A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it never tells the whole story

Posted by

picture - Mark Ettensohn, Psy.D. therapist in Sacramento

Find a picture of yourself. Take a moment to really look at it.

Maybe it’s a candid shot at a party, and you’re looking relaxed. Maybe it formal portrait, and you’re looking your best.

You would never think of this picture as representing your entire life. It’s clearly one moment – a snapshot of a single instant. You understand the picture based on the situation in which it was taken, and you understand that this situation was one of many, many situations that have occurred throughout your life.

The point is that the picture is very limited in terms of what it actually depicts. Pictures are all about appearances, and they don’t show everything. You are a person who is constantly changing.

Nevertheless, many of us have similar “pictures” of ourselves in our minds: snapshots of who and what we are; representations of ourselves that are just as unchanging as a photograph. Although you would never look at a picture without imagining the context in which it was taken, we habitually refer to the snapshots in our minds without giving a second thought to the situations in which they were developed.

We use these mental snapshots to guide our future actions. For example, maybe your mental picture is of a shy, meek person. Consequently, you let opportunities to join conversations pass you by because the person in the picture isn’t good at being social.

Or, perhaps your mental picture is of someone who has been hurt too many times. You don’t let anyone get too close because the person in the picture always has to be on guard.

It is important to remember that the mental picture of yourself is just like any other picture. It is limited in terms of what it shows. There is much outside of the frame: situations, relationships, hidden thoughts and feelings. Although there are many other conceivable picture, we tend to cling to one or two. In the process, we miss possibilities.

If you feel like you aren’t the sort of person who does this or that – who talks to strangers at a party, who lets others get close, who acts silly, or who feels happy – and if you let opportunities pass you by because of it, then maybe it’s time to dust off that old mental photograph and decide if it really represents your whole being. You may discover that you are, in fact, so much more than a moment frozen in time.


We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make our world.”

– Siddhārtha Gautama

Leave a Reply