How you think others perceive you

I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am. Read that again…
This term comes from sociologist Charles Horton Cooley. He created a concept around it called The looking-glass self. But more on that later.

The term

Now let’s dive deeper into the first few sentences. Basically, Charles Horton Cooley explains that we don’t form a self-image fully ourselves. Rather we create an image of what others might think of us and run with that story of our self-image. Perhaps it still sounds too abstract.

Let’s imagine someone values money, and you are around that person a lot. Then you might create an image on what that person thinks of you regarding money. That eventually becomes your self-image.
On the other hand, let’s imagine you have a presentation and the people in the room all look a little bored. You might think that they think your presentation is boring or that your non-verbal skills are poor. As a result, you think that you haven’t prepared your presentation well enough. In reality, someone in the room might be a new parent and hasn’t slept all night because of their baby.

Looking-Glass Self

You might be curious about this process of creating a self-image. Below are three main components.

  • We imagine how we must appear to others in a social situation.
  • We imagine and react to what we feel their judgment of that appearance must be.
  • We develop our sense of self and respond through these perceived judgments of others.

Reaching a self-imagined ideal

As explained above, the looking-glass self concludes that we develop our sense of self through our perceived judgments from others. To take it a step further one could try to reach a self-imagined ideal. Jay Shetty wrote in his book Think Like a Monk: “Not only is our self-image tied up in how we think others see us, but most of our efforts at self-improvement are really just us trying to meet that imagined ideal.”

Silver lining

All the concepts and examples above contain others. However, none consider what others actually think. This made me realize that in the development of our sense of self we only take into account our own thoughts and preconceptions. The silver lining in all of this is that we have the power to change our thoughts and therefore change our self-image.

Image: Unsplash, by Priyanka Singh