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Self Image

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Self Image?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Self Image

Change Always Involves a Change in Self-Image

So we see that change always involves a change in self-image; it also involves many other things, such as changes in perception, in attitude, in emotional state, in state of Being, in action, and so on. As we discussed before, self-image determines these factors of experience. In the process of change a person will often have reactions that seem to involve not more spaciousness but a more contracted self-image. This is generally a previously unconscious self-image which is made conscious by the action of space dissolving the more superficial self-image which was covering up and defending against the deeper one and its associated affects. For example, a man’s self-image as brave and independent might dissolve to reveal a fearful, dependent image of a little boy, and this might dominate his experience for a while. But when a person is consistently working toward the truth, the self-image will become more and more spacious because space is the true nature of mind.

The Void, pg. 104

Dissolution of the Self-Image

The final outcome of the process of disidentification is the experience of the dissolution of the psychic structure or self-image. This is the experience of space, of what is sometimes called the void—when self-image is dissolved, the person will experience the loss of boundaries, both physical and mental. The nature of the mind is then revealed as an emptiness, a void, an immaculately empty space. The void and the absence of the identifications that form the psychic structure are the same thing. There are various depths and levels of empty space. We can say that the beginning of the void is the absence of identification with the self-image. There is self-image but there is no identification with it. What results is the inner sense of expansion and spaciousness. Then, at a deeper level, the self-image is gone, dissolved. There is only the experience of empty open space, which is boundless, clear, and crisp. The focus is not on the content of the mind but on the spacious emptiness that is its nature. However, this is not yet the deepest level. There might still be identification with an image, but unconsciously. Parts of the self-image might remain in the unconscious. These will surface, in time, and the experience of space will be lost. Dis-identifying with these aspects of the self-image until they dissolve will deepen the experience of space. So we see that the experience of the void does not necessarily require the end of self-image or of the personality. It means only that during the experience the personality is not there, is not running the show. This experience is of the utmost importance, for it shows us that we are not the personality. It creates room for expansion and essential development.

Identifying and Understanding a Self-Image Brings Some Freedom From It

If you identify the self-image and understand it, you’ll have some freedom from it. For example, suppose your self-image is that you’re ugly. Your therapist says, “Look in the mirror.” You look in the mirror, and you’re not really sure. “Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought. Maybe if my nose were a little bit shorter then I wouldn’t be ugly.” But even if you can see the belief in the self-image, you won’t be free of it, because on the emotional level you know this is a self-image only by comparing it with something else, another self-image. What is ugly? What is beautiful? You have your standard of beauty and according to that standard, you’re not beautiful. Your superego tells you a beautiful woman is a woman with a small nose and that’s it. If everyone tells you that your nose is fine maybe you won’t think you’re so ugly. But whenever you’re feeling bad about yourself, you always remember that nose. If someone rejects you, you’re sure it’s because of your nose. The understanding that will release you from that self-image will come from a place that is not on the emotional level. A certain understanding is needed to eliminate the belief in self-image. This knowledge is that ultimately, you are not the self-image, you are not a concept; you are something else. And your nose, short or big, whatever it is, has nothing to do with who you are.

Identifying with a Self-Image Automatically Blocks Inner Spaciousness

There is a definite relationship between working through ego structures and the arising of inner spaciousness. This manifestation of true nature expresses its absolute dimension, with its emptiness. Inner spaciousness is not the same as ontological emptiness but is related to it in some mysterious way. The point is that because of this relationship, inner space stands for the total openness and lack of determination of true nature. True nature is ultimately formless, and hence any fixed or rigid structuring, as happens in ego development, is antithetical to it. In other words, ego structures, through their self-representations, specifically obstruct the ultimate indeterminacy of true nature, barring from the experience of the soul the aspect of inner space. More specifically, identifying with a self-image automatically blocks inner spaciousness. Therefore, when the soul finally understands a self-image and does not hold on to it, space arises. With the arising of inner space, the soul regains, at least momentarily, her original openness to her potential. This allows her dynamism to morph out whatever elements of potential, essential aspect or dimension, are necessary for the experience and development of the soul. This is because the ego structure does not only obstruct the inner space. The fact of structure, or using a representation to define the nature of the soul, obstructs inner space, but each structure has its particular content and patterning that obstruct some essential aspect or another. Therefore, in the working through of ego structures space always arises, but the essential presence that manifests differs from one structure to another.

One of Our Deepest Attachments is to Our Self-Image

How does attachment manifest throughout our lives? It manifests in all areas, in all corners, at all levels, in all its gradations. One of our deepest attachments is to our self-image, both how we see ourselves and how others see us. Our self-image is who we think we are, how we want to be, what we want to have in our life—whether it’s a house that looks a certain way, a certain lover or mate who fills certain criteria. “I’m a good person and deserve this,” or “I’m a bad person.” The self-image we are attached to is often negative. Everyone has some negative self-image. If you’re attached to being good, then you’re always finding proof that you’re a good person. You might be attached to a self-image of being good, strong, powerful, rich, beautiful, popular, being married, single, etc. This is the most superficial layer; and it’s where most people live. The most common level of consciousness is focused on this superficial image level.

