There is a difference between self-esteem, self-concept and self-image. These are all terms that most people use interchangeably as if there are the same. However, as I will show here, these terms represent key differences in how we make meaning of, and represent our perception of our world. Perception is the key word here as it indicates how we interpret the world around us.
The term ‘self-image’ is about just that: the image or picture that we have in our minds about ourselves. Self-image is the way we represent ourselves visually and ‘pictorally’. Your self-image is the picture that you hold in your mind of how we look!
Is the image you have in your mind about you a ‘real’ representation of how you ‘really’ look? The answer is mixed: sometimes yes… sometimes no! For example, there are some people who, when they think of themselves, seem themselves as very fat! Yet when they go on the scale it registers a normal weight (average for their height). So they have a distorted ‘self-image’ and as a result they go on extreme dietary regimen in order to ‘lose weight’. Some individuals, while they may seem to eal normally (in public) they quickly exit to the bathroom to induce vomiting. Why? So that the food they eat might not contribute to their distorted perception that they are overweight or over-sized.
While self-image is about the internally held picture of oneself, self-concept is about the thoughts, philosophy, ideas and beliefs (or concept) which individuals use to describe themselves. Self-concept is what people ‘say’ about themselves (mostly to themselves). Self-concept is a verbal internal representation of one’s self. It is self-talk about ourselves. It is the sets of thoughts that says things like “I am handsome”, “I am capahble”, “I can do this or that.” or, conversely, “No, I can’t,” “I am not worthy,” “I am too fat, or too old, or too skinny, etc.”
Now self-concept may contain the same information as one’s self image, except that this information is represented in words versus pictures. Self concept involves your inner voice, while self-image involves your inner eye which you turn on and make pictures of yourself.
Self-esteem is described as the way we ‘feel’ about ourselves. Self-esteem involves the ‘feeling; we have in our bodies when we think about ourselves. Think about the last time you were really scared… what was the feeling like in your chest or your stomach? What were the sensations like? Were you feeling discomfort? Now think about the last time you felt deeply satisfied… how did your body feel? Were you ‘relaxed’? How does ‘relaxed’ feel? What the physical attributes?
Some people equate self-esteem with self-value and self-worth. As a result they don’t have a specific word for self-feeling! And when I say feeling… I am referring to feelings such as anger, happiness, satisfaction, discontent, hate and love. How are these feelings represented in one’s body versus the way they are related to you and represented in your thoughts (self-concept) and the pictures (self-image) you use to represent them.
Rather than referring to self -worth, the reference here to self-esteem is primarily about ‘how you feel about yourself’ form a physical perspective. My focus here on self-esteem is a focus on the emotions that you feel when you think about yourself and the physical manifestations that accompany those emotions. Confused? How does that feel (and where in your physiology are those feelings)?
As you can see, there is a clear distinction between self-image, self-concept and self-esteem.