Self-image is both a conscious and subconscious way of seeing ourselves. It is the emotional judgment we make about our self-worth.

We form our self-image through interaction with others, taking into account their reactions to us and the ways they categorize us. Their responses are affected by their own distortions in worldview, however, so we don’t always get an accurate reflection of ourselves.

We can’t help but compare ourselves with others, much as we might try not to. We usually compare ourselves against the expectations of friends and family. Often society gives us roles and expectations, such as having a successful career or being a good mom. This contributes to how we see ourselves.

We assess ourselves continually. A positive self-image leads to confidence and self-acceptance. A negative self-image leads to a sense of inferiority and even depression. Those who develop a mature and realistic self-image will not come undone by every critical comment.

Scientists in Montreal recently found that people with a low sense of self-worth are more likely to suffer from memory loss as they get older. Their brains are more likely to shrink than those who have a strong self-image. But the researchers believe that if those with a negative mindset were taught to change the way they think they could reverse their mental decline.

Self-image often is the focus of therapy. The therapist can help promote a healthy self-image through understanding and acceptance. We can also help ourselves, however — by monitoring our internal dialogue; recognizing our accomplishments; being assertive and tolerant; and spending time with good friends. Self-image is improved by valuing our skills and talents, respecting our intelligence and acting on our beliefs and feelings. Keeping a healthy balance also involves focusing our attention outward, toward others.

Evidence suggests that the self-image of young people has significantly deteriorated in recent decades. Many feel isolated and different. Increasing numbers are dropping out of high school, and violence and suicide are on the rise.

Educational achievement seems to be closely linked to self-image – the better a child does in school, the happier he or she seems to be. Parents and teachers can use a number of methods to improve children’s self-image.

Elementary school-aged children need to build academic and social foundations. They must not be labeled ‘naughty’ or ‘a disappointment,’ but supported in their efforts to move forward in learning new skills. Children need to feel that their opinions and feelings are valued, and to be given opportunities to use their imagination and express their creativity. At the same time, they need order and structure in their daily lives, and to be taught right from wrong. A sense of connectedness to a family and cultural group is also important.

This can be provided by taking part in sports, art, music, crafts, travel, and family gatherings and traditions. Such activities will enhance the child’s sense of connectedness and order, allow them to set goals and solve problems, and over time build a strong and secure self-image.