The Looking Glass Self: How Society Shapes Our Self Image
Who are you? I’m sure you could rattle off your full names with absolutely no problem, but I’m asking a deeper question, not what’s on your driver’s license – who are you, really, essentially? It becomes a bit trickier to answer, doesn’t it? American sociologist Charles Cooley sought to explain why this is so with his aptly named Looking Glass concept.
Smarter men than I have stated, and it has come to be accepted universally, that the human being is a social creature. Some go on to say that it is this characteristic that ultimately came to set us firmly at the pinnacle of creation, above all other creatures, big and small, on Earth. Social interaction allowed us to build upon our innate intelligence by allowing for the transmission of knowledge and know-how down through the Ages, culminating in our present superiority.
Due to the fact that society by its very definition is a collection of various individuals working in collaboration with one another in order to further their shared goals and ambitions, there is a potential cost to be paid.
This is where the concept of the Looking Glass Self comes in. In it, he suggests that that the perceptions of others and the nature of a person’s interactions with others within a society ultimately determine their own self-identity or sense of self. He pictures the people around us as playing the roles of mirrors, thus making apparent to us what we are. Ask yourself this, though; would you want to rely on a mirror with its own, independent mind, feelings, ambitions, and attitudes? What if the day of your big interview your mirror was feeling particularly spiteful? Perish the thought. These psychological theories offer an explanation for this conundrum.
Three core components formulate the Looking Glass concept; that we tend to imagine how we appear in the eyes of others; we then react to this imagined judgment on their part; and we then develop our own self-image based upon this perceived judgment on the part of those around us.
It’s all too easy to see how this may be a danger to the mental or emotional well-being of the members of such a society. The fact that this effect begins at a very young age makes it all the more likely to contribute to the development or exacerbate the harmful effects of a low self-esteem and self-worth. Of further note is the fact that this effect continues into one’s adult life unceasingly, unless all social interactions are stopped completely, which is a tall order, indeed.