We develop our self-image — our view of who we are — in our family and culture, where we come to see ourselves as we were seen by others.
Our self-image can be a problem in our lives because, in essence, it’s a conditioned habit that is hard to break free from. It consists of the views we download about our physical and psychological characteristics, our intelligence and abilities, and our value and worthiness as a human being.
Consider that, although your self-image is largely formed and conditioned by others’ views of you, you still come to think of it as you, as your “I” or “me.” Your conditioned image of who you are becomes what I call “your wrong psychological address.” This wrong address is where you reside much of the time, but it’s not your true home. It’s not where you in fact belong. But you don’t realize this error, because you continually mistake your wrong self-image based address as your proper dwelling place.
The truth is that our self-image is terribly powerful, because whether or not it’s accurate, we think, feel and act in accord with it. This fact has caused at least as much suffering and as much wasted life as war. A self-image is like a mask we put on but we can’t get off. To make matters worse, we typically forget that we put it on. The fact is that our self-image can cause us a lot of pain and trouble and it can leave us adrift in a sea of emotional confusion and limited assumptions about who we are and about what can happen in our lives.
As long as we live from our conditioned self-image, we’re stuck in small, cramped quarters — in an identity too small for who we actually are. You can think of your conditioned self-image as a “surface identity.” If you are to create and enjoy a life that can be well-lived, loved and understood, you must move beyond this surface identity into your deeper core identity.