Our identities are made up of a number of varying factors including (but not limited to) our beliefs, our values, our personality, and our physical characteristics. Another way we might think of identity is our self-image. Our self-image is our mental picture of our self. Our self-image is affected by how we view ourselves and by how we believe others view us.
Additionally, our perceptions of ourselves make up our self-image. If our perceptions of our self are positive (“I am a good person.”), our self-image is more positive. If our perceptions of our self are negative (“I’m a bad person.”), our self-image is more negative. These examples are pretty concrete but, basically, we are looking at how our beliefs about ourselves affect how we see ourselves. Which, in turn, affects how we feel and what we do with that information.
Let’s imagine that Suzy believes she is competent at her work, a good friend and that she is of value. Additionally, let’s imagine that Patricia believes she is stupid, that nobody actually likes her and that she is too much to handle. My guess is that Suzy’s self-image not only leans positive but that Suzy has positive/high self-esteem. Adversely, I’m guessing that Patricia’s self-image leans negative and that Patricia has negative/low self-esteem. Basically, I’m guessing that Suzy feels better about herself than Patricia does. More simply, Suzy feels better.
Most people want to be happy. What they pursue is in pursuit of happiness. (ie. “This job will make me happy.” “This money will make me happy.” “This partner will make me happy.” “This particular weight will make me happy.”) And here’s the thing, according to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), it’s not the job, the money, the partner or the weight, but how we perceive these situations that affect our happiness about them. Yep, I said it. It’s our perceptions of our situations, and ourselves, that affect us more.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works with these components so that, if our perceptions of ourselves are making us miserable, we can consider changing these perceptions (and sometimes these changes in our perceptions also change our behaviors!). Our perceptions affect how we speak to ourselves, what we believe we are capable of, what we believe we deserve, etc. It’s a pretty big deal. The cognitive model describes how people’s perceptions of, or spontaneous thoughts about, situations influence their emotional, behavioral, and often physiological, reactions. It describes how what we think and believe affects how we feel and live. I’m gonna write that one more time. The cognitive model describes how what we think and believe affects how we feel and live.
So, here is the good news! If you (or someone you know) are struggling with low self-esteem, with feeling badly about who they perceive themself to be, then there is hope! By uncovering these negative perceptions and beliefs, and then considering changing the narrative we can reconstruct who we believe we are. We can change how we feel about ourselves. We can reconstruct how we feel and what we believe we are capable of in our time on this planet. I mean, it’s a pretty big deal.
One more nugget to leave you with: How others see you may affect you some, but how you see yourself affects everything.
If you’re interested in talking with Bree Emery, or one of our other incredible counselors, call our office at (970)490-1309. You can also book a session on our website.