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Self-Image in Recovery

Chapter 15: Self–Image in Recovery

Section 3: SEA's Tools for Recovery Lifestyle 
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Self–Image in Recovery

What is self‑image?

Self‑image is:

  • How you regard yourself.
  • The mental picture of how you believe you appear to others.
  • How you picture your physical self.
  • How you believe others see you physically.
  • Your idea (positive or negative, rational or irrational) of how you present yourself to others and how you are subsequently judged by them.
  • A personal assessment of your character, personality, skills, abilities, and other attributes.
  • A powerful internal mechanism influencing how you feel about yourself.
  • Accumulation of scripts you have been given (consciously or otherwise) and have learned well throughout your life.

What is involved in creating a self‑image?

Your self‑image is developed by how you assess the following factors in your personhood:

  • Physical appearance.
  • Shape of your body.
  • Accomplishments.
  • in academics.
  • Achievement in athletics.
  • Social skills.
  • Value system.
  • Skills, abilities and competencies.
  • Relationship with family, relatives, siblings, peer group, and others.
  • Behavior in social and professional situations.
  • Background and environment from which you came.
  • Roles played in life at school, home, work and in the community.
  • Jobs and job titles held.
  • Goals, ambitions and aspirations for the future.

How does your self‑image affect you?

It is from your self‑image that you:

  • Develop labels for yourself.
  • Develop scripts as to how you believe you should act to fit the image.

If your self-image label is: fat

Then your script says you should: overeat and not exercise


If your self‑image label is: drunk

Then your script says you should: drink to excess


If your self‑image label is: Intelligent

Then your script says you should: be a good problem solver and decision maker


If your self‑image label is: Thin

Then your script says you should: control your eating and exercise habits, always look chic


If your self‑image label is: competent

Then your script says you should: be able to handle life's challenges with confidence, be successful in your endeavors


If your self‑image label is: Friendly

Then your script says you should: be easy to get to know, sociable, outgoing


If your self‑image label is: Negative

Then your script says you should: always see the dark, pessimistic side of life


If your self‑image label is: handsome/beautiful

Then your script says you should: have the looks that appeal to others, trendy fashions and hairstyle, pay close attention to physical self


If your self‑image label is: compulsive

Then your script says you should: act in a compulsive way


If your self‑image label is: depressed

Then your script says you should: act in a depressed way


If your self‑image label is: loser

Then your script says you should: act like a loser


If your self‑image label is: winner

Then your script says you should: act like a winner

What does yourself Image do for you?

Your self-image:


1. Develops expectations for how you are to act and react.

  • If you act and react according to the expectations, then you develop high self‑concept.
  • If you act and react differently from the expectations, you see yourself in a negative light, resulting in a poor self‑concept.


2. Develops self‑talk by which you continuously reinforce your self‑image.

  • Positive self‑talk yields self‑affirming behaviors.
  • Negative self‑talk yields self‑defeating behavior.


3. Sets goals for yourself.

  • If self‑image is too high or unrealistic, you set goals that are often unreachable or too perfectionistic. You continue to fall short of the mark.
  • If self‑image is too low and unrealistic, you set goals that are too easily reached, never attaining overall satisfaction.
  • If self‑image is realistic, you can set attainable goals leading to overall satisfaction.

What impact does body image have on self‑image?

Body image, one part of self‑image, is the way people see their bodies in their mind's eye. Body image affects how people view themselves because:

  • Physical appearance is the external presentation people make to others.
  • Physical appearance is the first quality by which people are judged.
  • Our society is very physical appearance oriented, e.g., where thin is in, muscles and flat stomachs are in, etc.
  • If you feel attractive, you will act accordingly; the reverse is true if you feel unattractive.
  • Your self‑image is affected by the ways others react to your physical appearance.

How does your body image shape up?

The following items will help you assess your body image. Read each statement and write down those items which are true about your own body image:

  1. I dislike seeing myself in mirrors.
  2. I find shopping for clothes unpleasant.
  3. I am ashamed to be seen in public.
  4. I like to pretend to be invisible in public settings.
  5. I am initially shy in social gatherings or when I meet new people.
  6. I think my body is ugly.
  7. I usually dress in a way to hide my body.
  8. I am self-conscious about my body in the presence of a person of the opposite sex.
  9. I feel that other people must think my body is unattractive.
  10. I feel self‑conscious in a bathing suit.
  11. I avoid social occasions like swim parties, beach picnics, or hotel pools where swim suits are usually worn.
  12. I feel that my family and friends are often embarrassed to be seen with me in public.
  13. I find that I am constantly comparing my body to those of others.
  14. I avoid going out in public because I am so self‑conscious about my body.
  15. I find it difficult to enjoy activities because I am conscious of my physical appearance.
  16. I do not enjoy dressing up for special occasions because I am never happy with how I look.
  17. I feel self‑conscious sitting in a beauty salon or barber shop because of my physical appearance.
  18. I feel self-conscious over my weight problem and how it affects my looks.
  19. I am always negative and critical whenever I think of my body.
  20. I am intimidated by people who have bodies which I believe look better than mine.


If you wrote down three or more items, your body image is affecting your self‑image in a negative way.

What are some ways that you can change your body image?

It is important for you to keep your body image current so that you will act in a way to reinforce this image, i.e., by eating in moderation, exercising, etc. To help yourself to see yourself as you are: 

  • Begin looking in mirrors frequently.
  • Keep an old picture of yourself next to a new picture of you on the refrigerator and bathroom mirror so that your new image is reinforced.
  • Accept compliments on your body size and believe them.
  • Go to clothing stores and try on clothes.
  • Treat self to new hairstyle.
  • Try new makeup.
  • Try out more stylish clothes.
  • Start new activities that you once shied away from because you felt you were too fat, e.g.: take dance lessons, go swimming, learn to ski (water and snow), play tennis, etc.
  • Work on improved social skills that enhance your new self‑image.


NOTE:   For more information on self‑image, look at the chapters Self‑Esteem and Self‑Affirmations in Tools for Personal Growth by James J. Messina, Ph.D.