Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Keyless Entry of Self Image

Self-image is the personal view we have of ourselves. It is our mental image or self portrait. Self-image is an internal dictionary that describes the characteristics of the self, including concepts like intelligence, beauty, kindness, selfishness or insensitivity. These characteristics form a collective representation of our assets and liabilities as we see them. Relationships reinforce what we think and feel about ourselves. Self-image is important because how we think about ourselves directly affects how we feel about ourselves and how we respond to life.

How we think and feel about ourselves influences the way we react or respond to life stressors. A hopeless self-image can lead to suicide. Self-image possessing body strength and health can lead to wellness. A loving self-image can lead to a life full of loving relationships. An angry self-image can lead to a life of isolation. A fearful self-image can lead to a life of suffering. In these ways, self-image can determine the quality of our relationships with others.

How we imagine ourselves to be can be different from how we witness ourselves to be, but ultimately the two will become the same if our desire to be as we imagine is unwavering. Depending on the beliefs we gather throughout our life, our self-image can bring us success and happiness, or, on the other hand, failure and misery. But this image can change, if we start questioning our beliefs about our selves and our lives. When our belief system falls apart, we are ready to receive a greater truth, and resurrect belief, born anew with possibility.

What do YOU think?


Derek said...

Yes, this is so correct. After 30 years of being a therapist and seeing how my clients with poor self-images tend to destroy themselves, I am still amazed at my surprise when I see yet another example of the destructive power negative thinking can have.

It is such a subtle force and in my own meditation, I often uncover examples of how my mind continues this practice often below my level of awareness. How a negative judgement of another brings a subtle feeling of isolation for instance. I read some interesting words earlier this morning that were spoken by the Dalai Lama at the end of his Nobel Prize lecture -

"For as long as space endures,
and for as long as living beings remain,
until then my I, too, abide,
To dispel the misery of the world"

Those few words, seemed to make so much sense to me as a therapist. That there is nothing better than experience of conflicting mental processes with which I can understand others.

Renata said...

What you wrote is completely true and resonated with me. I would love for you to expand more on how we can start changing/questioning our beliefs about ourselves so that we can change a low self image into a new transformative one?

Howard said...

Molly I agree. Our self-image or self-identity is everything. It is the foundation for all of our perceptions and reactions in life. The reactions that stem from our protection or propagation of our self-image create the conditions (attract the people places and things) that allow us to experience ourselves.

Renata, One of the key aspects to the change you seek is to question whether the sponsoring memory or thought that gives your low self-image life still serves you. Is it even true anymore. While previously you have believed and experienced it as true it doesn't mean you have to still see it that way now. You are only and always who you say you are in each and every moment. You always hold the creative power over your self-definition. With this knowledge and a self-loving mindset the possibilities are endless.....

Mokuin said...

I have met somewhat awakened people who have had paranoically unbalanced views of themselves, for example they saw themselves as selflessly serving all being in the great name of Religious Vows, yet they would manipulate, belittle, and destroy anyone who questioned them in any way... Their view was that other people were sabotaging the greater good (which of course, had them in the high seat, and only they were qualified to determine what that was).

In such a case there is a clear split between the persons life, and their perception of that life. They were focusing on positivity and a positive image of themselves, yet that same (positive, from their perspective) focus was causing destruction, and ultimately their own unhappiness.
Because it was subjective and not connected to the real expereinces of others.

In this persons case the desire to be a helpful selfless person was unwavering, but their failure to be that was always projected out as the fault of others. So I wouldn't agree that just an unwavering determination creates ourselves as we would like to be..!

LOvely phrasing by the way - "The keyless entry of self image", very poetic!

Sondra said...

If receiving truth requires our belief system to fall apart, and we then get belief again, wouldn't that mean it would require those beliefs to fall apart for us to have truth again, starting up the cycle again?
I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about.
-Joseph Campbell

veryheaven said...

dear molly, love your headline - and it´s so true: we and our influencers (?) have created countless concepts of self. we have and offer keyless entries for others. but as someone said "it all lays in the eye of the beholder". let´s hope that whoever faces us that their eyes are not wide shut ;-)
@ howard:
self-identity should not be the only self-foundation one releys on. identity is not a fixed thing for me. identity has many faces - so the self. i am many, how many are you?

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, my dear molly,
your friend!

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Murray said...

I think the fear of "personality" and "ego" (and I use these terms out of the characteristic language of the modern TS, deliberately) has diverted attention from this honest appraisal. Those concepts are now being increasingly seen as superficial.

Modern healing practices in the so-called energy psychology field, such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), show that accepting oneself is the doorway to healing and transformation. I do not mean wallowing, by this, or a laissez-faire, don't care attitude, but simply acknowledgment; being present to how one is, without struggle or self judgement.

It is not always easy to do that, of course, but there are gentle steps towards it that are well known in those energy disciplines. This also opens out into the whole field of modern coaching, but that is another topic.

I believe that healing ones' self-image is one of the greatest projects one can undertake, and is a key part of treading the spiritual way.

EeHai said...

A timely visit to review our self-image is good especially when the going is tough. Who are we? Can we make it? These are questions that can serve to boost our energy and straighten our stamina, and align our goals.
A new self-image may be formed after the review. If seriously done, I believe the self-image will be a stronger, better one.

Anything Gorgeous
Maths Is Interesting!

Neil said...

