Daily Stretch #21: recover your self-identity

Your image is not who you are. Pic by Erik Eastman

“If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror.” — Shane Koyczan

Mirrors are vilified objects.

They reflect what stands in front of them. Yet, we blame mirrors for what we see.

Sometimes we feel cursed about the image reflected, especially ours. And wish to break the mirror into pieces. But that won’t improve our image.

I’m not talking about our physical appearance — which is another reason why we hate mirrors — but how we are viewed by others.

We often use image and identity interchangeable. Though they are interconnected, they are not the same.

Your image is what other people reflect.

Don’t let how others see you affect who you are. Stop using other people as mirrors. It will make you feel much better about yourself.

Let me show you how.

Mirrors and self-image

“I am the eye in the sky. Looking at you.
I can read your mind. I am the maker of rules.
Dealing with fools. I can cheat you blind.” — Alan Parsons

It’s not that other’s people opinion matters. We make it important.

We become slaves of what others see in us. The mirror is our captor.

The level of insecurity you show in a social situation is determined by what you believe others think of you, according to American sociologist Charles Cooley.

His theory of the looking glass self, states that the view of ourselves comes from how others perceive us. Or, better said, how we believe people see us.

By trying to please others, you get off-track. The more you act according to other people’s expectations — our image — the more insecure you feel.

Jacques Lacan discovered that when infants recognize themselves in a mirror, it creates awareness of the ‘I’. The ‘mirror stage’ —The French psychoanalyst’s most important contribution — describes the formation of the Ego via the process of identification.

A child identifies — and falls in love — with her own specular image.

The Ego is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

The ‘mirror stage’ creates a tension between the subject and the image. As Lacan believed, the Ego is the product of misunderstanding.

As we grow, that tension worsens.

Our desired image and the image reflected in the mirror do not always align. Thus increasing our disappointment.

When you use other people as mirrors, it creates, even more, confusion about who you are.

Three reasons why you need to change mirrors

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” — Coco Chanel

1. What we hate in others is a reflection of ourselves

“The world is a mirror for us — whatever you say about others is really how you feel about yourself.”— Deepak Chopra

Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person. Especially when we feel threatened by the external world.

When we seek other’s approval, this threat becomes more imminent.

Others reflect our worst flaws. And it’s always easier to see what’s wrong on the other side of the street.

What drives you crazy about others? That they are impatient, fat, old, insecure, unprofessional, slow, rude, etc. You name it.

We hate in others what we hate in ourselves.

2. Others reflect who you were, not who you are

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” — Warren Buffett

As Lacan explained, the toddler can get stuck on his own image at 12 months of age.

That’s the effect that people can have in you.

Your mom, an old friend from high-school or your ex. They all remember you from what they observed. They reflect the image of who you were at a certain point.

“Remember when you used to…”. “You always loved playing with…” “That’s not you!”

The mirror can provide distorted images.

The same applies to break-ups. After being used to live in unison with another person, it feels like you’ve lost a piece of yourself.

What others reflect to you can easily turn into a rearview mirror. And get stuck in who you were versus who you are now.

Or you can ignore it and look ahead.

3. Looking at others drives comparison

“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” — Queen

“Famed is thy beauty, Majesty. But hold, a lovely maid I see. Rags cannot hide her gentle grace. Alas, she is more fair than thee.” — Magic Mirror

“Alas for her! Reveal her name.” — Queen

Trying to find the answers outside, we forget to look inside.

Your in-laws’ one-month vacation to Australia. There were three famous rock bands at your friend’s wedding party, not just one. Your ex is now dating a celebrity. The lakefront house your college roommate bought.

When you compare to others, everyone’s life seems more interesting.

Comparison blinds your self-awareness.

By trying to be like others, you lose touch with who you want to be.

Today’s daily stretch: recover your self-identity

“If you are searching for that one person that will change your life, take a look in the mirror.”

The image that others project of us can help us grow. Like unsolicited feedback, it can help us see areas we are missing.

The problem is when, by using others as a mirror, we get caught into a distortion of who we are. And forget to look inside.

How you see yourself is what matters most.

Recovering your self-identity is not a simple thing. It’s a life-long practice. This three-step exercise will help you make you reconnect with who you want to be.

You can practice in this order or jump into the part that resonates the most.

  1. Stop hating things in others:
  • Capture the things in others that drive you crazy. Anything from physical details, personality traits, their behaviors to things they possess. Be as detailed as possible.
  • On a second column, write down why each of those aspects bothers you. Be honest.
  • On a third column, try to go deeper and see what each “why” says about you. Which buttons do they push?
  • Select the top 3–5 (based on the things that upset you the most often).
  • Is there someone who made you feel embarrassed about that thing that bothers you? Who is that person?
  • Try to remember the last time that incident happened. Visualize you taking distance from that person. That person is a mirror, you are not what he/she reflects.
  • Use the following structure to reflect on each item on the list:

“I get mad when people do/behave like/ look like………….………… because I can’t tolerate when I do/ behave like/ look like………………………”.

  • Exercise empathy with others and with yourself. Every time you relive losing your patience with someone about “X”… Take a deep breath.
  • “This is something I hate on me.” — remind yourself. Be kind to the other person. He/ she is innocent.
  • Be kind to yourself. What people trigger on you is not their fault. Learn to be more tolerant with yourself too.

2. Let go of comparisons:

Write a list of all the things you envy on others or you wish you can do/ have too. Start every line with “I wish I can do/ have…”

Read the list a couple of times. Scratch/ delete all those things that feel insignificant.

Review the list again. Now delete all those things you can live without them.

Read the list one more time. Ask yourself: is there’s anything on that list that’s critical? Keep only the things that you can’t live without. Delete the rest.

The purpose of this is to let go of stupid things.

In most of the cases, you’ll end up with an empty list. That’s the best realization you can have: being happy with who you are and what you have.

3. Reconnect with your purpose:

“Having a purpose is the difference between making a living and making a life.” — Tom Thiss

Your life’s purpose drives your existence on Earth (and beyond).

Your purpose is not what you do but the impact you want to create. Is the reason why you want to live your life. Your purpose is why you want to start your day. It drives you into action.

Your life purpose is why you do things. It’s the North Star that guides your actions and decisions. It should help you prioritize too.

Having a purpose keeps you focused on living the life you want to live. And who you want to be. Not the image that other people reflect.

Write your own obituary:

How would you like people to remember you once you’ve died? Write one or two sentences that describe who you were. Something that will make you feel proud of yourself if you were present at your own funeral.

Keep this close to you. Let it guide your choices and actions. Revisit it from time to time.

Live your life the way you want to be remembered.

Stop using other people as a mirror.

Before You Go

Change happens one stretch at a time. Don’t use others as mirrors. Invest in developing your change fitness: