| Home | Ask Dr Matt | Call Dr Matt | Meet Dr Matt | Quotes | Book | Answer Archive |

Excerpts from
Changing Your Stripes

Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

 Talk to Dr Matt!
 Complimentary Consultation
When you buy
 Changing Your Stripes 
Come visit Dr Matt at Facebook!

The Looking Glass Self
 by Matt Moody, Ph.D. 

In the early 1900's, social psychologist Charles Horton Cooley proposed a theory called "the Looking Glass Self." This self is different from the self that is manifest as both body and being — different from the self that is tangible, touchable, and lives in particular earthly locations, the self expressed within specific human relations. In contrast, the Looking Glass Self is the emergence and maintenance of self-identity, or who you "think" you are.

Different from the Self as Body & Being, the Looking Glass Self, or Self-Identity, is not tangible or touchable; instead, it is Imaginary — not in the sense that the Looking Glass Self is pure fantasy, rather in the sense that all conceptions are mental imaginations. Of course mental images do reflect living reality, and in that sense, mental imaginations are not purely . . . fantasy. Still, Cooley's Looking Glass Self is based in a person's imaginations. Here are three aspects of LGS:

"A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal elements: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification" — Charles Horton Cooley (1902), "Human Nature and the Social Order," p. 152.

Dr Matt's Translation of Cooley's three 3 principle elements of the Looking Glass Self.

      1 - How I imagine I appear to other people.
      2 - How I imagine others judge my appearance (the one I imagine in the first place)
      3 - How I feel (prideful or mortified) about my imaginations —
           my appearance and others judgments of that imagined appearance

Number three 3 of Cooley's principle elements IS equal to = Self Esteem

Cooley maintained that self-concepts are formed from the reflected images that emanate from social relations; one's individual impression of self develops within and manifests through human interaction: "there is no sense of I without its associative aspects of we, they, or us." Thus, who you are, and how you think of yourself, is intimately and inseparably bound up in relationships. Human relations entail continual communications, where motive and meaning move back and forth in responsive dialogue. Self-Concept is acquired and shaped in this communicative context; it is formed in the reflected images of an interactive mirror. In short:

* * * * *
You don't know who you are,
until somebody tells you!
 * * * * *

As Chauncey Riddle reasoned, "the self is a myth to the self," meaning, every person develops a theory of who they think they are based upon feedback from others. In his pithy statement, Riddle uses of the word "self" two times. His first mention of "self" refers to self-identity, and the second mention of "self" refers to the tangible, touchable self of body and being. It is self-identity, . . . or who you imagine yourself to "be," that is a myth to the self. The word "myth" comes from a Greek word meaning "tale, talk, or speech" and is defined as:

    * A story of such a nature as to explain certain customs, beliefs,
              or natural phenomena; and
    * A person or thing existing only in one's imagination.

People indeed develop a "story" that wraps around and supports who they think they are; a story that helps keep a personal sense of identity and worth in balance. This story about self is what forms and justifies one's self-identity (self-worth, and/or self-esteem), which in turn is a product pieced together in one's imagination using fragments of meaning-full feedback from others.

* * * * *
How you think of yourself is really a Myth.
You are not who you "think" you are, rather Who You Are IS
Your Bodily Characteristics combined with How You Are Being with Others.
This Tangible Being is directly discernible to others, and available
to You through secondary reflections in the Social Mirror.
 * * * * *

Distinguishing between Self-Identity and Being. The reason why you can only develop a "myth" about yourself is because you cannot directly experience how you occur to others. Instead, you can only "imagine" how you occur to others, and how you occur to others gets at the heart of who you are, . . . your being, . . . this is the verb-self. This Self is located at the Heart of actual human relations; whereas, Self-Identity is inescapably located in your Head!

It is true that others can only think within their minds of how you occur to them; meaning, the self they see in YOU . . . is reduced to their imagination too. But their perspective of you — how you occur to them —is still fundamentally different from your perspective of yourself, and is also in a primary position of access and discernment.

