The Image Collage Technique, developed for the self help website Therapy in Philadelphia A common trait of those who suffer with anxiety is low self esteem and a poor self image. This fuels the “I can’t…” motto. Overcoming a poor self image is tricky because we often aren’t aware of our self image. The majority of it resides somewhere in our subconscious mind, the part that is always active behind the scenes without us really knowing it. It is possible to train or change our subconscious mind and thoughts, but to do so we have to try to become aware of what it’s up to now. In order to upgrade to a more positive self image and switch to the “I can…” motto, we have to first dig up our current self image from the recesses of our brain.

Uncovering the subconscious thoughts that affect us everyday is much easier when one knows this trick: the language of the subconscious mind is image. Our subconscious mind speaks through pictures and responds to them. To uproot our current self image we must think of it in pictures and to replace it we must feed our mind new images. The simplest way to do this is by making an ‘image’ collage. Not only does it spare the inartistic the humiliation of attempting to draw, but searching through the myriad of pictures and images to find those to add to the collage stimulates our mind and helps us uncover things we might not already have thought of.

To make an image collage you need to begin with either one large poster board or two smaller poster boards. If using a large one, divide it right down the middle and draw a line to represent that division. You will be using one side to portray your current self image and another to portray your new self image, if using two boards, you’ll be doing the same thing but on separate posters. Label one ‘current’ and one ‘new,’ or ‘old’ and ‘new’, or any combination like that. Take a moment to think with words. Consider how you feel about yourself now and how you’d like to feel about yourself. Brainstorm for adjectives that would describe you. Jot these down on the back of your boards. Don’t be discriminatory. The point of brainstorming is get out anything that comes to mind. It is often the things you don’t expect that have been lurking around the longest. When you have a good list going on the back of each of your posters it is time to move on.

Next you must sort through images. Get out old photos. When you picture yourself now, what age are you? Many of us picture ourselves older or younger than we are. Sometimes our self image sticks to a traumatizing period in our lives. Find pictures from these age periods and paste them (or copies) square and center in your collage. You may also find that your idea of a positive self image involves a particularly happy time in your life. Maybe childhood or high school? Maybe your wedding day? Find a photo for your improved collage too.  You will build your collage around these pictures of yourself.

Now, sort through stacks of old magazines or even books. Newspapers could work also, anything with pictures in it that you don’t mind cutting up. You might have to buy a few new magazines for this if you don’t have old ones lying around. Cut out anything that jumps out at you. Don’t think about why right now. Like your brainstorming earlier you are simply trying to gather as many images as possible. You might want to focus on one part of your collage first and then do the other one next. When you have a good stack of pictures to work with for both halves of your image collage you can begin to sort through them. Paste them around the photo of yourself, working from the center out to the edges of your poster board. As you paste each picture think about why you’re using it. Why does this image represent me? Why is it part of my poor self image? Why is it part of my positive self image? What exactly does this picture represent? Some of your images may be obvious while others are more abstract. That’s okay. This is the language of your subconscious mind, so there is no good or bad. Allow yourself to feel any emotions as they arise during this process. It is better to work with the negative side first as it is usually the most difficult.

When both sides are finished, look at them next to one another. Consider the differences. How different are they? What makes your negative or poor self image “bad”? What makes your positive collage “good”? What pictures or qualities can you work on first? Are there any that are unchangeable? How can you approach those so that they don’t continue to damage your image? What about the positive side? What pictures there represent things you already possess? Things you desire? How much of this side is simply a matter of perspective? Does anything here seem out of reach or unattainable? Why? How can you find another way to accomplish how that thing would make you feel? Use your collage as a springboard to begin an important dialogue with yourself and your subconscious mind. What would your negative self image say to you? What would your positive self image say? What do they think of one another? Make notes on anything you come up with here so you can utilize it later.

Keep your image collage for a while. When you are feeling low pull out your image collage and see how far you’ve come from your previous self image towards your desired self image. Go over the pictures of your new self image carefully. Imagine your subconscious mind as a giant scanner, and scan each image in. See your mind storing these new images and erasing the old. Make note of any feelings this may arouse. You can share your image collage with a spouse, parent, or even therapist. Or, if you prefer, you can keep it private. Follow your instincts here and do whatever makes you most comfortable. The image collage can be a valuable tool for improving the self image of anyone suffering from anxiety. It can even be adapted to other ideas, like the ‘trigger’ collage for example. The idea is to use the language of pictures to communicate with your deepest self so you can control what you feed it and what it feeds you. 

Struggling? You don't have to be alone. Help is available. 267-324-9564. Center for Growth /Therapy in Philadelphia

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