Self-image has fallen apart big style of late. Our reaction appears to be that of putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again, using the resources (all the King's horses and all the King's men) that failed to do so in the past. The techniques of self are all around us. Chronic market segmentation advertising and all sorts of quasi- governmental Doublespeak. The idea is to produce docile bodies and governmentality. What of truth in self development? What of the creativity of the liars' tales in which our self is spun? What of the repeated Machiavellian rebirths of our "management fashions"? I would sense that Molly has something here about greater truth following a collapse of world-view, but what are we to take as truth and does one want to take truth at a moment of collapse? Great narratives have been shown, repeatedly to be mythical and we are supposed to stand in incredulity towards them. What might an acceptable metanarrative for rebirth be? What evidential-basing criteria would we use? How might we withstand attempts to rebirth us as merely a smiling brotherhood of shiny success at the expense of others or as learners of the litany of new management that is merely the old management with new hymns? We should try to structure new communities - self has social context. I'm a believer in Molly's positive messages, but believers can be doubting thomases. Political rhetoric has hardly changed at all in the last 40 years, and neither has literature on "self-improvement". There is much more to collapse than we might initially think.

Chris said...

War is Peace, Neil. Do you deny this?

Neil said...

I would refer you to professor Nietzsche on war Chris. War is the proper theartre of the warrior. Women are for the recreation of the warrior. Postmodernists have long suggested that language is now so impossible we cannot speak without dredging up self-delusion. One might suggest that peace is merely the plotting phase of further war, or self-development the hardening of illusions amongst soldiers of human resource management. Typically, I find myself teaching young men and women who hate the firms they work for to "love them in new ways". I rather think the first has it right and the latter immoral. Some students point out that it is better to work for companies that at least pretend to want to develop them. Still waters no doubt, yet who can deny war is peace, given that war is ever-present? The presence of a draft makes one think a little more deeply about war and the possibilities of peace. The Greeks had many debates about such dunnage - the winners all turn out to have had control of the means of producing the written scripts! Hegel had it that Man would eventually emerge from war between South and North America. One might, of course, choose to allow people to work out who is doing what to whom in an honest fashion. Yours, Protagoras.

Ulysses said...

Our self image has become increasingly dependent upon external influence. There are instances of self image that need to be stifled in order to adapt to social order, which is presented in the form of media and controlled by a bombardment of commercialism aimed at self image in the formative stage. Individuals whose image has been firmly planted and deeply rooted will not succumb to the relentless onslaught geared towards image deconstruction, modification and reconstruction. Basically this is a reprogramming method of the industry and as arch puts it governmentality. In that sense we are addressing the self image of the collective mass, which as we have seen recently has been going through the deconstruction phase via economic destabilization which has macerated our value judgment. What was once a robust image now appears to be emaciated. Now that our collective belief system has broken down we can ultimately seek a valid truth to instill within us that sense of image rebirth along with the sense of newness and open possibility.

This brings out a very important aspect of image development, that being one in which the image components are derived from fallacy source. This aspect clearly indicates conflict between the internal and external image. External image is manipulative and malleable in that it can be enhanced and does not reflect truth image which is internal. This is not to say that the internal image is fixed, however it is more likely to be based on "shadow truths" instead of image desirability. One cannot be what one is not. Regardless of how unwavering our imagination of self image is, it will not become one with external image unless the imaginative portrait is realistic and adheres to fixed physical attributes. I think this clearly shows that self image is to some degree based on a limited set of possibilities established at birth, a parameter of truth, self truth.

Truth now is that our image as a society has been in ruin, as those who have represented that image have failed. As a result of that of our individual self image has taken a fall and needs revamping and revitalization. Though we as individuals are not directly at fault there is a sense of responsibility and guilt for the egregious acts and the resultant conditions that ensued in the global arena. We trusted and closed our eyes because we thought our self image was part of the whole, only to realize the deception by those trusted.

Francis said...

The conventional wisdom in our western societies is that we are basically free agents, living in a world which offers us a myriad of choices, which we then make according to our needs and preferences. Based on these preferences and choices we develop our individual worlds of communities within the wider society in which we find ourselves.

There is a lot about this which is questionable. We are all also conditioned in the communities, societies and worlds in which we live in manifold ways and this conditioning circumscribes and often emasculates our (theoretical) freedom. There are mechanisms here which are essential to the functioning of the (what Neil would describe as consumer-fetish) societies in which we live - to give but one example, it is the basis of the whole advertising industry, so essential for processes based on continuous (growing) consumption; one of the economic essentials for neo-liberal defined free-market structures.

Intellectual elites (such as the members and readers of this worthy forum :-)), may feel that their propensity for introspection and reflection has helped free them from a lot of the conditioning pervasive in their environment - and this may be true ... but mostly only to a certain extent. From our birth we are in a constant dialogue with the societal environments in which we find ourselves and the conditioning which results from these processes is deep, varied and often difficult to recognise and acknowledge. Freedom is a prerequisite, but also a goal, something dynamic, developing and growing. On this journey from freedom to freedom, our self-image also develops and grows (or decays).

And, before we all become too self-congratualtory, we should also realise that people within deeply restraining systems are also capable of developing the free space they need to develop according to the needs they perceive. One good example of this is the way that large sections of the youth in Iran, while not fundamentally attacking the narrow, religious, clerical dominated value-system in which they live, still manage to create spaces for their own freedom and development of self-identity. I spent my teenage years in a small town in the west of Ireland in the 70s - in retrospect, under a very strong, (stifling?) traditional Catholic ethos. That was the way it was - you didn't really question it. Instead, you created your free space within it and, in the end, and in various ways, a lot of us developed the capacities to grow out of it.

