Seeing ourselves through another’s eyes has its benefits. It can help us see what we cannot on our own; guiding us though our blindspots and limitations of self-recognition, while giving us the kind of reflection we all need to see ourselves, our circumstances and life in general in a more clear-eyed way.
Seeing ourselves through another’s eyes also includes a deep and dark shadow. As in, what if who is doing the seeing is unwell, afraid, biased or driven for some reason to keep you from being seen in your fullness?
As children, how we were seen by the adults around us created how we then went on to see ourselves. If that early seeing by another was clear, loving, kind and fair, we got one image of ourselves. If that seeing was distorted, wound-filled, mean or chaotic, we got another image of ourselves.
Recently, I got poison ivy all around one of my eyes. Not only did I get the telltale blistering, but because the eye is so sensitive, I also got all this swelling on my eye lid, and on the side and under my eye. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I could think of was that movie, The Elephant Man. I felt like his daughter.
So while there has been a fair amount of itchiness and physical discomfort, it has been nothing compared to the psychological discomfort. Dozens of times each day, especially when I am encountering other people, I find myself rehearsing what I will say to whoever I encounter. Some part of me wants them to know what’s going on here. A kind of compulsion to make sure they know this is not how I usually look. (This is also still the case with people who know how I usually look??!!)
So they won’t think…What? What am I working so hard to keep them from seeing?
That there’s something wrong with me? That they will be turned off by my appearance? Then what?
The “then what” is where it actually gets juicy because whether we know it or not, this is what we all suffer under. The belief that another won’t like something about us. And if they don’t like a certain something about us, they won’t like us. They won’t think well of us, include us, take care of us, give us what we need, that we will be left alone, made fun of, maybe even harmed.
All because we believe that if someone doesn’t like what they “see” about us, somehow, somewhere, we’re screwed. Which is why so many of us work so hard to manage how others see us. Hoping against hope that if we can just get them to see the “right” version, we’ll be loved, safe, happy…
But if you have been at all paying attention in your life you know exactly how this plays out. You know exactly how ridiculously hard you need to work to measure up to all the different seeings by all the different people. And you know exactly how often you must betray yourself to measure up; creating all kinds of inner tension, misery and inauthenticity.
As a human being who needs to be seen and to belong, I am susceptible to what others see in me. But because I am equally, if not more, committed to something more than acquiescing to old dysfunctional relational patterns, I have been doing an experiment. I have been intentionally not mentioning my appearance. Intentionally giving no explanation. Even when I know they are looking at my face and thinking about it.
Even when I feel nervous about what they are thinking about.
Something to consider. Whenever you find yourself explaining yourself, your behaviors, appearance, motives, it is a dead giveaway that you are trying to mange how another sees you. A dead giveaway that you are back being a kid who is worried about how others see you in terms of belonging, safety and survival.
That’s when you have a choice. Stay with the old pattern of letting who you are be reduced down to what another does or does not see. Or decide to see what it would be like to see yourself.