By Jurriaan Plesman BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nutr
As we have seen in the article on hypoglycemia the first consideration in the treatment of any ‘psychological’ problem is the person underlying health. Many physical problems contribute to a low self-esteem.
The next step looks at a person’s self-image, which is at the base of most if not all psychological problems.
The basis of any human relationship is very closely related to one’s self image. A negative self-image, sets up all sorts of defences that may in fact create a negative image of you in another person. This is called a self-fulfilling prophesy.
It is not going to help you to believe that your upbringing, your relationship with your own parents is the cause of your negative self-image.
You need to take control of your own self-image and change it by mental practice. I am going to give you the basics of “Positive Ego Training Program” as explained in my book ““Getting Off the Hook” by Jurriaan Plesman. I am willing to donate this book to any library free of charge, provided they send me a self-addressed envelope. Any librarian should be able to trace that book from the internet. My book is available in most Australian libraries.
Although not essential a better understanding of the following will be gained by reading the article: What is Transactional Analysis?
A self-image is fundamentally a self generated statement that floats around in your head such as “ I am ……(adjective)”. Let us suppose you are by yourself in a room and ask yourself “Who am I?”
You will hear something like “I am…..(adjective)” and that adjective is either positive, negative or neutral. I am interested in the negative adjectives that you conjure up. The most common negative self image is “I am stupid” “I am unlovable”, I am a jerk” “I am a failure”. I will take these as an examples of a negative self image or hang-up.
Before we can get rid of a negative self image we must own it, that is recognized that it is you and nobody else that is putting you down.
For instance one way of getting hold of your hangups is to go on what I call a PARANOID TRIPS. Start off with strangers.
You sit in a bus or anywhere and then imagine that you have the power to read people’s mind about you.
Say to yourself: “He/she/they really think that I am ……… and that is awful”.
Fill up the sentence. You probably finish up with he thinks that ”I am stupid”. You know that strangers really don’t think of you. You have created the self image yourself.
There are a lot of other techniques to find your hang-ups.
For example: Say to yourself: “He/She treats me as if I am ….. and that is awful”.
“He/she looks at me as if I am…………….”
Imagine two people talking and suddenly you say to yourself “They are saying that I am …….”
If you come up with negative adjectives, than you have generated your own negative self image. Your imagination used other people to reveal your negative self image or hang ups.
Another way is even more interesting: I call them proving trips.
“I am trying to prove to him/her/them that I am…..”
Now you probably thought of something positive like “intelligent” or “smart”, “clever” “lovable, “gentle”.
Take the opposite of these adjective and presto you have hold of your negative self-image.
Say: “He/she is trying to prove to me…..trying to impress me that he/she is………..”
Fill up the sentences and take the opposite and you probably can figure out the hang-up of the other person.
If I have a need to impress you that “I am clever”, I must have a hang-up that says “I am stupid”, or you might think that “I am stupid” and how awful would that be!!!
People with a positive self image, don’t have a need to prove anything to anybody. Take or leave them as they are!!!!
The wooden leg argument
Some pernicious hang-ups are in the form of a physical descriptive put-down such as “I am ugly”, “I am fat”, or “I have a wooden leg”.
If you add “and therefore…..” and then complete the sentence the true nature of the negative self image comes to the surface. For example:
“I have a wooden leg and therefore women/men don’t like me”
The unstated belief – the major premise in the logical syllogism – is shown in the first premise in the following argument:
“People with wooden legs are unlovable”.
“I have a wooden leg”,
therefore “I am unlovable”.
Although perfectly logical, the problem is that the major premise is false. Not all people with wooden legs are unlovable.
It is very difficult to get rid of the wooden leg which adds punch to the hang-up.
People who bemoan that they are fat, thin, tall, ugly, small, or have too many freckles may use these features to put themselves down; they use the wooden leg argument.
This obsession with physical features may lead to anorexia and/or bulimia among young girls and the use of anabolic steroids among boys who want to look like TARZAN.
It is not surprising that changing one’s physical appearance in anorexia through starvation, does not alter one’s underlying self-image one iota. It only reinforces the idea that the wooden leg is the cause of our battered self-esteem.