Elegant as it seems to be, I have grave doubts about the real advantages of a society ruled by enlightened philosopher-kings à la Plato. Dividing society between enlightened elites and the sheep-like masses is too easy. Life is a ferment, happening everywhere and controlling elites may be spectacularly blind and unfree. Just look at the elites running the world financial systems in the past year!

Vamadevananda said...

A self - image can be true or it can be contrived.

What we know of ourself in truth = determines how we regard ourself. That, in turn, determines how we regard others ( selves ) !

Neil said...

Intellect seems to have little to do with decency most of the time. One can even cast Plato as a materialist if bothered. After all, his guardians were to live free of material concerns (free food at a shared table, free access to each other's wives etc.) in order to be able to be "distinterested" in argument and decision making. I would seriously say that many arguments we think are undecidable rationally actually would be if we could approach ideal speech situations in the realisation that rhetoric is unreliable and a skill - like joinery - and full of legere de main. I always assume Molly is talking about reaching beyond this and in a sense (stripped of the nihilist slur), deconstruction seeks those points after rational agreement and codification where decision is really needed, when one can only do one's best. The old argument in anarchism is that "all truth lies in the main destruction" - if only we can peel away "society" there is a "natural truth" underneath.

Juan said...

It seems to me that asserting a self-image is akin to a marketing campaign, where you are trying to fool a) Yourself and b) Others. I've found it more helpful to build what I think of as a self-model, as opposed to a self-image of myself including my known leanings/ limitations.

Of course, every once in a while one finds the need to market one's self, just don't buy your own BS.

Ulysses said...

I don't see as much of the focus on self image as a facade. While self image can be and many time is a facade there is such a thing as a self image based upon truth identity. Was Gandhi's self image BS? Self model, self image; where is the difference? In light of apparent misleadings run rampant in our society I can see how the first inclination leans towards identifying self images as falsehoods. I'm thinking on these lines because I feel the my personal self image is not a facade or a marketing strategy and never purport myself to be anything over and above that which I am. Then again in retrospect I can see why many times throughout my life I was duped by people who's self image was highly based upon BS, while I was thinking, and I still do, that there was more integrity in a persons self image.

Neil said...

We used to use a simple tool called Johari's Window to begin to get at these matters. There's what I can see about me, what I don't see about me, what others can see of me and what others can't see of me. Once we throw in deception (a key evolutionary ingredient), it gets quite complicated. When it comes to perception, have a think about this fairly recent MIT experiment. Kidnap several hundred students. Split into two groups. Let the first group try 2 beers - budweiser and busweiser with a tad of balsamic vinegar. Tell them about the balsamic addition. They nearly all say the beer with vinegar in is shite. Use the second group as a control and just give them the two "beers" - don't tell them about the vinegar. This group actually prefer the bud with balsamic vinegar in it. Wondering it you have a new miracle (drinkable Budweiser) on hand, you kidnap another group of students. You give this lot the bud and bud plus as well, not telling them about the vinegar until after the experiment. This lot say much the same as the lot not told about the balsamic vinegar at all. Some may think this just goes to show that Budweiser is only fit for throwing away on students acting as guinea pigs or that MIT has been secretly recruiting vinegar drinkers. We may know so little of ourselves that we haven't realised Budweiser has been selling us vinegar for years - or perhaps there is something about being physiologically cued by certain information?

Juan said...

Well, I think there's a lot more detail to delve into, and distinctions to make. Ghandi is a really good example, because he is such a legend. I doubt how he saw himself resembled what the world saw. And I have no idea if he had some ideal image of himself that he wanted to internalize and project.

I suppose I like the word Model much better, because an Image indicates a snapshot. A picture can only show one facet of a person, which is inadequate when we are so many things in so many different circumstances, some of which are incongruous.

I'm guessing any disagreement we have is only terminology. I'm certainly not in any position to say that you present yourself other than who you are. I suppose I'm just responding to the idea that your image of yourself defines who you are, as in most things in life, this is only partially true. I know, for myself, being thirty, am just really beginning to figure out who I am. My person has balked at any of my attempts to form a single image of myself.

Juan said...

It's an infuriating idea, but one I've accepted, that a person can never really fully comprehend themselves. As you've said, Johari's Window. It doesn't help that we are also malleable creatures, subject to mob thinking, able to contradict ourselves when necessary. When it comes down to it, we don't so much HAVE self-images, but USE self- images.

Neil said...

I suspect some people are miles away from reality and reality about themselves Lon. I think I'm right in this, but it could be me whistling Dixie or talking to the fairies.

Ulysses said...

Excerpt from above; External image is manipulative and malleable in that it can be enhanced and does not reflect truth image which is internal. This is where we agree, as you say "we are also malleable creatures subject to mob thinking, able to contradict ourselves when necessary."

I remember a story about a Nazi attempt to forge British pounds during the war effort. They handpicked Jewish prisoners, who were professionals in printing. They worked in a factory where they forged the currency. I also saw a interview with one of the survivors who said ........."at night the guards would sit with us, eat dinner with us, play games and laugh as if we were all good friends, but in the morning when they would put on their uniforms they would treat us like the prisoners we were, it was like you never knew them"...............

This is a perfect example of how the self image is completely revamped. Sometimes it is necessary to do so for political reason or adherence to a social order. One must conform in order to survive.

