A few years ago I visited a boutique clothing store and encountered the most amazing mirror I had ever seen. When I stood in front of it, it had this magical slimming effect that made me want to buy the mirror and bring it home! Yes, my brain was telling me that this was an optical illusion – you are still ten pounds heavier than you want to be. In spite of that, standing there, admiring my skinnier self, made me feel better, and for a while, shifted the way I moved about in the world.
This got me thinking about the various ways in which we ‘measure’ our self worth. Have you ever gotten on the scale and found yourself to be a few pounds lighter than you anticipated? Did this improve your mood and put a little extra spring in your step? How about when someone comments on your hairstyle or clothing selection? Or nods approvingly after a work related presentation? We take in ‘assessment’ information and include it in our self appraisal equation all day long. Interestingly, our tendency is to give greater weight to the opinions and judgments of external sources (people, scales, mirrors, etc.) than to our own internal voice.
Our intrinsic need for connection with others motivates us to do things that we believe will get us just that – connected. Somewhere along the line (for sure by middle school), we shift from being ‘who we are’ to trying to be ‘who others want us to be’. We are on constant alert for cues as to what is cool, acceptable, desirable and try to integrate those behaviors into our public identity. And along the way, we stop paying attention to our own observations and beliefs relative to who we know ourselves to be.
I think having people who care about us serve as mirrors can be extremely useful at times. They can help us ground our assessments or see things through a different lens. The wonderful thing about mirrors is that we have the power to choose which ones we pay attention to.
On balance, no one’s opinion of you should matter more than your opinion of yourself. Only you have the real story of who you are – and who you are is good enough. Pick people to hang around with who are rooting for you to make your private identity your public one as well.