Psychology - The importance of self-image

As with any major life experience, a shift in image is often preceded by a sudden change in mobility. This is ever more crucial in respect of the need for a change in self-concept. Self-concept is the image people have of their self, how they perceive themselves and it includes their awareness of themselves. It also includes information they carry ranging from physical attributes such as hair colour to traits such as being friendly. In short, self-concept refers to a person’s accumulation of knowledge about the self, such as beliefs regarding personality traits, physical characteristics, abilities, values, goals and roles. When a person has experienced a drastic change in their degree of mobility, this is often accompanied by a change in their self-concept. The question to be asked is of what relevance is this change?

In a society that values and emphasises conformity and physical attractiveness, people quickly learn to conform to what society dictates is attractive and the norm. Any person that does not appear to conform on any basis may then feel ostracised and separate from the majority. Initially the person may have a heightened sense of awareness of physical limitations and differences, which in turn could lead to feelings of inadequacy. Many people experience this awareness as embarrassing, or with sadness at the impairment of their mobility. However, people do not have to accept the situation. It can and should be challenged by every person.

The complexity of self-image is further highlighted by a person’s body image which is an additional factor in their formation of a self-image. Body image refers to the physical and psychological experience of a person’s own body. That is, their attitudes and feelings about their body; how it looks, how its various parts work. This is especially important if the person’s body image is realistically expected to include the presence of assistive devices such as prostheses or a wheelchair. Body image is an extremely important concept on a psychological level because it is directly linked to a person’s self worth and how the person defines relationships with others.

Once there is a change in the functioning of a person’s body, that person’s body image also changes. After all, the changes do not only affect the physical appearance, but may also affect the sensory perceptions of the body. For instance, the location of an injury site affects the way the body feels after an injury. This can range from partial to complete loss of sensation. With a change in body sensations, a person has to use other means to replace the sensory perception that is lost. The most common method of replacing lost sensation is through visual feedback. For instance, at times it may be difficult to feel how one’s body is positioned, and it is therefore necessary to actually look at the body to ascertain its physical position. This serves as feedback and allows a person to incorporate the mobility impairment into their body image. It also helps a person to maintain an accurate body image.

Once this process has begun, it allows the person’s focus to shift from the change in mobility to other aspects of their identity. This ensures that not only their limitations but also their strengths are included in their body image, and ultimately in their identity. By reintegrating the body image and self-concept to form the new self-identity, there is a renewed sense of worth, which leads to greater self-satisfaction and contentment. The person has made a successful psychological adjustment.

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