Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall (mart)


Every once in awhile I get the chance to grocery shop alone, and I find myself watching people as much as I watch for the best produce deal. Recently, I noticed something that disturbed me - people fail to look at each other.

My observation suddenly made me quite uneasy. Naturally, I made a semi-crazed attempt to make eye contact with every poor soul that passed to release my anxiety. "Be the change," right? 

This experience reminded me of a sociological theory called, "Cooley's Looking Glass Self." Cooley stated that our self-perception is directly related to how society perceives us.  There are three steps to this model:
  1. We project an image of ourselves to others
  2. We imagine how others perceive us 
  3. We develop a feeling about ourselves based on others' responses
This whole process takes at least two people.  Not only are we responsible for the image we project to others, but in order for us know who we are and who we want to be, we need other people to interact with us. Our perception of others' feedback prompts us to evolve, for better or worse.

Whether we like to admit it or not, our identities are dependent upon the perceptions and interactions we have with others.

Here are 5 ways Cooley's model can apply to your life: 
  1. Parenting Small Children - while your child may not know who they are at this age, you serve as a mirror to show them the world is a safe and nurturing place. Attachment and attunement are essential to a small child's development. No screen, device, or activity can replace you; there is no substitute for your attention, eye contact, and involvement in your child's life. 
  2. Parenting Your Pre-teen or Teen - as your child reaches adolescence, peers will become the primary source for their identity. Help your teen choose friends who mirror their positive qualities. Ask them to check the last 5 people they have texted. Were those conversations positive? If not, help them determine the difference. Your teen will get negative images reflected to her by peers. Help her to see this as a normal part of life, but to be careful in choosing these peers as friends. Your steady, consistent, and unchanging mirror can help center your teen and remind him of his identity in this confusing stage. 
  3. In the Workplace - According to a workplace expert Dr. Jan Yager, work relationships are imperative for job satisfaction and the success of your organization. Successful businesses regard people over technology, ideas, and business models.
  4. In Personal Relationships - Have you ever dated, befriended, or had a relationship with someone who really got you? It's magical. We all have an internalized image of ourselves and when the person sitting across from us projects it back - it is an incredible feeling!  Surround yourself with people who understand who you are, where you are going, and who aren't threatened by it.  They can support you when a human mirror displays a reflection you do not recognize.  
  5. In Your Faith Journey - As Christians, it is our duty to reflect Christ's love to others. Since we have been created in His image, we are held to a high standard. Be certain that the image you reflect to children, friends, relatives, and even strangers is an image of God's love for them. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) We do this with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  
My experience in the supermarket is not an uncommon one.  The unease I felt was something greater than seeing a reflection of me I did not like.  My unease was due to a complete lack of reaction from others, as if I was projecting my image into a void.

When we fail to look one another in the eye, give one another a smile, or acknowledge one another's presence, the aisles are filled with empty mirrors. People not only struggle to find their identity, but struggle to know whether they actually exist.

Look up, friends.  No one was made to be invisible.  

"Each to each a looking glass - reflects the other that doth pass" 
-Charles Horton Cooley 


Heather is married to a funny blue devil, mom to three lively boys, and singer both on stage and in her child's ear. She is the owner of Kaloupek Counseling, LLC a private practice offering mental health services to children, teens, and adults in Decatur, IL.  You can read more about her, her blog, and counseling practice here.  Want to reach out? Send her an email!  She would love to hear from you!

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