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Distorted Self-Image: Why Are You So Hard On Yourself?

Updated: Aug 21, 2023


Have you ever wondered why your perspective of yourself often differs from the perspectives of others around you? People often compliment characteristics, physical features, and talents that you can’t see or don’t recognize. Sometimes it can be hard to accept these compliments and it may even make you feel uncomfortable when you hear these things.


When it’s difficult for you to accept compliments or recognize talents or strengths that others in your life have highlighted; it is because you have a distorted self-image. These distortions are the core of low self-esteem and can develop for many reasons.


How Distortions Develop


A distorted self-image develops as a result of receiving repeated negative messages throughout our lives. Often in childhood our parents, teachers, siblings, bullies, and sometimes friends will call out or highlight negative or undesirable characteristics we possess. The way we are treated by those around us also has a direct effect on the way we view ourselves. If we receive enough of these messages then we come to internalize them as our sense of self and how we fit into the world.


People with a distorted self-image are often beautiful, talented, very generous, and giving in nature, however, they cannot recognize these positive things about themselves and struggle with negative self-talk.


Distorted self-image can have some very negative consequences and lead to a number of mental health issues including eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.


Types of Distortions


Distorted views look different in different people. There can be distorted parts of self (i.e. body image, your role as a parent or partner, your role as a professional) or it can be a whole person distortion in which general statements would be applied (i.e. I am not good enough, I have no talent, I am a fraud).


Unknowingly people can project these thoughts about themselves onto the minds of other people; meaning they start to believe others think this way about them too.


You may have heard of a term called “cognitive distortions” which are a set of cognitions or thoughts that influence your view of the world and yourself. Cognitive distortions can blind you from seeing different perspectives or exercising different ways of thinking and contribute to poor quality of life.


How to Fix Distortions


When you have gone through life with a set of beliefs it can be very difficult to unlearn them. There can be some resistance from these “parts” that want to believe negative things.


1. Acknowledge


One place to start is recognizing these distortions and starting to acknowledge the strengths and the talents you do have and building on them.

Start to see these distortions as malleable parts of yourself. If you believe you aren’t “good enough” then you can start to explore what that means for you and work towards changing or improving these areas in your life.


2. Journaling


Journaling is a tool that is helpful when working on changing distorted self-image or thinking; processing your thoughts on paper or sharing them verbally can sometimes cause these distortions to lose their validity. These things often make more sense when you think about them but when you write, read or speak them it may seem irrational.



3. Find Help


Treatment approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been helpful in teaching people how to challenge these distorted views and unlearning beliefs.



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