What others think of you is based upon direct first hand experience, whereas your view of yourself is gleaned from second-hand reflections from the social mirror. Your image of yourself is like leftovers from the feast of directly-lived relations; self-identity is the indirect second-hand product derived from how others directly view you — this is the Looking Glass Self. The "leftovers" analogy is intentionally made for a purpose: To establish that concern for self-identity is secondary.

Concern for "how you come across" — how you think others are thinking of you — can be a selfish endeavor. But there is a closely associated discernment that is also seen in the social mirror; a gaze in the looking glass that grows out of empathic intent. There are two motives for looking in the social mirror. One selfishly obsesses upon self-identity, while the other view has an empathic motive that seeks for self-improvement — what can be learned to enhance growth of character.

Within the realm of human relations it is important to get in touch with your way of being as seen in the social mirror, especially paying attention to those reflections that come from others who live life with love and integrity, for they will see you most clearly.

* * * * *
If you want to know what you're sending out,
consider what's coming back. You will see your Self
in the reflection of relations with others.
 * * * * *

The Self that appears in the social mirror is the only self you will ever know — with one supremely important exception. By expanding the definition of "social" to its largest boundaries, a view of self is also reflected from the unseen social realm. Through "unseen" relations, yet directly-felt relations that exist beyond the view of mortal eyes, there is reflective feedback in an invisible mirror. The invisible mirror offers reflections of two types:

* * * * *
Spirit Feedback of the most reliable sort, and
Spirit feedback of the most deceptive sort.

 * * * * *

Said another way: The Angel on your Right Shoulder will ever provide reliable reflections, whereas the devil on your left shoulder will always reflect a distorted or deceptive image. And while you do not "see" these spirit beings, you feel their influence and you perceive their enticings.

The Search for Self, . . . Solved. We are easily persuaded to think of ourselves as individual entities because our bodies are physically separate from others; thus some erroneously assume that the entire "self" is exclusively contained within the physical shell, as well.

Indeed, our bodies are separate in physical space, but the expressive mobilization of the body (our being) is bound to others by a communicative bond that breathes meaning and purpose into existence. Thus, this most essential aspect of Who You Are is best conceived as Relational Unity, as opposed to Individual Entity, for your very being requires the existence of others in order to "be."

Of course, part of self and self-identity is manifest through physical attributes — we are both being and body. Still the most important attributes of self-identity and self are located outside our bodies within a relational-unity — the expressive space between two bodies. This is the location of the verb-self, or being. By understanding the self as being, self-reflection becomes an examination of how you are being in relationships.

* * * * *
The most important attributes of Self and Self-Identity
are located outside our bodies within relational-unity,
the meaningful and expressive space between two bodies.
 * * * * *

The wisdom of seeing the self in this active and expressive communicative context is illustrated by analogy to written text. Trying to understand human beings apart from linguistic relational bonds within which they "live," is as futile as trying to interpret the meaning of individual words without considering the context of a sentence within which they "live;" or trying to translate the intent of a sentence without an awareness of the purpose of a paragraph; or trying to interpret particular paragraphs apart from comprehending the whole story that illuminates a clear understanding of all contributing elements.

Hence, the meaning and purpose of being human is understood by accounting for the broader context of all relationships — both seen and unseen. Because the most essential aspect of self resides in relational-unity, this means that people can neither find themselves, nor enrich self-worth, with a purely inward look. In this way, self-introspection is impossible!

The most important aspect of self literally transcends the boundaries of the body; thus, individuals cannot come to know who they are by looking within themselves — there is nothing to see, only a couple of kidneys and a lung or two. Looking within oneself to locate a sense of self is a metaphor and not a directly achievable activity. The so-called search for self is not found somewhere deep within individualistic realms, but is discovered at the heart of each and every directly-lived relationship.

