We always carry a self-image or a definition of self in not just our heads but in our actions, postures, and critical decisions we make in our lives. In fact, if we look at ourselves closely, the ‘I’ that exists is that self-image. We’d also like to think that we know ourselves better than others do about us and we are very clear about the self-image we hold within. But the truth is almost always far from it. Self awareness is as scarce as common sense. What we believe consciously to be our self-image is, in fact, the defensive-self or the mask we’ve created to face the world. A mask that we’ve built very early in life and have been developing and polishing ever since.
But the true image we hold of ourselves is very deep in our subconscious minds that it takes some practice of awareness to come in contact with it. We get brief glimpse of it when we are provoked into emotion unexpectedly and in our dreams. There are very simple exercises to find out what is truly our opinion about ourselves.
If you’d read one of my previous posts about Voices we carry in our heads (opens in new tab/window), you’ll know that most of the time the arguments we have with other people in our heads are not really arguments with others, but actually an inner conflict. I’ve categorized in that post, the various kinds of voices we carry and it is those voices that provide us with real clues and thoughts about self-image.
These ‘voices’ in our heads are extensions of conflicts we’ve had with others in our lives. For instance, say your spouse said something about you and you found it judgmental – say about your capacity to speak up against your boss, you may or may not argue with your spouse about it, but you then carry around a ‘voice’ of your spouse judging your similarly through your daily activities. And you start an internal argument with that voice and it gradually becomes a part of your daily mental noise.
Now coming back to finding out your self-image through the use of this inner voices we carry in our heads, every time an argument pops up in your head try to look at it dispassionately and without attachment as if you are listening to two strangers speaking to each other at a bus stop. By doing that the first thing you may notice about the voice is that it is not actually a real person speaking to you at that point of time but an imagination on your part. Any voice in your head is a part of your imagination and therefore an extension of your beliefs about yourself and not opinions of others. See what category the voice falls into (see Voices in our Heads for the categories).
Voices of guilt and shame point to a kind of self opinion, like say seeing ourselves as a ‘bad’ person or a ‘sinner’. They may even speak about how ‘deserving’ of something good we feel we are. ‘Put-me-downers’ speak about our opinions about our capabilities. They could also be speaking of the ‘loser’ in us. Morality checks also speak about our guilt – more likely our current actions and our own approval and disapproval of them. Voices usually fall into more than one category since at a deeper level all our problems are interconnected webs springing from our sense of insecurity, self-hatred, and fear.
Once you start trying to find your self-image through this exercise, you may encounter the difficulty of trying to watch your inner arguments being pulled into them. It is an expected difficulty. Just keep on with the practice. Every second of dispassionate observation adds to inner enlightenment. Some ‘voice’ may even start commenting on your inability to stay detached and try to use this activity to feed your mental noise. Just be aware of it, and you will be able to bypass it. Remember, awareness is the key.