Excerpt from http://www.post gazette.com/pg/07022/755902-28.stm Capt. Kruger and his team of SS guards spared their Jewish prisoners the degradations they had known previously in Nazi camps, according to Mr. Malkin's account. The inmates had decent food, civilian clothes, cigarettes, books and board games. They even received parcels from outside. They were allowed to grow their hair and listen to the radio. They worked eight-hour days. They had Sundays off. Mr. Burger played ping-pong with the SS.

This behavior is concurrent within our world, evidenced by corrupt leaders and the many scandalous accounts. What we see is not what we get, what we are told is not what transpires.

Edward said...

I can confidently vouch for your proposition that we never fully comprehend ourselves and for everyone else's points about self image as well. Molly, as usual you have come up with another pertinent observation about the human condition and started one more excellent discourse.

As a living example of the effects self-image can have on one's own life as well as on the lives of those whom I interact, I am also of an age where I can be more honest about myself then heretofore permitted, and I have to say that I'm sorely disappointed with the entire dynamic of self-image -- not with it's reality but rather with how it has played itself out in my own particular instance.

Such dangerous tools should be kept out of the hands of those ill- equipped to play with them. The complete genesis of self image may be mostly hidden but I'd be willing to bet a large sum a vast majority of it has to do with family, particularly ones' parents and siblings.

Self image may in some ways rely on genetics but I believe the vast majority of it is instilled in us during our single digit youth which, like marriage -- for better or worse -- we carry forward into whatever pathways we travel in life, trailing its detritus behind us.

Parts of our self image including how we feel about ourselves are readily apparent in our external behavior, which makes us more transparent to others than to ourselves until we reach that point of development where we can begin to look at ourselves more honestly. I went through most of my life knowing something was terribly wrong but lacked the ability to figure out what. At least till I began to indulge in therapy.

But even now, many years later, there are still deep aspects of my self image which are hidden from me or which I refuse to see and acknowledge. Perhaps long term deep psychotherapy might uncover them but that's an impractical approach for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I've come to distrust most psychological therapists. It's a profession that seems to lay a deadly trap for it's pratitioners. I can imagine listening to the deepest and darkest parts of others day after day after year after year takes its toll, but on the other hand some of these people are fairly twisted beforehand which likely led them into the profession of psychology.

But honestly determining your own self image is at least as daunting as trying to overcome the psychologically habitual behavior that stems from those deeply buried images. On a personal level I know some of the self image I learned as a child -- that I was worthless, no-good, evil, and would never amount to anything -- and how much that image played itself out over the course of my life. It was extensive and is still being played out.

Yet I also know there are parts of my self image to which I am not privy. They may be worse or they may be better than those I've uncovered but the fact they are there disturbs me because it means I do not have full control over my own psyche and life. I am still reacting to thoughts, ideas, images and beliefs that were instilled in me by a dysfunctional family and of which to this day I know little to nothing.

This early self image worked to prevent me from developing any positive feelings about myself. From as young as I can remember through sixty eight years to today I still reverberate those early images and add to them in my own prophetically self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating behavior which is then reinforced further by the reactions from others appropriate to my own self-image.

I long to know myself as I truly am but this still eludes me. Perhaps it is one of those things one learns at the end as one's life flashes before one's eyes -- unfortunately a bit too late to do anything about it. Or perhaps not. But one thing is certain -- to me at least -- as parents each and every one of us have a critical responsibility to ensure our children have a healthy image of themselves upon which to build. But as long as we remain dysfunctional within ourselves how can we teach our children different?

Vamadevananda said...

The point I state is simple :

When I form an image of a particular pet ( say, a cow ) based on how it appears, it would be an image found on appearance ( a subjective interpretation of it, really.

However, when I form an image ( an understanding, really ) based on what I know of the pet, my image is found on truth ( to the extent I have grasped it ).

In respect of ourselves, we are what we are to our own eye, as we are. There is nothing we do not know of ourself, in truth. However, we are ever free to re - form ( edit and add special effects ) what we know of ourself and project it as the self image, to ourself and / or to others.

The first would be in truth. The second would be contrived.

What others perceive of ourself is not the self image I speak of ... it is what we perceive of ourself.

To restate : What we know of ourself determines the regard we have of ourself. It may be highy disconcerting or liberating, or anything in between.

And, how we regard ourself determines how we regard others !

Ulysses said...

I agree wholly as the parental influence is greatly overlooked as being a integral part of the image formation. I know my parents could never understand the philosophy of self image and the influence, or lack of, they had upon it. Only mom is left anyway and she doesn't really know what day it is. But on track, it could only be the discovery of this tidbit of information that could lead a person down the path of self image realization and modification based upon true self awareness. I feel a strong correlation between this thread and the Golden Shadow thread (another Molly wonder). We cannot change the outward projection without recognizing what lies in the shadow. This recognition allows us to weed out that which we know is not our true being and without it we continue to waver in the sea of possibilities. Personally I feel self image coincides with and is pertinent to the life that we are living at the time. Our age, environment, circumstances all contribute to our self image. There may have been times where self image mattered not but new environs awaken the need to (re)establish our self image. ie: The image of a playboy doesn't cut it in the nursing home, nor does the image of a sultry sex kitten. The complexity increases as we further delve into the perspectives of self image. It seems to me that self image must change with time and the parameters of life changes. For those who live their lives from birth to death in the same house, the same town with unchanging environs have little to no need to examine self image for it fits comfortably within their life circumstance. Those whose live change often must often change their self image.

Vamadevananda said...

self - image is not only in respect of the environment.

It is a constant. We cannot avoid having and living with one, wherever and whenever. The rest follows : whether in truth or in fantasy, manipulative or manipulated !

