Self-image is very simply who you think you are. It is based on feelings, past behaviors, and feedback from others. While this seems simple it really is not because life is interwoven beyond comprehension. Our minds cannot wrap around who we really are so it does the best it can to extrapolate meaning and identity. The mind uses the physical universe for the basis of this identity and employs many techniques of deception and subterfuge. At a young age we simply accept what we are told as to who we are. For instance, if you are born into a middle class white family with male genitalia and dark hair it is just assumed that you are a Caucasian boy from an average family who has dark hair and pale blue eyes. Identity is based on appearance. The reality of this identity is only as real as the material world.
Mixing in feelings and behavior, identity can be further clarified. First of all behavior is often driven by feelings which in turn feeds more behavior leading to self-image. If you feel average, act average, look average then one would assume you are average. I would say the ego mind sells this version of reality to most everyone whether it is true or not, and most of the time it is not true. What is normal after all and what/who is used as a baseline or model?
Feelings come from within and can vary depending on many factors both external and internal. Hormones for instance can determine how a person feels, as well as many other brain and body chemicals. From the exterior things as simple as the weather can have an effect on feelings, is it raining, sunny, windy, etc.? Other people can affect feelings if we let them by reacting to their actions or words. So the bottom line is we often base our self-image on false data!
How does one figure out who they are then? From experience self-image is learned and can be changed with some concerted effort. Identity is a personal thing and evolves over time in sync with the environment and personal choices. The more I delve into this subject and it has been an important factor all my adult life, the less I am inclined to believe the standard teaching on self-identity being hardwired into the brain. I believe the brain to be far more malleable than we realize. In fact, I view the brain as a computer processing center and without input it has no output.
So who are we? First we need to know who we are NOT! We are not our body or any part of it. We are not who others think we are even though this does have an effect on who they are. We are not our feelings or behaviors although they do have an effect on our appearance to others. …We are who we think we are!
“I think therefore I am” Descartes
Going back to the previous example, if you believe (think) or agree with what others think of you then this is who you will be, a white middle class boy with dark hair and pale blue eyes. If however you think yourself to be a rich white upper class girl with blonde hair and hazel eyes, then this is who you will be! I can speak from experience here as this has precisely been my experience. Ultimately, I know I am neither!
Just because a person has certain DNA and gene structure when born it does not mean they will or have to follow this path. Choice plays a far greater role than given credit for, however I also know that fate or destiny also plays a role. Now, please understand that I do not suggest that a person chooses to be gay, straight, transgender, or black consciously, but we do choose a destiny before birth so as to have certain experiences for spiritual growth. Fulfilling this destiny is the only way to move on. So it is best to embrace this path by looking deep within and with all the courage you can muster, step onto this path fully, with open eyes and open heart knowing all is well. We are Spiritual beings having a human experience after all. The Spiritual Principle, “As above, so below” applies perfectly here. As we evolve spiritually, our physical expression changes.