How to boost your self-image

Good health starts with a positive self image, argues Jim Pollard.
Self image? What has that to do with health?

How we feel about ourselves has a massive impact on our health. If we don’t like ourselves much we’re more likely to do unhealthy things and less likely to do healthy ones. 

I see what you mean. But what causes low self-image?

All sorts of things. Long-term stuff - the way we’re brought up, how our family treat us, what happens to us at school or work - and short-term triggers -  not getting a job, putting on weight or breaking up with someone: all of these can dent our self-image. None of these things actually make us worth less but sometimes it feels like that. 

One way to check if your self-image - or self-esteem - is as high as it should be is the ‘best mate test’. Would you say the things you say to yourself to a mate? You might think ‘what an idiot!’ for not getting the job you were after but would you say that to a mate if he didn’t get a job he wanted? Probably not. So be friends with yourself.

What’s the long-term prognosis?

Long-term, it’s not good for people with low self-image. True, there are lot of arrogant people out there that the world would be better off without but we’re not suggesting you become like them. Quite the opposite.

Just look at it logically. (Again imagine you are thinking about someone else.) If you’re putting out negativity, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get anything positive in return. In other words, even if we assume you are right and that you have a low self-image for a good reason, beating yourself up can never make you feel better. Self-help book shelves are full of books that tap into this paradox. It isn’t about lying to yourself or the world, it’s about trying to find the positive even when you don’t feel it.

How do I do that?

Don’t buy into artificial yardsticks of success. There will always be someone smarter than you, better-looking than you, richer than you, with a better job than you, with more friends on Facebook than you. Fact. But why does any of that matter? Enjoying life is really the only yardstick that matters. And you can only enjoy life by knowing yourself, being true to yourself and doing what you want to do. 

It boils down to this: don’t judge - not yourself not anyone else.

If you don’t judge how do you decide what’s right and wrong?

Not judging doesn’t mean that you can do what you want. We all know right from wrong. Even Tony Soprano - that’s why he spent so much time in therapy and was so bloody miserable for six seasons and 86 episodes!

But if you don’t judge, how do you have any values?

Values are what we think important and, because we’re all different, only we can truly decide that. Someone else can’t tell you what’s important to you - not your dad, not your mates, not some religious or political leader. 

The truth is it doesn’t matter what anybody else says or thinks. You have a right to look and dress however you want. Provided it doesn’t harm anyone else, you have a right to believe whatever you want, value whatever you want and do whatever you want. You have a right to be here. Just as you are. This is where good health begins - with self-acceptance.

If you're harming someone else, stop. If you're being harmed, get help. In both cases, your self-image will improve.

But you saying ‘provided it doesn’t harm anyone else’ is a value.

Maybe but it's actually simpler than that. You could say it’s logic: if you go around harming others sooner or later someone bigger (probably the state) will harm you. (He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.) But to me, it’s even more basic. If you talk to people who have harmed people, the vast majority feel terrible about it - even those who have done it for good reason or legally. It causes nightmares, anxiety, depression and, to get back to what we are supposed to be talking about here, low self-image. There may be a few exceptions - some psychopaths maybe but I’m not even sure about them. Is not harming others hard-wired into us? Something to do with survival of the species? I don’t know but why do something that will make you feel bad? 

Most people who hurt people have been hurt themselves. Most people who try to impose their will or their view of the world on others have had someone else’s will imposed on them. Again, go back to what we’re talking about here: self-image. Do you think someone who imposes his will on someone else has a good self-image? We’re talking about Tony Soprano again.

Be yourself and you'll like yourself.

This article reflects the experience of the individual. It is not health information from the MHF under the terms of the NHS England Information Standard.

 

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