Ulysses said...

Never stated that it was "only" in respect to environment but that environment is increasingly having a greater impact on the formation of self image. The constant is the internal self image which does not have to be revealed to others. The image of the exterior can be manipulated and enhanced to create a facade. The internal self image has two parts, one that is the truth image, unchangeable as in you are who you are and the other can be what you think you are regardless of it's truth value, denial or wishful thinking. The internal self image is not fixed, see my first post in thread.

Molly Brogan said...

Everyone brings a delicious piece of the pie here to the discussion. (can't get enough pie during the holidays!) I love the idea of the collective self image and know it is an important one, directly related to our own internal self-image. I have been asking myself how, in the past few days of celebration with friends and family. I think that individually, we express ourselves in art, science and economies. Conversely (or sometimes paradoxically,) we find ourselves influenced by what is manifest in culture, technology/industry, politics. As I examine my own internal workings, I think that there may be a disconnect of self image (individual and collective) if I identify (find my identity in) culture, politics etc., instead of knowing myself through my relationship with these "things." Allowing the objective world to dictate self image leaves me feeling separate and wanting.

Why worry about what others think, do, say? Why feel the need to conform to trends, ideologies, etc.? If I think instead about my relationship to them, (how do they serve my day to day life, when I am in service to them am I feeling my highest potential, in what ways do I benefit and contribute, what do they show me about myself, can I feel the love?) I can let go of what is limited and unchangeable. I think most of all, Gruff, about you, and how the world has let you down. Your relationship to all that is so much more important than anything that was said and done. You are MORE than any of that...and there can be a relationship that includes forgiveness, compassion and self determination. I truly believe that the state of mind we are in when we leave this world is what carries us into what is next. If we can find our way to self love, peace and harmony in our final moment ... we may just find that the rest of what the world offered us in this life falls away from our next experience.

I think that as our self-image improves and changes and our relationship to the collective image improves and changes, we are hooked into our limitless nature. Those parts of ourselves that have us seeing ourselves as separate from everyone, better or worse, angry or resentful - define the limits of our self-image.

Francis said...

The idea of self-image(s) is embedded in what we call (self-) consciousness, a word we all use, but the meaning of which is a major topic of discussion. My own thinking on this subject has been deeply influenced in the past few months by my exploration of the ideas of Daniel C. Dennett (following a recommendation here on Minds-Eye), in particular, in this case, his book, "Consciousness Explained" (New York, 1991).

To simplify radically, Dennett posits a radical change in the way we should see consciousness, rejecting models based on what he calls a "Cartesian Theater", "an obscure 'center' of the mind/brain ... a place where 'it all comes together' and consciousness happens" (op. cit., p.39) in favour of a "multiple-draft" model of consciousness; something manifold and dynamic, composed of many strands; aborning, developing, fading away; influencing each other, combining, entwining, contradicting or complementing each other; coalescing out of continuous interaction between perceptions, thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories and experiences. Something constantly in movement and development and producing, in this ongoing, incredibly complex process, our sense of discrete, continuous, self-apprehending self - a ghost in the machine in a model in which there are no such things as ghosts! In Dennett's model we construct our selves. This is a very different context in which to think about self-images - in this respect, consciousness is composed of myriad self-images, complexly interacting.

This does not imply nihilism. I'll finish this with a longer quotation:
"...If the self isn't a real thing, what happens to moral responsibility? One of the most important roles of a self in our traditional conceptual scheme is as the place where the buck stops, as Harry Truman's sign announced. If selves aren't real - REALLY real - won't the buck just get passed on and on, round and round, forever? If there is no Oval Office in the brain, housing a Highest Authority to whom all decisions can be appealed, we seem to be threatened with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy of homunculi, who always reply, when challenged: 'Don't blame me, I just work here.' The task of constructing a self that can TAKE responsibility is a major social and educational project, and you are right to be concerned about threats to its integrity. But a brain-pearl, a real, 'intrinsically responsible' whatever-it-is, is a pathetic bauble to brandish like a lucky charm in the face of this threat. The only hope, and not at all a forlorn one, is to come to understand, naturalistically, the ways in which brains grow self-representations, thereby equipping the bodies they control with responsible selves when all goes well. Free will and moral responsibility are well worth wanting, and ... the best defence of them abandons the hopelessly contradiction-riddled myth of the distinct, separate soul." (op. cit. pp 429-430)

Molly Brogan said...

For all of his flamboyant language, Dennett's idea of our need to step into our authority and allow it to form our connection with others in ways that naturally create morality is a good one. If we are thinking and behaving in ways that are good for us and those around us, and owning our authority to do so, our integrity reinforces our self- image. The fact that we see "others" not doing this, or what has been done in the past is inconsequential because it provides a view that others are separate from us. Free will (sorry Pat) and responsibility only work when we recognize our relationship to others, and how our thoughts and actions effect all. This does not mean that all in the world has to be "goodness as seen in the good and evil" model, but "goodness accepting the deconstruction and chaos sometimes necessary to move into possibility" model. An authority that understands that the echoes of opinion and discontent of those that can't see the possibility on the horizon will soon quell in the face of a new tomorrow, is one that can move ahead based on a strong self-image. Thus, and empowered self-image comes about with a simple shift in thinking.

Edward said...

