The Polar Opposite of Self-Awareness: Image Management

The opposite of being here authentically and transparently is creating and maintaining an image.

The est Training saw the substitution of an image for experience as the basic problem in life. We went for the menu instead of the meal. Counselled Trainer Dennis Percy: “All those images get in the way of the experience.” (1) After a while, said Trainer Angelo d’Amelio, “you’d rather have your pictures of what is than experience what is.” (2) Worse, said Hal Isen: “The concept begins to determine the experience.” (3)

Image management in general means speaking, acting and in other ways representing oneself so as to support an image of how one looks rather than the reality. We opt for looking good, right, wise, compassionate, whatever the desire is that we serve. In doing so, we leave the truth farther and farther behind.

Gradually we forget who we are and give ourselves over to activities and views that maintain the image we wish to project. We get upset when our image appears threatened. We cover our butts by projecting more impressions that are designed to keep up our image. Lucille Ball was the master of this gambit as a comedy act. Her white lies, which laid the basis of the plot’s outworking, were almost always done to create, project or manage an image.

We cannot “know thyself” this way. We cannot fulfil the purpose of life, which is to know our true identity. We cannot escape from the wheel of birth and death.

Those people who manage their image may hire an image consultant to look good. They may “dress for success” or talk themselves up. They may promote themselves. If they own a company, they may hire a public-relations firm to make the company look good. An entire industry – the cosmetics industry – endeavors to hide the truth and make a person look better than they actually do. On and on the activities in our society go dedicated to masking the truth in favor of projecting an image.

If you google “image management” today, far from seeing commentary on image management from the awareness movement, you’ll only find courses on how to create your image, professionals who’ll help you, products to assist you. But all of it simply adds to the illusion and hides the truth.

Because an image is not the reality, the attempts to manage our image and impression are doomed to failure.

The self-awareness movement turns aside from image management. It gives it up as futile. It grants that there are times and places where certain guidelines on dress, comportment, and style are viewed as mandatory and does not seek to put a person at risk. But in any area where personal choice is feasible, it tends to avoid constructions of self in favor of “telling it like it is” (without harming of course), letting the truth be known, not withholding, not hiding, etc.

Sometimes groups conspire to manage their image. When they do, that action is generally known as collusion. One could call it group illusion and delusion as well. A group managing its image collectively requires all members to go into agreement.

People may do something and then agree to hide what they did.  They may go round the circle eliciting agreement and identifying who does not agree to go into collusion. That person is then ostracized. We work in ways to support the prevailing image.

The inner voice knows when collusion is happening and sends back alarms, which we often call “the tug of conscience.” To ignore that voice is to go out of integrity with oneself. And that radically diminishes our access to truth and self-knowledge. That is something that people who follow the path of self-awareness have agreed, explicitly and implicitly, not to do.

The self-awareness path is about being in integrity with oneself, remaining whole, being authentic, not splitting off, not undermining oneself or doing things obstructive or destructive to coherence and alignment with divine qualities.

It’s an antidote to image management. It’s about being seen and known as we are, not about manipulating impressions. It’s about standing in our truth, not saying what we think others will want to hear. It welcomes and acknowledges differences, providing those differences are not geared toward creating an act, living from story, hiding behind a mask, etc.

The self-awareness path is about removing masks, dropping our acts, emerging from our stories. So the self-awareness path and image management are on two different tracks going to two different places.  I plan to repost some articles from some time back that will illustrate me following the self-awareness path by removing masks and being transparent.

The self-awareness path is not about exposing others. It’s not about being a passive aggressive and harming others under the path of serving them.  It’s about revealing ourselves and restoring our original innocence thereby.

Let’s look at some of the things that self-awareness practitioners would say on the subject. Many of their observations were profound.

John Enright used to hammer home that guilt was a facade we hid behind to allow us to continue the behavior we felt guilty about. Said he:

“Guilt is ‘Class B’ membership in the club. The guilty smoker is not a righteous non-smoker, but he is more righteous than the not-guilty smoker.

“Guilt is simply a facet of image management. Why not do it and admit that you’re digging it? If you don’t intend to stop, then groove on what you’re doing.” (4)

“Guilt is the price you pay for clinging to an image in spite of the way you’re behaving.” (5)

Self-blame was also a manipulation, according to him.

