Back in the early 1900’s, an influential social psychologist came up with a theory called the Looking-glass self to explain how our views of ourselves change based on how other people perceive us. Here’s how it works: we think about how we look to other people and how they might judge us based on that then we change ourselves based on that judgment. The theory has been supported by numerous studies over the years.

While some people might argue that basing our self-image on how others see is could be horrible, there are some good parts, especially for young people. Children and young adults need to understand that their behavior does lead people to perceive them in specific ways. If they did not realize that or care then they might never appreciate the importance of dressing nice for an interview or making a good impression on their teachers.

If people are accurately identifying how others perceive them and adjusting based on that perception then it works well. Unfortunately, we aren’t always accurate. In many cases, we are much harsher judges of ourselves than other people are of us, yet we internalize their assumed perceptions of us. Here’s one example. An 18-year old college student was terrified of public speaking because she was sure everyone in the audience was mocking her for being so nervous. She even went to her instructor to see if there was anything she could do to avoid the ridicule without failing her speech class. Of course, the answer was no. On the first day of speeches, the instructor expected to see the student become a shambles at the podium but the girl was no more nervous acting than any of the other students. In fact, some of the other students commented amongst themselves that “she did a really good job.” When the instructor told the student the same thing, she was shocked because she had felt extremely nervous and was confident the audience hated her speech.

The girl – like many of us – judged herself by very harsh standards based, she thought, on how others viewed her. She was wrong, however. Instead of listening to other people, she was too focused on the negative voice in her own head.

That’s why it’s important not just to listen to our own voices but to be active in creating a positive sense of self from within so we can be more receptive to the real perceptions of the people around us. That way we can make positive changes in our behaviors when they are called for and even learn to appreciate the good that others see in us.

Others’ opinions of us may not be all that matters but if we give it weight in shaping who we are then we need to be sure we are perceiving those opinions correctly and not judging ourselves too harshly.

You can learn more strategies for finding happiness with yourself by clicking here.