Self-image is how you see yourself: it’s your internal thought process of self-evaluation that creates your feelings and beliefs. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) How we think about ourselves directly affects our actions. How we think about ourselves affects how we interact with people and react to life’s situations. Our spiritual, physical, mental, social and emotional well-being is affected by how you view yourself.
Do you have a negative or positive self-image?
If you have a positive self-image, you honestly affirm your gifts, talents, achievements, but also acknowledge your shortcomings and failures without thinking nasty things about yourself.
In a healthy, functional family, children are given skills to grow and develop into healthy, happy adults with a positive self-image. These loving parents convey to their children:
- You’re allowed to feel
- You’re allowed to trust
- You’re allowed to talk
- We see you as special
- We love you even if you mess up
When I typed that last line, my thoughts went back to a Saturday on the farm when I was about eleven years old. Mom and I were in the kitchen, baking, and I was to make maple-flavored icing for the cake we’d made. We always put maple flavoring in the powdered sugar, butter, and milk mixture; but for some reason, I put in some brown sugar instead, forgetting we always used maple flavoring. Imagine my dismay when I realized my mistake! I felt terrible. But my mom kindly said, “Oh well, maybe you just created a new recipe. It’s okay.” I will always be grateful to her for her kindness to me.
I also remember my Auntie Fannie and her positive input in my life. When I was in my early teens, I was writing a little speech we called a “topic” for a Sunday evening church meeting and Auntie was sitting at the table helping me. I remember how good I felt when she commented to my mom, “Elaine is so nice to work with.”
If you have a negative self-image, you put yourself down because you look a certain way, lack self-confidence or feel insignificant. You focus on your faults and failures and berate yourself as you look in the mirror. How do those thoughts work for you? Do they help you feel better, do better, become better? I think I can answer that question for you from personal experience.
A negative self-image begins early in life. When there’s no meaningful dialog between parent and child, the child feels isolated, misunderstood, brushed aside or mistreated and he feels unloved. Reasons good communication doesn’t happen in a dysfunctional family could be any of the following:
- Mental, emotional, or physical abuse
- Substance addiction where the addiction is loved instead of the child
- Physical or mental illness in the family diverts time and energy away from other family members
- Bad rules by parents, such as “children should be seen and not heard,” or “do as you’re told and don’t ask questions”
- A parent who abandons the family – physically or emotionally
- A rigid, commanding family member who controls others so they function like robots
- Fear, harsh words, explosive temper, physical violence
Dysfunctional parents project the following beliefs onto their children:
- You shouldn’t feel
- You shouldn’t trust
- You shouldn’t talk
- You’re not special – you’re a bother
- You won’t be loved unless you’re perfect. (Self-worth is based on performance)
A dysfunctional family causes loss of “self.” You don’t know who you really are. You are not honest with yourself or others. Countless wrecked lives and marriages are the result.
Although input from others later in life also shapes how you see yourself, your self-image was shaped mainly while living in your family of origin. To illustrate what I mean, I want to paraphrase two scenarios I recently read about.
Frank’s mother suffered from mental illness and his dad was an alcoholic. When Frank would find his dad passed out drunk on the floor, family members told him his father was just sleeping. The message he got was, “You don’t know what you’re seeing,” and “don’t tell anyone what you saw.” He learned not to trust his family.
Shelly’s father was a deacon in the church and her parents really did love her. But her dad came from a home where he was never shown love, so he didn’t know how to give it. Shelly grew up feeling ashamed because she felt unloved. She secretly wondered what was wrong with her that her dad didn’t love her.
No family is perfect; we all need “God’s make-over.” We are all broken in one way or another. The good news is that even though you may have grown up in a dysfunctional family, Jesus can restore and heal your self-image. He is the great Redeemer and Restorer.
May I recommend some books for helpful reading? One is Joyce Meyer’s “Beauty for Ashes,” and the other is by Jack Hayford, “Rebuilding the Real You.” It’s a study of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives using parallels of rebuilding walls from rubble from the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. I used both of these in teaching women’s Bible studies a few years ago. Wonderful healing and change occurred.
May I pray for you? “Heavenly Father, I pray for the one reading this post; I lift them before Your throne of grace. You know all about this one, their past, their present, and their future. I thank You that You love them unconditionally. By faith I lay my hand on them and declare the blessing of the Lord over this one, that healing will come to every hurting part of this person by the power of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.” God bless you, dear reader.
Copyright © 2013 Elaine Beachy