Self-image is a tricky topic to say the least. The perception of our abilities, appearance, and personality affects the way we interact with ourselves and other people. While internalized guilt and shame pollute self-image, there is an equally tempting impulse to elevate self-image to an unhealthy level. Pride, self-hate/loathing, self-condemnation, shame, confusion or uncertainty, approval seeking, and a shaky sense of identity frequently inhabit thoughts around self-image, often with painful consequences.
I have a vested interest in self-image. I think to some extent we all do. Although a more painful struggle in the past, I still wrestle with self-image. The following reminders, questions, and actions are tools I still use as I try to learn what a Christ-glorifying relationship with self looks like in the context of my relationship with God.
Although these things might shape your self-image, your worth is not dependent on your intellect, weight, income, gender, sexuality, ability or disability, relationship status, productivity, ethnic origin or cultural background, appearance, personal and family history.
If your struggles are specifically centered around physical appearance or weight – it can be helpful to remember that body diversity (like diversity in culture, ethnicity, personality, interest) is a part of what makes people unique, and your weight is the most boring thing about you.
Most things are temporary. Your relationship with self-image can and will change. There will be seasons of life when you think about it much more or less than others.
What do I allow to shape my self-image?
When I struggle with negative self-image, what invokes those feelings?
Comparison or envy? – seeing someone you think is more _______ (successful, smart, attractive, etc) than you who looks like they have it all together.
Difficult emotions? – often for me, feeling powerless, lonely, and angry stirs up critical self-image thoughts.
How can I keep self-image thoughts in perspective? Negative self-image is painful and can be coupled with internalized guilt, shame, and past hurt at the hands of others.
However, I think we often give our thoughts too much power. They will not overwhelm you forever. It feels risky to talk to someone about them but there is freedom in bringing things out of the dark into the light.
Am I allowing certain things to be ultimate, i.e. valuing them above all else, when they should not be? Examine your heart deeply. Over-desires, even for good things, can lead to disorder and distortion in our internal and external life.
What lies I am believing? What is the truth? What are the consequences of believing those lies and what could be the consequences of believing truth?
[try to do]
Find a healthy temporary distraction… cook for someone or yourself, read a book, pull weeds, clean your place, journal your thoughts.
Make a list of things you’re grateful for.
Show love to someone. Christ’s two greatest commandments for his disciples were love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). Getting outside of my own head is important when I struggle with self-image.
Let someone show love to you. Receiving support and love from another person can be a humbling and challenging experience. It reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. As relational beings, it is natural and healthy to desire and receive love and care from other people.
I used to be reluctant to bring my struggles with self-image to God. It can feel like a very superficial thing – something God wouldn’t care about, but he does care. He cares about every part of you, including how you relate to yourself.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of trouble.Hebrews 4:16
God’s grace is unmerited favor. He looks at you with gentleness and compassion and wants to sit down beside you. Your struggles never surprise him or catch him off guard. He is also not removed from them and will not just comfort you with rosy optimism. He is the Almighty God, Lord of Armies, who doesn’t leave us where we are but transforms our lives, changes our desires, and welcomes us to live with newfound freedom and abundance in Christ.
Thoughts on self-image?