HOW TO GET RID OF HANG-UPS
We are creatures of habits and once we have learned to believe that we are stupid, it is activated automatically. But what we have learned we can unlearn by practice and sheer repetition. That part of the mind, that Freud calls the super-ego, and Eric Berne calls the “Parent Ego” or the critical parent within us, is an automatic thinker.
You do most of your mind training at night or when you are by yourself. You think of a scene when you got upset, because the boss talked to you or treated as if you are stupid.
You now have to learn a new lesson:
“Isn’t stupid to think I am stupid”.
Many clients started off by training themselves to believe “I am smart, I am intelligent” etc. This seems to be the opposite of the hang-ups. But unfortunately, when you do that you may finish up being very arrogant and self-opinionated. In other words you finish up in the “I am right” position. People in that position are usually authoritarian, arrogant, critical of other people, knockers and they are usually difficult to handle. But there are ways of handling them.
Let us stick to getting rid of our negative self image.
What ever negative you are saying about yourself, try to use the formula:
“Negative” + “negative = neutral.
“Isn’t stupid to think I am stupid”
“Isn’t silly to think I am silly”
“Isn’t unlovable that I am unlovable.”
“You did it again by thinking you are a failure”
“I will watch out next time I think this silly thing about me”
“Stop it, you did it again”
In other words you are neutralizing you negative self-image, without falling into the trap of the “I am right” position.
Simply don’t allow yourself to think negatively about yourself whenever you catch yourself doing so. This is done through private meditation and may take some time. Go through the paranoid trips of the day, neutralize the negatives and be prepared for the next put down you might encounter the following day.
This program takes between one and two month of mind-training. Some client learned it in two weeks. Think as though you are training a little poodle in your head to behave the way you want. It takes some time, but very soon you get the hang of it. Once you become automatically positive, you will experience a sense of relief, as if a load falls from your shoulder.
Next time a guy/girl rejects you you might hear yourself say” Gee that is awful, but it is not a disaster. That guy/girl misses out on a beautiful person like me. I am worth more than that. And the next time I have a look at a possible partner he/she HAS TO BETTER and WILL BE BETTER than the previous one, because I am worth more than that!!!!” “In the end I am going to be better off”.
Get to know your self-talk, and when you start to laugh at what you hear and how you can put yourself down, you are cured!!
How a Self-image can affect your personal relationships.
There seems to be tendency for people with either a positive or negative self-image to find one another and form relationships. A person with a negative self-image tends to be attracted to people with an apparently positive self-image. However, the latter may often show an inflated self-image as a defensive mechanism against his own low self-esteem. A person with a false positive self-image – a person often in the “I am right position” – may have a need to put other people down to boost his/her own ego in moments of crises. This may lead to disasters in personal relationships.
According to the rule of how self-images find one another. People with a positive self-image usually feel attracted to other people with a positive self-esteem and hence appear to be able to handle crises situations in support of one another. The role of one’s self image has also been discussed in Bullying – How can we stop it?
The Internal Debate Approach
Sometimes we need a more powerful approach to get rid of hang-ups. This is done by having internal mental debates between the PARENT and the ADULT within us.
Gestalt therapy has left us with the concept of ‘two chair work’. What happens in ‘two chair’ work is that a person hops from one chair to the other, playing the role of his opponent and himself. The aim is to get an agreement between the person and his opponent.
You can apply this technique to yourself by imagining that your opponent is the PARENT within you and is putting you down. You can do this in the privacy of your imagination. By learning by heart the strategies of Assertiveness Training Program – in the next chapter – you learn to defend yourself against any possible negative remark that the PARENT figure is throwing at you. Your opponent could be any person in real life who is upsetting you by his put-downs.
By learning to be assertive by means of the Assertiveness Training Program, you learn how to make your ADULT ego the dominant ego in your personality. By mental exercises and repeated mental practice session your become assertive automatically, and this is an other powerful technique to get rid of internal hang-ups.
When you start to feel confident, you can now face real life situations
Once you can improve your self image the world will open up to you, you won’t put up with nonsense anymore. You are now ready to do a assertiveness training program and this is another matter.
The Assertiveness Training Program is the next step in your own psychotherapy.