Have you ever tried to recreate the image in your head of what other people see when they meet you? Okay, it’s not your everyday mental exercise, granted, but have you? If so, are you able to come up with an image that feels exactly right?
If you’re unsure, you’re not alone.
Many people struggle to compose an image of themselves in their heads. So what’s with the spectacle? If we are ourselves our whole lives, glancing in mirrors and reflections, and posing in photos we later hang in memory, why is it that we can’t close our eyes and fully picture ourselves?
Some Say Mental Self Image is Fleeting
If we think about it, our perceptions, along with those belonging to the people around us, are shifting. Each day brings a new experience with a new set of images, attitudes, and occurrences.
Each of these has the power to shape how we mentally perceive and picture ourselves daily. For example, if one day we just watched a hot dog eating competition, we might feel a little less guilty about the potato chips we had.
Let’s say on another day, we instead watched a clip from a CrossFit competition and ate those same potato chips. We might have the illusion that they were extra fattening. By extension, this might have the power to subconsciously steer our mental image of ourselves for that time being until a new stimulus is presented. It may be all relative.
Others Say it Could Be Aphantasia
Congenital aphantasia, directly translating to “without a capacity to form mental images,” is the theory that is believed to be behind the inability to form mental images, and perhaps including of the self, despite being the self.
However, aphantasia would not just affect the ability to connect with these images, but instead, all mental pictures.
The idea was first discovered in the late 1800s by psychologist Francis Galton. He intended to be able to distinguish the layers of how humans experience vividness in mental imagery. He found that some people were able to conjure up vivid images, while others could not at all.
Provocative suggestions include the idea that this sort of impairment can affect everything from self-image to the ability to learn.
The possibilities of what clouds mental self-image are open, and there seems to be research needed. It’s likely relative to each person and their perception, and it’s possible that a mental impairment could impact the ability to picture the self.