Nearly always there are some kind of filters between perception and observation. These factors tend to modify and even distort the original mental image. The set of filters gathered in a person could well be called his self-image. These are compounded of a mixture of feelings, thoughts and recollections, which instantly and automatically place themselves between perception and observation.
For the most part these self-images are developed in childhood by observing and imitating the behavior of one’s environment, especially that of one’s own parents. The images are affected by all the remarks that one has to face, “for strong is the power of thanks and reproach”, as Nietzsche wrote in his Zarathustra.
Soon there are fears and hopes in the mind of a child, that gain some extra coloring from defense mechanisms: aggression and denial etc. In time a person begins to identify himself with a varying combination of all these factors.
Maintaining and strengthening this self-image or ego becomes a continuing inner and outer process, which could well be called a mission in life. One must by all means gain approval for it both from oneself and from other people as well.
Very often people choose their friends according to their ability to maintain and nourish their egos. The most common mode for interaction might be defined as: I shall praise you if you in turn will praise me.
The internal process contains usually more falsehood than that which comes from other people. It is quite easy to be a little insincere in explaining things in one’s own favor. Some people use reverse means by taking the position of the victim, but that is just a peculiar way to overcome a crisis of self-image.
What is wrong in this? Nothing, it is just a normal temporal state of the human mind. It is the most common result of human culture with both harmful and beneficial effects. This tendency of mind keeps the consciousness restless and in continuous movement, so that it must grow in one direction or another.
One day a human gets tired of everlasting changes in his mind and begins to search for an exit from this vicious circle. In a common case, a person ends up with the conflict of two beings within himself: in the depths of his mind there is a silent knowledge of peace and understanding behind ever changing thoughts and feelings.
There will be a premonition of a different kind of self, which in facing life does not need any old patterns and images as masks. Everything in this new state of consciousness seems much clearer and simpler than earlier, and the inner views can easily be opened and unwrapped into thoughts that are needed. There is no need to seek grounds for them from former experiences.
Bringing forth the inner self is not usually a short event but a long process, the speed of which depends on how soon a person is willing and able to dissolve most of the mental bonds to temporal things in life. This will by no means be an easy job to do for an old and familiar prison is often safer than a strange way of freedom. Gradually also the subconscious content of the mind tends to catch up. There is no reason to be afraid, for it is just ‘one’s own phantoms that are haunting’.
How can we contribute to our inner process? Just by watching carefully and in peace, for forcing oneself to a certain mode causes nothing but falsehood and despair. It is often said that one has to learn to love oneself before one can really love one’s neighbor. This does not mean any kind of selfishness, but a sound acceptance of oneself, which leads to an honest view of oneself. A fierce fight with one’s own mind seldom leads to permanent results, for the human mind is much more devious and complex than we can imagine.
It is best to watch how our images or views of ourselves come up and see them as pure complex compilations of thoughts, feelings and recollections, and let them pass away. Some day we may think, as St. Paul did, that I am strong when I am weak: so that my real inner being is rising forth and becoming an active factor as soon as my personal masks are removed.