Understanding Our Sense of Self

Feeling Beautiful is grounded in and based upon the practices of self-image psychology. We believe holding a positive sense of self is one of the most powerful practices cancer patients can adopt. If this interests you, you have come to the right place and we extend a personal invitation to learn more.

Hope & Confidence

See yourself as a happy and healthy person when you look in the mirror. Want to learn more? We invite you to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have.

What is Self-image?

On one level, self-image is related to what you see when you look in a mirror. However, the Feeling Beautiful program goes much deeper. Self-image refers to how we see ourselves on a holistic level and includes both internal and external images of oneself. Random House Dictionary defines self-image as “. . . the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself.” We would add it is a number of self-impressions that have built up over time. These self-images can be very positive, giving a person confidence in their thoughts and actions, or negative, making a person doubtful of their capabilities
and ideas.

In short, what you see when you look in the mirror, coupled with how you picture yourself in your mind, is your self-image. Feeling Beautiful exists to help cancer patients strengthen their self-image in the quest to get well and stay well.

Let’s distill this brief background to the three elements of a person’s self-image:

1. The way a person perceives or thinks of him/herself.
2. The way a person interprets others’ perceptions (or what he/she thinks others think) of him/herself.
3. The way a person would like to be (his/her ideal self).

These three elements are directly influenced by how a person evaluates his/her physical appearance, personality, intelligence, social skills, and how he/she fits into a culture’s masculine/feminine norms. (Oltmann, 2014)

Why Self-image Matters

Cancer is difficult. From the moment of diagnosis, through difficult treatments, often excruciating side effects, and an uncertain future, the toll can be devastating to body, mind, and spirit. Patients may start to believe themselves to be weak, overwhelmed, and not up to the work of recovery. A downward spiral in well-being often results.

O. Carl Simonton, M.D. (1936-2014), the father of modern psychosocial oncology, was a radiation oncologist who popularized the mind-body connection in fighting cancer. Early in his medical career, Simonton noticed that patients given the same dose of radiation for similar cancers had different outcomes. When he looked into why, he concluded that people who had a more positive self-image generally lived longer and had fewer side effects.

Simonton described the preferred self-image of a cancer patient as “confident warrior.” He taught patients to visualize their bodies fighting cancer cells — and winning the war. Today the use of imagery has been repeatedly observed in a series of clinical trials to reduce stress, depression, manage pain and ease side effects, in addition to creating feelings of being in control. (Spiegel 1994; Lion 2014)

Can One’s Self-image Be Strengthened?

Yes, absolutely. Feeling Beautiful recognizes and teaches that one’s self-image can be changed and improved. The first step is to come to an understanding of what a positive health-enhancing self-image looks like. The elements include:

  • Seeing yourself as an attractive and desirable person.
  • Having an image of yourself as a smart and intelligent person.
  • Seeing a happy, healthy person when you look in the mirror.
  • Believing that you are at least somewhat close to your ideal version of yourself.
  • Thinking that others perceive you as all of the above as well as yourself.

It may also be helpful to evaluate what a negative self-image looks like:

  • Seeing yourself as unattractive and undesirable.
  • Having an image of yourself as a stupid or unintelligent person.
  • Seeing an unhappy, unhealthy person when you look in the mirror.
  • Believing that you are nowhere near your ideal version of yourself.
  • Thinking that others perceive you as all of the above as well as yourself.

The beliefs and attitudes we hold about ourselves can be changed. As we embrace a more positive self-image, we contribute to our health and healing. For cancer patients, that is very good news, indeed.

Self-image Exercises

Building a more positive self-image isn’t just about loving ourselves, it’s about recognizing ourselves as a capable person who can rise to the challenges of cancer and who is worthy of health and healing. Below is a simple exercise that can help you boost your self-image:

List 5 Achievements of Which You Are Proud

Grab a pen and some paper. Now, write down at least five things that you are proud of yourself for doing or accomplishing. These achievements can be big things, like being a loving parent or winning a national competition, or they can be smoothing smaller like helping your neighbor after their roof leaked. The achievement itself doesn’t matter as much as the key point to the exercise—reminding yourself of what you are capable of and challenging yourself to rise to the occasion next time you run into an obstacle.

For extra self-image boosting, try writing a detailed account of each achievement you note.
Here’s another exercise that can boost one’s self-image:

List 3 Occasions Where You Overcame Adversity

Put together a list of situations in which you overcame some kind of adversity. The adversity could be anything from institutional and systemic adversity, like a bias against your gender or racial group, to an intensely personal adversity, like your anxiety or depression.

Write down the details of each of these three occasions and use the written record to remind yourself of your strength, your resilience, and all that you are capable of.

Self-image Therapy

For those who really struggle with self-image, there are many types of therapy that can help them improve their self-image and align it more closely with reality. Therapy modalities that can help include:

  • Traditional psychoanalysis: A long-term form of treatment that focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): a form of therapy that combines cognitive therapy (focusing on what people think and how to change the way they think) with behavioral therapy (an approach that focuses on changing people’s behavior more than their thoughts) to try to change both thoughts and behaviors.

Self-image matters. In fact, our sense of self matters a great deal. For cancer patients, it’s all about maximizing quality of life which, in turn, can lead to longer life. Let’s see ourselves as confident warriors who are winning the fight over cancer.

It's time to make Feeling Beautiful our priority. Let's bring renewal to cancer patients together.

Your support will directly help patients in need focus on healing.

We invite you to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have.