Studies show that much of what we think about ourselves is based on ideas planted in childhood. Our five, six, and seven-year-old selves will internalize and believe a lot of the negativity we're exposed to.
As we grow up, the false or misinformed beliefs of others become our own beliefs about ourselves.
So, it's safe to say that if you have a poor self-image, it's based on the opinion of others that your vulnerable self internalized.
But who could have such a lasting impact on your self-perception? There are three main groups that shape our poor self-image. Let's take a look at how they could have done that.
With this new awareness, you can look at the beliefs and actions of these groups today from the perspective of an observer.
You'll notice you're not alone, and I hope, begin to see yourself with new eyes.
1. Family and Friends
You may have heard the saying that babies’ brains are like sponges – they absorb everything! It’s more than a saying, it’s a scientific fact and is based on the theory of the absorbent mind.
Family is the first place where subconscious opinions about ourselves and the world are formed. In psychology, we learn that a critical period of forming subconscious beliefs is from birth to age six.
Does anything stand out for you about that time period?
Friends also have a huge influence on the way we see ourselves. From frenemies to friends with divided loyalty and unfriendly attitudes toward you, you may have internalized the message that you're not valued.
Consider who were your friends over the years and whether you felt totally accepted by them all.
Culture dictates what’s “normal,” acceptable, and desirable in a society. As you can imagine, those values and opinions will influence how most of us see ourselves.
The French culture has fairly healthy attitudes about beauty. As a consequence, we see that French women prefer low-maintenance chic and don’t struggle so much with aging.
Many Asian cultures have very different attitudes about beauty. Scratch that. Their opinions on beauty are pretty toxic.
According to a BuzzFeed article, one-third of South Korean women between the ages of 19 and 29 who were polled, said they had undergone cosmetic surgery. You can find plenty of examples of the extreme beauty standards in South Korea so I don't need to dwell on them here.
But what I'm sure you can appreciate is that the beauty standards of your culture can play a role in how you see yourself.
3. The Media
We’re not just what we eat. We are also what we consume by way of movies, TV, and other forms of media.
In “The Social Dilemma,” we learned how social media uses algorithms that contribute to users becoming addicted to these apps. The documentary also revealed that 97% of young users were on social media ALL THE TIME.
The media’s influence on our self-image can be very impactful in its effect but subtle in its transmission. The problematic messages they telegraph to you about yourself could have seeped in without your knowing it.
Do you think you belong to a group that today's media (which has improved over the past 15 years) deems less attractive, less deserving, less protected, and unequal? If yes, they could have something to do with your poor self-image today.
These three forces – friends and family, culture, and the media – might be at the root of how you see yourself.
I'm not just trying to point fingers and give you someone to blame. Rather, I want to help you understand why a poor self-image can be so hard to overcome: they came from people we trusted and groups whose consequential impact you didn't notice.
If your low self-image was shaped by one of these groups, how do you change?
You need to work with someone or join a support group of some kind. A coach who does subconscious reprogramming work might use hypnosis, writing exercises, and other tools to help you. And meeting with others with shared experiences can help you understand how you came to have the poor self-image that you do.
Knowing you are not alone can be the support and encouragement you need to work on your poor self-image.