The Dreaded Image

We all have a version of ourselves we don’t want to world to see. This may be a real version of ourselves. It could be a perception that is false. Regardless of whether this version is real or perceived, if we don’t want the world to see it, it’s going to impact our behaviour.

I want to discuss the concept of the dreaded image because it’s important. It comes from a place of fear. And when we let fear take the wheel, the result is often inaction. We don’t progress or move forward because the fear of others witnessing our dreaded image – this negative version of ourselves – blocks us.

What is the Dreaded Image?

If you were to finish the sentence, “I would hate it if people thought I were….”, this would give you some insight into what I mean when I refer to the dreaded image.

As noted previously, this can be real or perceived.

Real Version

In this case, there is a version of us that exists we do not want others to witness. Maybe it’s a vice or a habit or a character trait.

Perceived Version

In this case, there is a version of us that is not real but we would not want others to perceive us as having this trait, habit, or behaviour.

It Modifies How We Act

When we have a dreaded image that we do not want others to ‘see’, it changes our behaviour. We will act in a way that actively tries to prevent this version of ourselves being exposed.

This is not always a bad thing. For example, a person who does not want to be perceived as uninformed may make an effort to read up on issues and pay attention to the world around them. This is an individual making steps to improve in an effort to not be seen as uninformed.

However, much of the time, our dreaded image is actually a hindrance.

It can cause us to act against our authentic selves.

Sometimes we hold a belief that people will not accept who we really are. So, we suppress our true selves to limit judgement. The result is expending energy to act against our nature to be someone we think others will be more willing to accept. Not only does this drain us, it restricts our genuine selves.

It can stop us from moving forward.

When we fear being seen a certain way by others, we may resist taking forward action. This is especially true when stepping outside your comfort zone is necessary to make progress. Maybe this means putting yourself out there or sharing more about yourself. The belief that others will judge us is enough to stop many, if not most, of us.

It can lead to a faulty sense of self.

If we hold a belief that others will perceive us negatively, this dreaded image can become our story. Our thoughts become our beliefs. The more time we spend thinking about the negative version of ourselves, the more likely we may be to believe that’s who we are.

The Desired Image

On the flip side, we also have a desired image – how we want to be seen. The same concerns can arise when we feel a perceived threat to our desired image.

Just as we try to avoid the dreaded image, we can also expend a lot of energy protecting our desired image. Again, this may result in the same consequences: acting against our true selves, failure to move forward, and a faulty sense of self.

With the desired image, there is the added stress of wanting to be seen a certain way, but not necessarily believing we deserve it or that we are a fraud. Impostor syndrome is real, and if there is one thing I’ve learned in the years I’ve been leading Immunity to Change workshops, it’s that so many of us experience it.

If I act a certain way, people will realize I’m not really sure I know what I’m doing. 

So Now What?

First, pay attention to your fear. Are you trying to protect a desired image or avoid a dreaded image? Hint: you are. 

Second, identify what identity you are trying to protect or avoid. It’s not always the most obvious thing.

Third, ask yourself what what would happen if your dreaded image were to be perceived by others or if your desired image were to be compromised? What do you believe would be the consequence?

Fourth, challenge your belief about the consequence. How likely is the negative consequence? If it is likely, how much does it actually matter? Perhaps the positive results of acting authentically and taking action is worth the risk.

I’m willing to bet most of what we believe will happen won’t actually happen. And, if something negative does happen, it’s likely far less severe than we imagined in our heads.