Thus you will find yourself in the reflection of the social mirror — reflections that extend to "unseen" sociality too. Now, recall two motives for gazing in the looking glass: Empathic versus Egocentric. This means, listening to people tell you "how you come across" can be heard with empathic ears, for empathic purposes; or in contrast, gazing in the looking glass can done with selfish obsession; it can become an egocentric search for self-identity and self-worth. And when one is not primping in the social mirror, one may imagine how others are perceiving you — narcissistic reruns . . . starring ME! Self-speculation, when done obsessively, is counterproductive to the aims of self-esteem.

* * * * *
Obsessive thinking
about "how you come across,"
is self-defeating to the aims of self-worth.
A more fruitful focus, and a goal within your control:
Becoming Loving & True, and when you are True,
Self-Worth will naturally flow from You.
 * * * * *

Self-Discovery Paradox. It is of vital importance to realize that the so-called quest to "find yourself" is not accomplished by acquiring the flattering accolades of others. Genuine compliments may come as one lives life well, but they are not the foundation of a most productive sense of self. The ultimate expression of self emerges as one ceases to be concerned with self-identity altogether, and simply focuses upon the condition and quality of relationships — giving priority to how one is being with others.

This is the great paradox of Self Discovery: As one ceases trying to discover self and simply forgets self, and puts all energy of heart into loving others, THEN, the You that is True spontaneously appears. Thus, you have found yourself, and have connected to Who You Are from your innocent and honest beginnings, . . . you have discovered your eternal heritage.

Trying to conceptualize who you "think" you are is fundamentally the wrong question; it is a question that fosters a self-absorbed existence. This is what Jesus was trying to express with these words:

* * * * *
"He that findeth his life shall lose it:
and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
 * * * * *

In this admonition, the word "life" is used, yet the meaning of the word "life" is virtually synonymous with the richest meaning of "self." The tangible, touchable, specifically situated Self as manifest in both Body and Being . . . this is Life! It is interesting to note that in the Japanese language there is no word that cleanly translates to the word "Self," the closest word is "Ji Bun" (Jee Boon) which literally means "Life-part." Using this more expansive conception of Self, consider this translation of the words of Jesus:

If you seek to find your self through self-attention, you will lose your true self, but if you lose, or discard, a self-absorbed search for self, and simply "be" and "do" in the compassionate pattern that I have set, then you will find your self.

The finding and fulfillment of self emerges naturally as a person simply follows inner urgings that intuitively lead to Being True. In contrast, the fruitless goal of "figuring out" in your Head how you "imagine" your self to be in the eyes of others is an empty and egocentric endeavor — a selfish struggle that literally blocks the richest expression of Self.

Indeed, self-identity is shaped substantially by feedback from the social mirror, especially in the growing-up years. But as we mature and seek to our highest fulfillment, our primary looking glass needs to be the invisible mirror that radiates reflections from our Creator — the Immaculate Mirror that provides perfect and reliable reflections for a transcendent purpose: That we might fulfill the measure and meaning of our creation.

* * * * *
In the Immaculate Mirror resides
Reflections to a Transcendent Purpose:
To Know as we are Known, and
To See as we are Seen.
 * * * * *
(Changing Your Stripes Manual, page 2-23)

Christ's admonition to "lose your life for my sake" has a common response: Does that mean I should let myself go, and take no time for the care of my personal fitness and appearance? Does the Lord really want me to become overweight and unattractive because ever minute of every day should be dedicated to serving His Purposes?

The Answer to this common response, goes to the difference between Body and Being, and two fundamental motives for taking good care of your Body.

Sold Exclusively
through this website

Changing Your Stripes is a
unique reference book that will help
you understand, . . .
and solve all of
Life's ever-appearing problems.
Here are more reasons to buy

Changing Your Stripes

Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

| Home | Ask Dr Matt | Call Dr Matt | Meet Dr Matt | Quotes | The Book | Site Index |