One's Emotional Responses and Behavior are Determined by Identifications with Particular Self-Images

Not only one’s perception but of course one’s emotional responses and behavior as well are determined by the self-image a person is identifying with. For instance, to the same situation one individual might respond with fear, another with anger, another with apathy, with corresponding behaviors. Very often the behaviors are stylized and obviously automatic; in any case one never has a choice about emotional states that arise, whether they are appropriate or not. This automaticity of response is much greater than either normal subjective experience or modern psychological theory acknowledges. It is in the nature of mind to be in a constant state of reactivity; and here we do not simply mean what is implied in the usual sense of the word. We mean something more fundamental: that the individual is always reacting with certain very limited patterns of emotion and behavior which reflect the self-image he is identifying with, and that this self-image is itself a reaction, in two senses: first, that the specific self-image that is operating is automatically elicited by the situation, and second, that the self-image is itself a construction made up of reactions to past events from early childhood. This self-image is thus never a spontaneous response or a free choice, but is always a compulsive reaction........... We can see that this activity of personality—which consists of reacting to situations by dredging up memories of certain childhood object relations that are somehow associated with the situation, identifying with one or another of the images in the object relation and then manifesting certain automatic emotions and behaviors—completely lacks freshness, newness. It is a reaction of the past to the present. Being, on the other hand, is the absence of such reactions. Being means no reaction, no mental activity that defines who or what one is. In fact, Being is not an activity at all; it is an existence, a suchness, a thereness, a presence that is not doing anything to be there. Since Being is itself existence, it does not need the mind to be there. It is like a physical object, which does not need the activity of mind to exist.

Ontologically, Self-Image is Simply Boundaries Frozen in Space

Not only does space correct the distortion of body-image and dissolve the psychological boundaries of the self-image, it ultimately dissolves the self-image as a rigid structure bounding experience. This provides a hint regarding the ontological truth about self-image. Since we see that space makes the body-image objective and realistic, i.e., correcting it according to objective reality, we can assume that it also corrects the self-image according to objective reality. That is, ontologically, self-image is simply boundaries frozen in space, frozen by their cathexis with libidinal energy. When the cathexis is undone, the boundaries dissolve into empty space, which is what actually exists as the nature of the mind. Therefore, we can say that pursuing psychodynamic understanding of the self-image all the way to the end will leave us with, among other things, a real and objective body-image and the experience of the mind as open space. What happens, then, to the functioning ego, when a person goes though this process? We address this question in Chapter 13, “Space and Essence.” Here it suffices to say that the ego identity becomes increasingly “transparent”; the person’s experience depends less and less on unconscious self-images and object relations units. Thus the person comes into clearer, more objective contact with the environment, and as the experience of space is allowed, there arises naturally within that space a clear, full presence, which without the rigidity and defensiveness of ego can assume ego’s functions in a vastly more mature, objective and deeply fulfilling manner.

The Void, pg. 52

Seeing Through the Self-Image Exposes the Feeling of Being Nothing

Another important observation in this report is that seeing through the self-image exposes a certain emptiness, the feeling of being nothing, which always occurs when a self-image dissolves. This emptiness then allows the realm of essential presence to arise, in this case, as the particular qualities related to contact and functioning. The presence of these qualities resolved not only the issue of identity but also that of deficiency. The resolution of the sense of deficiency indicates that the question of identity here is related not only to narcissism in general, but specifically to individuation narcissism, which is related to the Personal Essence, with its qualities of contact and capacity to function.

Self-Image Determines Experience

After consolidation, the self image not only gives the individual his sense of personal identity, but it determines more than anything else his subsequent experience of himself, his life, and his environment. It determines his sense of being, his inner experience, and everything else about him. The self-image is constituted, as Mahler says, of self-boundaries: not only spatial boundaries, but all the boundaries that determine the range of the individual's experience, perception, and actions. For example, if an individual has a self-image of being weak, he will tend not to do things that he believes require strength. Likewise, a self-image of being stupid will inhibit a person from learning things that he believes require intelligence, so that he will actually not understand and will behave in a stupid way when confronted with such things.

The Void, pg. 14

Self-Image Excludes the Fullness of Essence

The structuralization of self-image, as well as other childhood experience, leads to the loss of space as part of our experience. Along with space, and due to other factors, Essence in its various aspects is lost. Self-image ends up excluding emptiness and the fullness of Essence as possible categories of experience.

The Void, pg. 86

Self-Image is Nothing Simple or Superficial

This self-image, this psychic structure, is nothing simple or superficial. It is complex and profound, and the identification with it is just as profound. For our purposes, however, it is crucial to remember that regardless of how completely the self-image has become part and parcel of one's sense of self, it is nevertheless simply a construct in the mind.


The self-object is an object that is not seen by the self as completely separate from the self.

The Void, pg. 121

Source of Self-Image Can be Revealed by Essence

<p>This is where Essence is valuable; it will give you the knowledge and understanding that no one else can. If you deeply investigate the issue of self-image, you'll come to the essential aspect that corresponds to self-image. When this happens, you will experience Essence in a way that has no self-image; instead there will be space, openness, inner spaciousness. This is the essential aspect that was lost when you developed the self-image and believed that the self-image was who you truly are. The self-image always has a boundary -- physical, emotional or conceptual. When you experience space, you experience yourself as being without boundaries, without definition, just openness.</p>

The Self-Image is the Barrier Against the Experience of Space

Also, we have seen that the self-image itself is a kind of barrier against the experience of space; in fact, it is the barrier. It is what fills the space, what structuralizes it; so only an individual who can let go of identification with the self-image will be able to experience space. (There is actually a gradation here; the self-image manifests from a fairly superficial preconscious level to extremely deep and subtle ones; likewise, the experience of space can range from a simple openness and dissolution of the usual self-image to a sense of complete annihilation of the sense of self. These gradations will be discussed in Chapter 20.) However, space is an integral part of the person. It is the true nature of his mind. This means that his self-image contains a big distortion; it excludes a large part of him—space itself. This distortion of self-image manifests as the genital hole. Why is the unconscious self-image of the genital hole so crucial to the experience of space? There is no simple theoretical answer to this question; in fact, the idea at first seems unlikely and mysterious. Our first understanding of this relationship came from consistent, though surprising, experiential observations with many individuals. The genital hole is consistently the entry to the experience of space and emptiness.

The Void, pg. 81

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