Thank you Molly, but the world has not let me down. If anything I've let myself down. Actually I was really quite blase about my lot in life until I was in my mid-forties. I had just accepted what was and enjoyed life as much as possible. Basically I had gone through those first forty someodd years avoiding responsibility like it was the plague. It was how I dealt with life. When things got tough, I packed up and left for new places. I had no idea who or what I was or where I was going. Nor did it matter. I guess it was a case of coming from nothing so I had nothing to go to. The only thing that puzzled me was that I had learned over time that I was pretty intelligent. I couldn't figure out where it came from because I'd seen nothing but ignorance and stupidity in my immediate family.

But then I got on the Internet and ran my family name in AltaVista (are they even still around?) and found the lost half of my family -- my father's side -- the Tomchin clan. It immediately became clear where my intelligence and talent came from. The Tomchins were all successful business people, lawyers, artists, etc. A whole lot of things became clear to me and anomalous pieces fell into place. For instance, finding out after my father died that he could play classical piano. That was so freaking out of place to me given what I'd known about him, but the Internet cleared all that up. Talent and intelligence are genetic to the degree that is where I got mine. There was never any sign of either in my mother's family. They were clodhopping lowlife from all I can tell.

This discovery on the 'net was a turning point in my life. I finally understood a lot about myself ... at least a lot of the whys and wherefores. I began contacting various members of my father's family but was always rebuffed. Then I put the pieces together and concluded that I'd inherited my intelligence and assorted talents genetically but I couldn't discern what it was that made my father's family disown him -- or perhaps even back further than that to my paternal grandfather. Hell it could even o generations back. Jews hold grudges for a long time it seems. At least the Jews in my father's family did. I don't suppose I'll ever find out why my father was rejected and disowned but it's probably something simple -- that he married my mother even.

But the turn that I took was to become very angry .. not that the world had let me down but rather that my father's family were so brutal and unforgiving. They obviously knew talent and intelligence and knew how to nurture it so that it would blossom into accomplishment. That was denied me and I'm very angry about it and can't seem to get past the anger.

So it's anger I've got to deal with -- which is not anything that should evoke sorry and pity. I'd really like to get over it. I don't want to die angry. I don't think that's the best state of mind to be in for dying. As I've said many times in other posts: I'm fully convinced that one's state of mind at the moment of death is of penultimate importance and anger's not the right state.

So no sympathy or sorrow please. However, if anyone can enlighten me how to get rid of anger, I'm all ears. (Eyes actually since there's no sound here but the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard.) Thanks for all your input and consideration. I'm very comfortable here.

Molly Brogan said...

"that my father's family were so brutal and unforgiving"

I'm no therapist, Gruff, but I know that sometimes, when I talk things through, I come to my own realizations. Your description of your father's family may also apply to a part of yourself that you cannot forgive. The paradox of the pharisee (when we say 'I am not that' we become it) takes an enormous embrace - but until we can forgive and let go of those parts of self that we identify in others to create so much emotion - that paradox continues to return to us.

Ulysses said...

Anger takes on many shades, gruff, and degrees of intensity as well. In that respect I try to identify the anger, classify the anger and then have a better chance of resolving it. Angers involving the past are the easiest for me to deal with because I view life as being a roll of film with every moment of life being a new frame. It is easily perceived that I don't want to take pictures of the same subject matter as that would simply be wasting film. Therefore the past experience which used up a large portion of the film is no longer viable as a new experience and should be archived. What others did in the past that negatively affected my life no longer pertains to my life since I had become that individual person that creates the future. To think that if (A) didn't happen then I wouldn't be living (B) is wasteful energy because no one really knows what is going to happen in life. For some people when (A) did happen it ultimately cost them their lives. Perhaps we, through certain events in life, are saved from undergoing something worse than the present condition that we perceive undesirable as a result of (A). Through this reasoning I am able to simply dismiss the experience as just that, an experience, one which I cannot change but can look at as having some value. It is like the 1990 movie, Mr. Destiny, check it out if you can.
Anger of course is a subject that requires more examination and I don't mean to trivialize it in any way. I just want to at least scratch the surface of how I view anger and how I deal with it, which in a sense coincides with how I deal with many other things, through logical reasoning. Anger serves no purpose in my life and accomplishes nothing, so naturally I want to do away with it.

Molly Brogan said...

Anger is hard to nail down because it is really a secondary emotion, often attached to insecurity, defensiveness, defiance, etc. It can be addictive too, as rage-aholics are all too common. Addictive, because it can be (paradoxically) a more comfortable and predictable emotion than say joy, that might require intimacy and sharing in relationship, behaviors that can be scary to someone feeling insecure or defiant. Anger creates distance between us and the world, and often moves from being a natural signal for us to examine a situation, to the reaction of choice because, after all, it is always effective in creating that distance. If we fancy ourselves a victim of villain (or even hero) anger is a useful weapon to create this drama.

Each of us is charged with examining our emotional make up and choosing our responses to the world. An important part of self image to be sure, and only we can do it.

Neil said...

I'm a bit inclined to think we should be angry with the way of the world. This is a complex matter though, as one of the tricks of establishments is about making us angry so that we make fools of ourselves or at least can be made so in their traps. The time to do what Molly points out directly above is often denied us.

Ulysses said...

