Written by Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Recently people have become aware that others can actually see them. Either thanks to the re-opening of the world, or the awfully humbling inverted filter on TikTok, we have realised that people don’t perceive us how we think, or hope, they do.
All humans – even those who exude a ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude – are, in the end, creatures who desire to fit into a social universe. We need friendships, support and love to help ourselves grow.
Think about those friends that surround you and how you would describe them to a stranger? You’d speak of their hair colour, the shape of their eyes. You’d tell of their work, their hobbies, their achievements, their music taste, how kind they are. Most likely you would speak of their good attributes and make this metaphorical stranger understand how much of an amazing person your friend is.
Now, how would you describe yourself to this stranger? Would you emphasize your sense of humour, physical features you’re fond of, your fashion sense? Would you spend more time on ‘trouble spots’? Rather than owning your strengths, skills, beauty and achievements, would you minimize these attributes – either to seem humble or because you don’t see them as particularly ground-breaking?
Your answer will depend on your own self-image but it’s likely, and correct this if it’s wrong, that you described your friend in a much more desirable way then you described yourself.
Unfortunately, even with Elon Musk trying out all kinds of crazy human modifications, it’s impossible to step out of your own head and see yourself as others do. We can only see ourselves through our own subjective lens and this often clouds self-image. Self-image refers to how you see yourself both internally and externally – the ideas you have of your own abilities, appearance and personality. Self image is impacted by three things; how we see ourselves, how we perceive others to view us, and how we wish ourselves to be.
When you look at yourself in a mirror, what you see depends on the quality of that mirror, the lighting allowing you to see yourself, but also at play here are our emotions. Self-perception is affected intensely by our mood at any given time. When emotions are running low and clarity is running high, you are better able to see yourself in an honest and accurate light. Whereas it’s extremely difficult to be objective and correct when analysing yourself while feeling stressed, upset, or in a bit of a bad mood.
Anxiety targets your insecurities, draws your attention to them and labels them as the first thing others will see. It’s most likely that no one else even notices the ‘issue’, no matter how much you obsess over it. When you’ve noticed something you don’t like about yourself, it can become the only thing that your mind will let you see. Your eyes are drawn to it when you look in the mirror and this impacts your self-image greatly. But others, who don’t obsessively stare at your face for hours nit picking, will probably never even notice your ‘problem’ let alone see it as an issue.
Whenever you look in the mirror, you’ve probably done so to assess how you look. You’re exploring for imperfections that can be adjusted, you pull faces to see if your smile is attractive – you’re judging if what you see is to your satisfaction. In doing so, you’re naturally drawn to your least favourite attributes. The way that someone else looks at you is very different. They look at you through their own lens and because of this, they see a very different person to what you do.
Think back to describing your friend – that’s how your friends think about you! When you start to know someone, all their physical characteristics disappear. You see the essence of the person, not the shell. Realising and embracing the fact that other people see you differently to how you see yourself – easy to say, harder to do – is a huge step in freeing your head of overwhelming emotions. It will allow you to step out of your own head and start working on your self-image.
So, how exactly do we improve our self-image?
First, you have to speak to yourself in a caring way. Everyone has hang-ups that skew their self-perception but recognising negative, intrusive thoughts as the voice of your inner critic, will stop insecurities morphing into too-big-to-handle issues.
Learn to accept compliments, especially ones from yourself! Don’t turn positives into negatives by downplaying yourself – you deserve to let in positives! You don’t need to act ‘humble’ and can be excited by others celebrating you! Take time to appreciate yourself and let others appreciate you too, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Find a way to acknowledge and appreciate both your assets and your weaknesses. There will always be someone doing something ‘better’ than you, that doesn’t mean your achievements are any less valid. Comparing yourself to others will place you in a position where you can never win. A better use of your time will be to compare yourself only to yourself – focus on how far you have come.
The mind and the body function symbiotically, so taking proper care of your physical health can improve your mindset. This doesn’t mean going on a health kick, dominating in the gym and cutting out all things fun. It means appreciating yourself enough to eat well, get enough sleep and get out of the house for a nice walk. It will help balance the chemicals and hormones in your body associated with stress and anxiety and make you feel better in yourself.
It all starts and ends with you and how you see yourself. How we see things is incredibly important in how other people see us. We see things, not as they truly are, but how we are. Everything we see can only be interpreted through our own subjective lens – if we are negative, then we’ll see everything negatively, and that’s how others will see us too, as negative people.