the ‘gremlins’ in your head,” says Buttimer. “Your thoughts can come from all kinds of messaging, such as what a parent or teacher told you about yourself when you were growing up. Be careful about making these messages your truth.”

In other words, you have the power to decide what you think about yourself. Perhaps a teacher told you that you weren’t good at math or a parent told you that you were lazy. If you’ve internalized these negative or unhelpful messages, it’s possible to change them.

Buttimer recommends seeking support from a counselor or coach who can help you process your thoughts and give you a reality check (because not every thought you think is the truth).

How your relationships affect your self-image

Pay attention to your surroundings, including the people in your life. Improving your self-image may involve letting go of toxic relationships.

“Emotions, attitudes and lifestyles are contagious,” says Buttimer. “You become like the people you surround yourself with.”

How to think intentionally to change your self-image

Now that you know it’s possible to change how you see yourself, how do you do it? Buttimer recommends practicing intentional thinking through positive journaling.

How to write positive affirmations

“I’m a big believer in affirmations—they change your mindset,” she says. Affirmations are “I am” statements that support the type of person you want to become. For example, you may write:

  • I’m surrounded by friendship and love.

  • I’m a healthy, active person.

  • I’m a disciplined, focused person.

If you have a hard time believing your affirmations, reach for the next best feeling thought, such as:

  • I’m open to new friendships and love.

  • I’m becoming a healthier, more active person.

  • I’m capable of learning new skills.

How to visualize your ideal day

Buttimer also suggests scripting or visioning work, where you visualize how you want your day to unfold. You might write phrases like:

  • “I move through the day with ease, flow and grace.”

  • “I easily move through traffic this morning. I’m surrounded by the goodness in people. I’m having a really good day.”

You can even practice visioning work around a specific event, such as a meeting. You could write, “It felt so good that my boss validated my ideas. I felt seen and heard. I look forward to contributing in the next meeting.”

“We believe what we tell ourselves,” she says. If you repeatedly and intentionally tell yourself positive affirmations, eventually, you’ll start to believe them.

How to use journaling to process and release negative emotions

Another journaling method Buttimer teaches is the “purge technique.”

“I find that a lot of people use journaling only to lament and brood, but that’s not very healthy,” she says. “You do need space to process and release those emotions, but you can do so in a healthier way.”

Set a timer for two minutes and quickly write down everything negative on your mind. Once time is up, don’t reread what you wrote. Instead, tear up the paper and throw it away.

“This practice is more beneficial than writing negative thoughts for 20 minutes every day,” she explains. “I use the sandwich technique: Write positively, do the purge and then write positively some more.”

Get strategic outside feedback for your self-image 

In addition to journaling, Buttimer suggests asking a few trusted loved ones who know and support you to share five positive traits they see in you.

“Sometimes, getting feedback outside of yourself can help you develop your self-image,” she says.

If you aren’t living the life you want to live, start by changing what you think about yourself. You’ll be amazed at the progress you can make with a new mindset.

Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.

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