I find that much anger is a first reaction to a negative action, whether self induced or externally sourced. We can make a wrong decision that results in a negative outcome which displeases us to the point of anger or someone else can do something to bring about the anger. Either way there is a point where the anger can be identified and controlled before it actually takes place. It is at this point that we can cancel the outward expression of the anger and accept the cause, while at the same time making mental note of it. This is when others notice and may state, "I thought you would blow your top about it, what happened". The anger was pre-diagnosed and canceled. It is very rare that someone will act out in anger when the anger has been pre-diagnosed, ie; "If he does that I'm going to get really mad". In this case the recipient of the negative action has identified, classified, and is dealing with the anger before it actually takes place. When the action actually takes place the recipient confirms it but no longer has to act out the anger because it was already subconsciously acted on and there is no longer need to react to it. This of course is confined to future anticipatory angers which are the easiest to deal with. Anger that involves past history is not easily disposed of because it was remains unresolved in the subconscious. These subconscious past history angers need to be processed. My personally means of process as I stated above involves the use of a camera film which becomes analogous with the life experience. I look at the batch of photos, put them in the shoe box and put it away on a shelf in the garage. Gone are the memories, gone are the angers. A first reaction may be anger but later it can be humorous. We must realize the fruitlessness of anger and it's detrimental consequence. Another method I use is the verbal repetition of the negative action. ie; Friend tells you "Bob took the keys to your car a smash it into a pole", at which time you sit down and repeat several times " Bob took the keys to my car and smashed it into a pole". Repeating this several times delays the reaction time and allows one to create a visual picture of the incident which then becomes part of the "processing". There is nothing you can do to change the picture, ranting, raving and chopping off your finger won't help, so that leaves continuing the process and letting the action complete it's cycle. Bob get's arrested, your car get's towed off, and the insurance company picks up the tab. Eliminating the anger makes for a better experience. It is not as easy as it sounds and requires practice with many levels and degrees of anger, however, starting off small can make a difference. Next time you burn something in the oven try laughing about it instead of blowing your top.

Molly Brogan said...

I wonder at what role our self image plays, not only in the quality of our relationships and our overall "happiness" in life, but in our health and prosperity. Can a solid self image that includes strong health and enough resources actually make it so for us?

Derek said...

This is a difficult one as I have met people with shocking physical afflictions with a very strong self-image. It seems to be karma playing its part perhaps and that person is taking on the burden in high spirits. I think the key lies there in acceptance of what is so for them.

Buddha for instance, found through his meditation that the source of all suffering was desire (and this can include non-acceptance of what is so). That bring us to a paradox as his followers are bound desire enlightenment, and yet the desire keeps it away.

But, if I do not sit in zazen (Zen meditation), I am not on the path. The answer then is that I need to transcend the desire for enlightenment and recognise that I am already enlightened anyway.

In the relative world, that we are after all living in, one can sense a positive self-image in another person, often by just being in their presence and maybe exchanging a few words. So I have no doubt that this could influence the good health of the person and his/her prosperity as character strength seems to be attractive to most of us and we would be more willing to follow him/her either in spiritual growth and development, as a therapist, or a business guru.

Health-wise, if there is no karmic or genetic condition, I can't see why a person with a strong self-image, can't experience optimum health, if he/she chooses see him/herself that way.

I think where we start trying to analyse of how the mind can influence health and "happiness", it becomes very complex, because the mind below our consciousness, is completely irrational and will often contract itself.

raphnix said...

This is one wonderful point of view. Looking out your inner self whether through unveiling your weaknesses and strengths are healthy measure toward straight spiritual path.

Alli said...

Great post on self image. You hit the nail right on the head.... our paths and circumstances in life are largely affected by how we perceive ourselves, how much we value our self-worth...

And even the most supportive family or friend who would compliment you, encourage you, or is even your greatest fan can do nothing for you if you don't have a good self image.

The potential inner power we have is always hidden inside us ready to be unlocked if only we "choose" to open the door...and this can only happen when we stop stopping ourselves.

When a person leans more towards negative self imagery, than positive, little do they know how much they are, themselves, stunting their true full capabilities.

Jimmy said...

You said a hopeless self-image can lead to suicide. Co-incidently I noticed a small article in an Indian newspaper : 14 suicides every hour in India...with maximum in the state whose chief city is Mumbai.

Living in Mumbai I have to acknowledge my complicity in all the good and not-so-good feelings, the self-image of Mumbai which is the cumulative cloud formed by the emotional atmosphere generated by each of us living in the city.

The suicides may be just the tip of the human story. Most persons, living even under very miserable conditions and even with a very negative self-image, do not commit suicide. This is not a cause for rejoicing. It simply means we have made living conditions pretty bad in the city, primarily through our emotions.

Yet when calamities strike, perhaps invited by us to wake us up, once again for some time we break clear of the fog and emerge into the sunshine.

In this New Year may we go out into the sunshine more often.

Angie said...

Hello, I enjoyed reading your post, especially since I just finished reading "The Untethered Soul- the journey beyond yourself "by Michael A. Singer.
The part of your post that really "got to me" today was the part about an angry self-image can lead to a life of isolation; my life right now is so uncertain and I feel so much anger towards those closest to me; isolation and limited contact with people is how my days pass. Accepting the moment and people in the moment and letting go of judgment are very challenging when I engage in any interaction lately; so the isolation. "This too shall pass", I certainly hope so.

Sonia said...

The definition of who "I" am is challanging when it hinges on identifying with a label. Self esteem therefore could be stilted depending on whether you identify with a job title or finances or spiritual beliefs. I regard these things as the identification of what others can see. When I get to the person with no name, the person who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, "I" have to ignore the "me", the person doing the job, going to church, making the money or acting the role of mother, wife etc.

It is possible to drown completely the "I" when the "me" takes over. When I get so bogged down in the everyday running of the treadmill I forget that "I" exist at all, that is what I call meaningless existence.