“Self-blame is just another aspect of image management. It informs the other person that we know the error we made and prevents that other person from feeling able to call us on the error.” (6)

“Just acknowledge that you have done things and then go on. Everything else is image management.” (7)

Blaming others or trying to appear blameless was also an attempt to look good or be right, according to him.

“Dealing with another’s part in things is blaming or trying to appear blameless. As such it is reducible to image management. Dealing with one’s own part in things is taking responsibility and seeking improvement and real change.” (8)

The antidote here was to stay with our own actions, thoughts and feelings and leave it to others to stay with theirs.

Managing the image, which usually involved reprogramming the mind, produced a temporary high but ultimately led nowhere, according to Werner Erhard.

“Reprogramming the Mind can of course produce something called satisfaction. A satisfaction that comes from succeeding through motivation or self-image can more accurately be called gratification. It may involve a sense of having gotten it, an approval of what you are doing. This can produce a temporary high. But one falls back from such a high. Worse, one may retain the belief that one now has it.” (9)

Whenever the trainers found someone trying to look good, they would unleash a torrent of jokes. Here are some.

Jeff Galbraith: “Those were the days of my youth – you know? Four or five years earlier?” (10)

Randy McNamara: “’Who me? I’ve transcended my ego.’ See, now you have two egos: one called, ‘I have no ego’ and the one hiding underneath that.” (11)

Hal Isen: “Embarassment is part of the structure of the withhold. You’re worried that people will think bad thoughts about you. They will. Even if you share good shit.” (12)

Image management was often called “pretense” and “patterns” by est trainers. According to Jed Naylor, pretending was guaranteed to keep us stuck: “What keeps us being shy, afraid, and embarrassed is the pretense of not being shy, afraid, and embarrassed.” (13)

Here is Werner on how practising awareness broke up the patterns.

“What had seemed earlier to be just the way I was now clearly revealed itself as patterns or mechanisms which I happened to have.

“As you break up these patterns, you begin to get in touch with your natural integrity. And as you get in touch with your natural integrity, you break up the patterns more. Thus a beneficent cycle or spiral begins, a spiral which becomes the deadly enemy of pretence.

“I don’t mean that there aren’t any problems in your life anymore after you discover your own integrity. … There were plenty problems in my life…. I was still living a lie. Yet, instead of having dishonesty in my life, the real fundamental underlying integrity began to emerge, and to break up the old patterns which permitted the dishonesty.” (14)

So whenever we trade openness, authenticity, or transparency for attempting to build, maintain and sell to others an image or impression, we’ve sold ourselves out in a very big way. We’ve given up our lifeline to the truth. We’ve guaranteed that we won’t come to know our true nature or identity and opted to protect and maintain an illusion instead.

Self-awareness is an antidote to losing ourselves this way. Standing forth as our truth, taking responsibility for what we say and do may be frightening at times, it may be painful and it even may cost us things, but it’s the only way to attain lasting  satisfaction, joy, full-self expression, and freedom from fear. It also may be the only way (not the only path) to fulfill the purpose of life, which is to know ourselves deeply and truly as we are.


(1) Dennis Percy, est Trainer Candidate, 16 Dec. 1980.

(2) est Trainer Angelo d’Amelio, Nov. 1979.

(3) est 6-Day Trainer Hal Isen, 15 Nov. 1980.

(4) John Enright, Cold Mountain Institute, April 15, 1976. [Hereafter CMI]

(5) Loc. cit.

(6) Loc. cit.

(7) John Enright, Awareness, Responsibility and Communication Course, Vancouver, January 20, 1979.

(8) CMI, April 8, 1976.

(9) Werner Erhard in W.W. Bartley, III. Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man; the Founding of est. New York: Potter, 1978., 119-20. [Hereafter WE]

(10) est Trainer Jeff Galbraith, 15 April 1980.

(11) est Trainer Randy McNamara, 18 Jan. 1981.

(12) est 6-Day Trainer Hal Isen, 16 Nov. 1980.

(13) est Communications Workshop Leader Jed Naylor, Oct. 1980.

(14) Wener Erhard, WE, 105-6.

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