In 1902, Dr. Charles Horton Cooley created a phrase to describe how we tend to view ourselves. He called his social psychological principle The Looking-Glass Self. Cooley contended that the person you see in the mirror is based on the person who holds your mirror. Let that sink in. Read it again if you need to just to make certain that you caught it. Here’s what that means: the person who holds your mirror–the person who is most responsible for creating your perception of what you see when you view yourself in the mirror–is the most important person to you.
Wow. So if the most important person in your life loves you and holds your mirror, you see beauty and you gain confidence. If the most important person in your life is emotionally distant, abusive or cold, the mirror that he or she holds will reflect an image of you that is shattered, unworthy of love, and damaged.
Thank goodness that Cooley was a nut, am I right? Unfortunately, his observation rings very true. A happy or sad reality is that whoever you care about the most has the most power to tell you who you are.
Media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner came from a tough home, a home with an abusive father who not only withheld affection but also delivered frequent beatings to his son. No matter what Ted did, he could never please his father. Twenty years to the day after his father died, Ted Turner’s face graced the cover of Success Magazine at a time when Ted was delivering a college commencement address. Before going to the microphone, those seated near him heard Ted say,
“Is this enough for you, dad?”
Contrast Ted Turner’s father with John Wooden. Team members who learned under college basketball coaching great John Wooden said that Wooden’s strength was not just getting the most from players out on the court but rather from those warming the bench. Wooden kept a running commentary about the events on the court. If one of his players missed a rebound, Wooden would turn to a player on the bench and say, “When you’re in there, you’ll get those.” If someone missed a free throw, Wooden would turn and say, “You never miss those when you’re out there.” When a player held the ball instead of passing, Wooden would pronounce, “When you’re out there, you’re great at finding an open man to pass the ball to so we can score.”
One player said years later that Wooden made him feel so pepped up with his little positive comments that when the player took to the court he said that he actually pitied the players from the other team who were going to go home defeated! Now that’s some confidence.
When Turner’s dad held the mirror, Ted felt like a failure…even when all of the evidence pointed to the contrary. When Wooden held the mirror to his team members, each team member felt taller, faster, more skilled, and absolutely certain that victory was assured.
My question for you is this: Who is holding your mirror? When you were a child, you had no choice about it. Your parents formed your largest, most significant influence. Like Turner, you may grown up feeling empty and worthless because of unkindness and cruelty heaped upon you by a mother or father.
But today, you’re an adult. Who is holding your mirror? Is it a boss who tells you that you can’t do it, you’re not worthy, or you’ll never make it? Is it a friend who likes to take you down a notch so he or she can always look a little taller than you? Is it a spouse or significant other who almost has you convinced that you are scum, and that the only love you deserve are the scraps you find on the floor after the dog has eaten?
If you like what the mirror shows you, thank those you’ve entrusted with holding your mirror. If you don’t like what you see, find someone who sees you as smart, talented, competent and worthy. Change who holds your mirror. Keep the same mirror and don’t change a thing. You’ll be surprised how beautiful your reflection is when the mirror is held by someone who believes in you….
(A special shout-out to Dave Ferguson, pastor of Community Christian Church, for expounding on these concepts in a series called Shattered.)