When we believe someone else’s view of us that makes us feel diminished, we forget the wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt who said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This does not mean that we are consciously giving our consent to feel inferior; it does mean, though, that we are particularly vulnerable to another’s view of us and, consequently, we give that view credibility. Further, someone may have an “inflated” sense of who we are which we may also believe. In both cases, we rely on another person’s assessment of us as truth.
Children deal with this all the time. If a teacher’s attitude or response gives a child the impression that they are stupid or slow, they believe they are. And if a teacher encourages a child because they believe the child is capable, smart, clever or creative, the child begins to feel that way about him-, her-, or themself often, resulting in the belief that they can do what’s expected of them.
Children also deal with this in their families. When babies look into the eyes of their caregivers they can see, reflected in those eyes, whether they are valued – a source of joy or pain.
More than 100 years ago, Charles Horton Cooley, a sociologist, coined the term “looking glass self” as a description of how we come to see ourselves as seen through the eyes of others. Cooley suggested that we first imagine how we look to other people. Next, we imagine the other person’s judgment of us based on how we think they view us. And finally, we consider how we think of how the person views us based on their previous judgments. Basically, we come to see ourselves through the perception of others’ view of us. Since a looking glass is a mirror, we base our sense of who we are by seeing our reflection in another’s eyes. Other’s perceptions and judgements can be the foundation for what we use to form our self-worth, our values, and our behaviors.
It can be helpful to take a few moments to consider the people in our lives who served as those mirrors. And it can also be helpful to consider whether we still base our view of ourselves on what we interpreted their perceptions of us to be. It is never too late to explore and change the perceptions that we have internalized.
How can we begin to appreciate ourselves based on who we know ourselves to be? We can start by first paying attention to ourselves as we experience each moment – how we feel, how we think, how we act – and understand what affects us. In short, we need to become more mindful of who we are.
Assumptions are things we are sure of; that we accept as truth without having proof.
With practice and intention, we can step back and observe our assumptions.
We can ask:
If we do this, our communication resembles a one-way street.
If we shut down (resulting in either not listening or not responding to what is being communicated) are we aware of why we did that?
When we are certain that we KNOW what the person is thinking AND is about to say, the other person often feels misunderstood and devalued.
Many of us have assumptions based on expectations of previous experiences, relationships, or more specifically, ideas that we have in our minds about what people should or should not say or do.
To try to change this, the next time we find ourselves annoyed with a friend, family member, or colleague, we can pause and ask ourselves two pertinent questions:
We can practice acts of kindness daily, even if these practices appear small and incidental. We can do this with whomever we see or interact over the next few days. Each interaction is an opportunity to enhance someone’s experience in life by making them feel noticed and, if the opportunity arises, helped. Time after time we see proof that when we practice kindness with a clear intention, we can actually change the world.