My self image changes all the time. Sometimes I am proud of what I do, or say or think, sometimes I just want to dig a hole and bury it. But within all that, I really really want to just have the reall, "I", restfully and peacefully and happily BEING in the way that will stay the same, never react to people, situations and circumstances and take what "I" have with me when this vessels carrying all the labels for self esteem dies. In order to have self esteem I have to take a look outside of myself at myself and that is how I know that indeed there exists an "I" (the observer) and a "me", (the observed).

I don't want to define myself and my "ok" -ness in other's eyes. On the contrary, I would like to assure everyone that I will probably not be able to live up to any expectations and will probably let people down in some way or another. That way I won't disappoint anyone and everyone can rest in the fact that they can simply accept me and I them and we can all be happy, regardless.

The "selfless" thing is also a bit not ok with me. Because in order to be selfless I would have to be, by definition less of self. Not ok. As far as I am concerned I am not able to make anyone happy if it is at a cost of self. I don't want to be with anyone or do anything because of regarding their happiness more important than my own. If we all did that we may all turn out to be "holy" but we wil all be unhappy,busy making others happy!

I say, love is because love is. If you are love, if you are a fresh breath of air, that is what you are. Not just to some people. You are what you are, just like a rose is a rose is ....and therein lies heaven.

Count Sneaky said...

Do not be afraid to sharply question your beliefs about yourselves, your lives, your most cherished opinions and sacred cows. Do not ever quit and expect you have learned anything of value. This is not another method, or path to truth. There is no path to truth. Self-knowledge is wisdom. Count Sneaky

Tomas Karkalas said...

Thank you for the wonderful post. It helped me greatly to name my own experience and thus freed from painful confusion. While I thought about the fine arts as about my profession, I was tightly bound to the market, and there were no pure joy for the beauty of the sunbeam... As you say "How we imagine ourselves to be can be different from how we witness ourselves to be" The professional artist worries for the feedbacks for his own handicrafts, meanwhile the true creativity is the hearty song of gratitude - the recognition of oneself in the eyes of other and thus the President and the beggar hug each other and welcome the life together as dear brothers in the same Spirit.

schizoshrink said...

love this post.. challenges my thoughts....

George said...

Personally I think alot of religion and collective social conditioning has alot to do with how we perceive ourselves. In my opinion the objective of mass media is to shape public opinion. In other words, it is the media's job to tell you how to think and to continue to shape those thoughts. This is why "free-thinkers" in this society have always been chided !
Until a person realizes the true nature of God he will never fully understand himself. And I state this comment knowing that this Nation is a Christian Nation that has conditioned us to think that God is " in " Heaven with a bunch of naked, chubby angels flying around Him. Yet none of us has been led to think that if God indeed is "in" Heaven, that would make Him a physical entity, like you and I , bound by the natural laws such as gravity and the like.

David said...

OK, I'll take a crack at this one. I think that self-image is extremely important in setting the tone for almost everything we do. It would be wonderful if self-image was really self created and we could chose how to view ourselves. Of course we can, but doing so may be extremely difficult. I believe that our self-image begins developing before birth from a combination of Karma and genetics. Maybe a child is innately reserved (Karma) and thin and weak by birth (genetics). It doesn't take long for a self-image to be developed around these characteristics. As we grow older our parents have a huge impact on influencing our self-image, either negative or positive. Through high school and college, peers may play a role in reenforcing the image of ourselves. By the time we are able to guide our own self-image through free will, we have a ton of baggage to sort through, which we must either keep or discard. For some folks that baggage may be so heavy that it takes a lifetime to become free of it. Others may have a great self-image right from the start due to good luck or hard work. Either way, hopefully our self-image changes throughout life as we move closer to the eternal.

Tim ONeil said...

I would take this idea deeper and move beyond the surface of how you see yourself. I am this, and I am that. How you see yourself is really just a story. Your story. It is an illusion that separates you from your truth and the ability to see clearly. The sooner you can drop your story the sooner you can start living your life. In the end, there is no me that is separate from everything else. It is an illusion, your self's illusion.

Molly Brogan said...

I think that "in the end" (itself an illusion) we are not only connected to all, but also separate. The one and the many. Ultimately, there is no illusion, only all that I AM that is God, which includes all that is else. The paradox holds life's great mystery, we are who we are and all that is. As we step into this, we step into our self as creator, and self image becomes all that is.

Janeth said...

"there are gentle steps towards it that are well known in those energy disciplines."---Greetings, Murray, thank you very much for your intelligent and perceptive comment... Kindly, if/when you can spare a moment, will you please consider enlightening our minds and hearts with as many steps, as you can share with us, that might help us, as you smartly put it, in our "honest appraisal"?

Martin said...

In recognizing the self from the Self, we become the world,
Observing the world we understand the true Nature of the Self:

Countless lives I was in search for Oneness,
A thousand dreams I was in madness,
Now finally I see my heart come to peace,
Since all I was chasing was life's outer tease...

George said...

Personally I think alot of religion and collective social conditioning has alot to do with how we perceive ourselves. In my opinion the objective of mass media is to shape public opinion. In other words, it is the media's job to tell you how to think and to continue to shape those thoughts. This is why "free-thinkers" in this society have always been chided !
Until a person realizes the true nature of God he will never fully understand himself. And I state this comment knowing that this Nation is a Christian Nation that has conditioned us to think that God is " in " Heaven with a bunch of naked, chubby angels flying around Him. Yet none of us has been led to think that if God indeed is "in" Heaven, that would make Him a physical entity, like you and I , bound by the natural laws such as gravity and the like.