The looking-glass self is the way that you imagine others view you. This is a common way of thinking that can be important to socializing, self-improvement and identity. The looking-glass self can also cause a number of problems as it can allow insults or criticism to shake your sense of worth and identity. The following are illustrative examples of the looking-glass self.
MirrorsLooking-glass is an old term for a mirror. As such, the looking-glass self is an analogy to looking into a mirror and imagining how you are perceived by others.
SocializingThe looking-glass self is important to successfully navigating social situations. For example, if people tend to make inaccurate assumptions about you -- you may use this to your advantage to surprise them or to let an adversary underestimate you while you outcompete them.
IdentityThe looking-glass self is one input that an individual may use to form their identity. This can be quite dangerous as you may become what people expect of you. The looking-glass self may also allow others to damage your sense of identity with insults and injustices. For this reason, young people who are forming an identity require a reasonably positive environment. As one matures, gaining the grit and resilience to deal with negativity is also important to self-confidence.
Social ValidationSocial validation is the tendency to seek approval, compliments and other positive inputs from others. This is all designed to feed the looking-glass self. Social validation explains the drive to achieve social status such as wealth and popularity. In this context, its easy to see that the looking-glass self can be used to explain a broad range of human behavior. For example, the quest for likes and followers in social media.
Delusional ThinkingIn most cases, we don't really know how others view us such that we need to use our imagination to fill in the blanks. This can lead to situations where your imagination is excessively positive or negative such that your looking-glass view of yourself is fully inaccurate in some way.
IntrospectionThe looking-glass self is not the only way that we understand ourselves. For example, you can use a process of introspection to consider what you are truly like regardless of how you are perceived.
CoolnessCoolness is a character trait that can be described as a gentle confidence and social calmness whereby you aren't easily inflated by compliments or deflated by insults. This may involve deprecating the looking-glass self in favor of knowing who you are and where you are going without much concern for what others think. Ironically, this can often, but not always, produce much social status as it creates confidence and individual style that others may tend to follow.
Social ResilienceWhen people mature, they are likely to develop increased social resilience whereby their looking-glass self becomes quite stable and they aren't emotionally or cognitively dependent on social validation. In many cases, mature people still care deeply about fair criticism and the opinions of people close to them or that they respect.
Through the Looking GlassThrough the looking glass is another analogy to mirrors that originated with the 1871 book Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. This is based on the sense that the person looking back at you in a mirror may exist in a parallel universe where things look somewhat the same but are completely different. As such, through the looking glass means bizarre, surreal and strange. This is unrelated to the term looking-glass self.
This is the complete list of articles we have written about social thinking.
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