Having just endured yet another unacceptable haircut and knowing it will take a week or two for it to come close to being tolerable, I spent some minutes frowning at my image in the mirror. My haircut had garnered a few "cute" comments, but I certainly didn't see it that way and "cute" was not the effect I was hoping for. With short, blunt bangs and layers that flip out in random places, I think I look like a five-year-old going for the old Farrah Fawcett look. This is not a good look for a woman of a certain age with chubby cheeks. At least, I don't think so. But it got me to thinking about the images we present to others, how they see us and how that differs from how we see ourselves.
As I frowned at the mirror, I acknowledged that I am always harder on myself than anyone else on the planet would be. Whether it is physical attractiveness, inner beauty or some pleasing aspect of my personality, I don't generally see it and am always a bit surprised when others tell me what they see in me, pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless. So I freely admit that there are some areas where I am blind to some aspects of myself. I usually assume that there is a great deal that misses the mark.
I had always taken it for granted that no one could know me as well as I know myself, but I find myself doubting that that is completely true. It seems true that I can know what I think in a given moment, but I cannot be certain that I will hold that same thought or opinion should there be even the slightest change in the information that I have or the situation at hand. Also, I think that for the most part, I know more completely how I am feeling about something, someone or some issue than someone else could know. But again, that can be contingent too, depending on shifts of information surrounding the emotion. Bliss can shift to anguish from moment to moment, but I can recognize that sort of shift, so I still believe that I know my true feelings better than anyone else. But the self-image thing is a total crap shoot.
So why, I wonder, is this the case? And is this a universal or merely one of my little foibles? I can't speak for others, but I have some suspicions and it may be a different mix of several things for others. Part of this blind spot could be generational, which makes me nervous simply because I don't want to get into the habit of recalling "back in the day" or "the younger generation . . ." But I think those of us in the immediate post-boomer generation, still were raised with the notion of not being stuck on ourselves and not blowing our own horns, at least that is how it was in the Midwest. That could just be true for the females; I wouldn't know about men not having grown up male. We were expected to put everyone else's needs ahead of our own and many of us disappeared into the wallpaper without ever examining ourselves too deeply. Indeed, I didn't wake up to what I believe is my true nature until after I turned forty.
Perhaps it could be that we tend to internalize negative comments about ourselves so much that they drown out the positive ones. We fail to even hear them, much less incorporate them into our sense of ourselves. I know that when someone has touched me deeply with a wonderful comment of how they see me, I find myself hoping that they will repeat it or say something else equally good so that I might embed it more deeply into my psyche. Maybe when we are younger and have less depth of experience, we discount such comments as coming from someone who HAS to appreciate us. After all, your mom and dad have to appreciate you; it's their job. Or they come from our peers who have as little depth as we do ourselves and, therefore, the comments don't have the same deep truth as if it comes from someone we respect.
Primarily, I think we have to grow into it and that growing takes place on a fairly perilous field. Sometimes we find a comfortable place to stay and other times nothing will do but more in-depth investigation of who we really are. The need for growth and exploration continues even if we would rather not face it.
What I have come to believe is that we all have some sort of blind spot about ourselves. And that lack of recognition about something integral to our being can only be awakened by independent assessment coming from outside of our own view. In some very real sense, we can only truly see ourselves reflected in the discerning eyes of someone else. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what there is to see there and how much we are in tune with ourselves to begin with. But we know when what they see rings true, even if we feel obligated by modesty to demur about the good stuff or struggle to deny the negative. We can recognize the truth of it and hunger for more if it is a goodness we have not recognized or acknowledged in ourselves before. And, if it is not positive, many of us will simply fortify the wall around the blind spot rather than examine it for whatever truth it might reveal. It takes a lot of will and energy to uproot those things that go deep.
So, I'm resolved to listen for and consider what others have to say about me. And, if it seems to have an element of truth to it, I will try to make it a part of my own self-image. But, in the meantime, I'm going to go looking for another hairdresser and, maybe, buy myself a hat.
Teacher Voices: Kate Bartlett - This is a continuation of my series of interviews with former students who are now teachers. The interview on this page features Kate Bartlett, a teacher ...
2 days ago