How can a negative self image be changed

If experience is the best tool for change, why not use it? Well, the problem is, experience is sometimes hard to swallow - the school of life has some hard knocks.

Throwing a non-swimmer into a lake is a dangerous way to teach someone how to swim - the person may survive, but he could also drown. The military is designed to turn boys into men in precisely that manner. Unfortunately it also turns some into dangerous killers.

The ideal situation would be to:

• condition people gradually, in a laboratory setting, in order to develop new modes of behavior;

• substitute existing negative behavior patterns with stronger positive patterns, by providing people with positive experiences that are stronger than the negative ones they have acquired.

Any effective behavior-modifying technique should be based on that principle.

The subconscious mind does not differentiate between actual experience and what is intensely imagined

This clinical discovery in the field of psychology has made it a lot easier to put various techniques of image modification into practice.

Our self image is affected just as much by what we vividly imagine as by what we actually experience. Does that seem hard to believe? Well, remember the placebo effect we talked about earlier. If the mind believes that a certain medication, real or not, will be effective, it is able to trigger a process that cures physical or psychological health problems.

Say your spouse receives a letter and refuses to show it to you. You immediately imagine he or she is being unfaithful, and suffer because of it. In actual fact, the letter may be about a sick parent, or a financial problem. What you believe to be true, and not the reality of the situation, is what affects you most.

Another example: a psychologist comes in to test the IQ's of a class of high school students. The psychologist then tells teachers and parents that one student, who did not seem to be particularly gifted, has a very high IQ (this is not true - the student's IQ is really average). A few months later the studenf s marks have drastically improved, and his self confidence has soared.

Why?

Because teachers began treating him differently, encouraging him to exploit his potential. Their attitude was transferred to the other students, which boosted his self confidence, resulting in better marks.

The importance of failure does not lie in the experience itself, but in the effect it has on us. Maltz was struck by the way similar types of scars could affect people in very different ways. Take these two cases:

• A car salesman is partially disfigured in a car accident. Every time he looks in the mirror he thinks people must find him repulsive, because he looks different. His appearance becomes an obsession for him, causing him to lose confidence and become more and more aggressive.

• Another man acquires a similar scar while playing hockey. Far from finding himself hideous, he feels proud of the disfigurement, considering it a mark of virility, and a source of self esteem.

As you can see, the important factor is not the scar, but the psychological effect the disfigurement has on these two people. Similarly, it isn't what people think about you that counts, it's what you think they think. Take this idea one step further and you come up with the following hypothesis: it isn't who you are that counts, it's who you believe you are.

Under hypnosis, any individual can demonstrate almost Herculean strength on command. A shy, introverted person can deliver a brilliant speech, a person who normally stutters can talk perfectly normally, and in some cases persons who are paralyzed regain the use of their limbs. People who are convinced they can't draw create extraordinary works of art when it is suggested that they have the talent of a Renoir or a Van Gogh. Inversely, subjects under hypnosis may no longer be able to write their own names, walk normally or even unclench their own fist. Suggest that a subject is being sought by the police, and he will immediately turn into a harried criminal.

The influence exerted by the people around us, as well as our own thought patterns, can have the same impact on our behavior as that of a skilled hypnotist. Both can help us exploit our enormous potential to its fullest or, when they are negative, create imaginary limitations that prevent us from accomplishing what we would like to achieve, from being the person we would like to be.

It doesn't matter if the input received by our subconscious mind is true or false - it will react in accordance with that information, and most especially in accordance with the goals we establish for ourselves. The important factor is self image, whether it be formulated as an intellectual concept shaped by language, or as mental imagery. These words, these beliefs or mental images, are what create us, through the power of the mind.

"Man can only discover what he has already imagined," wrote one researcher studying the mechanisms of the brain, in light of the new science of cybernetics.

We are constantly programming ourselves without being aware of it, often to our detriment. When we are preoccupied by worries, when we are afraid of something, when we brood about some failure or think negative thoughts about ourselves, we are actually programming our mind in a way that will influence our future behavior.

As Maxwell Maltz wrote in Psychocybernetics: "Generating your own mental images through visualization is no more difficult than remembering a past event. Acting according to a new model of behavior is no more difficult than deciding to tie your shoelaces in a different way, and then carrying out that decision instead of repeating actions like an automaton, purely out of habit."

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