Image Management and Relational AggressionBy
Image management – what is it? Is it keeping your image polished, restoring one that’s damaged, or creating one that’s new and shiny? Perhaps it’s more technological and refers to managing digital images. If it were any of these, I’d advise you to seek an Image Management Coach, PR agency, or computer geek. No need for any of those, though. All you need is yourself and the ability to honestly self-reflect. Image management is maintaining perceptions of self through the use of coping strategies. Let me illustrate through examples.
Mia, a middle school girl, sees herself as artistic, interesting, and witty. She, as do we all, looks for validation of her self-dubbed labels. When someone compliments her artwork, listens to what she has to say, or laughs at her witty retorts, her perceptions are reinforced. To manage her image, Mia works diligently to produce her artwork and looks for opportunities to connect and display her wit.
Sally is a corporate executive. She sees herself as competent, in control, and well-liked by her employees. Her self-image is validated when her employees smile at her, complete their projects, and work runs smoothly. To manage her image, Sally works relentlessly to be pleasant to her employees and to control each step of every project to ensure quality results. She looks for opportunities to prove her competence.
Both Mia and Sally use image management to reinforce their self impressions. As long as they interpret others to be experiencing them as they wish to be experienced, they feel balanced. But watch them go off kilter when others have a different impression.
The Mirror Metaphor
When we polish our hypothetical image mirror, we expect it to be shiny. And then someone smears it up after all the work we’ve put into managing our image! Others may interpret our reflection differently than we. In Mia’s case, some classmates see her wit as an excessive attempt to gain attention. Some of Sally’s employees see her as controlling rather than in control.
A secure individual can bounce back quickly when her self-image is challenged by others’ words or reactions. No matter how secure we are, though, when challenged frequently, it’s time to go inward and take inventory. We need to honestly assess whether we are acting and living authentically or if were managing our image to portray someone we’re not.
Fear and Relational Aggression
When others’ reactions implicate they don’t share our self-image, the incongruence can produce feelings of irritation, anger, confusion, or self-doubt. The underlying feeling, though, is fear.
We fear we may not fit the image we want. A person who will not honestly self-reflect and adjust can resort to relational aggression to discount the people who don’t agree with her or share her self-assessments.
Mia might label the kids who don’t enjoy her wit as humorless or too dense to “get it.” She may go as far as starting rumors about kids who don’t seem to like her in order to discredit them.
Sally might have an employee who asks for freedom to complete a project with less direct input. The employee may go as far as speaking up to Sally and saying she finds Sally to be too controlling. Sally could discount this request by labeling the employee as insubordinate, cheeky, or incompetent. To prove her point (and save her image), Sally could resort to becoming a bully boss. By finding negative “evidence” about the employee instead of self-reflecting, Sally will probably find reason to let her go. Score? Image management 1, self-growth 0.
We need to help our girls learn to self-reflect and be honest about who they are instead of resorting to emotional bullying for image management. Everyone has a shadow part. As women, we should do the same. And we should know that by now.
© 2011 A Way Through, LLC
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