October 21, 2012 § 16 Comments
I am the self I see mirrored in your eyes.
I am smart, and incredibly stupid.
Petty and magnanimous.
I am both wonderful and a genuine waste of skin.
Like water I assume the shape of the vessel into which I am poured.
And that vessel is your opinion. I can’t be alone in this.
We love falling in love, in part because the mirror held up at those times is the kindest, the most favorable. We will never be more beautiful, witty, smart, or thrilling—nor will they.
Does anyone see us in full and as we truly are? Do we ever return the favor?
Who looks at their parents and sees a couple with dreams that have nothing to do with parenting? Despite the obvious proof to the contrary we see our parents as dowdy and asexual. Who are these people? Mom and Dad.
The daughter I am mom to loves me very much, and sees me as a bit incompetent and clumsy, and I live up to her assessment. I spill glasses of water in her presence, I’m indecisive. I become what she thinks I am.
A casual comment can shape self-opinion for years. My grandfather’s assertion that I had the most boring voice he’d ever heard dogged me into adulthood. It took multiple teachers and media specialist saying they liked hearing me read aloud to make me reappraise what was, no doubt, an extremely random remark.
Perhaps some of you have sturdier self-images than I do. Maybe you’ve appraised your strengths and limitations and understand them clear-eyed, and bone-deep. Maybe you know your own worth.
I’m not without an opinion of myself. I like that self okay . I think I’m decent, but how you respond to me will, at least in that moment, profoundly affect who I feel I am.
And now I have to turn the mirror around. What reflected self am I imposing on you? Have I stopped seeing you for the work-in-progress you are? Have I failed to acknowledge that, over time, you have grown and changed? Am I fixing you in some earlier moment in your life, arresting you right there and expecting you to stay put—perhaps even holding you there?
I wonder how much of what we call the self is simply the reflected opinion of those who consistently surround us.
And I wonder, what self might be revealed if someone held up a different mirror?