How we form our image and the Mirror Self Theory

Philip Kelley
How we form our image and the Mirror Self Theory

Have you ever felt as if the mere presence of other people made you feel uncomfortable or tense??

When we don't know exactly what other people think of us, we can show feelings of insecurity. According to the American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929), the degree of personal insecurity that we exhibit in social situations is determined by what we think other people think of us.


  • The Mirror Self
    • According to Cooley, this process has three steps:
  • Build a strong self image
  • Our self-image
  • What makes up our self-image
    • What we think we are
    • What we want to be
    • What others see in us
    • The image with which we are identified by ...
  • Personal identification images
  • Self-knowledge questions
    • We will have greater self-esteem when

The Mirror Self

Cooley's concept of the Mirror Self, affirms that a person's self grows from the social interactions that the individual exercises with those around him. So the vision of ourselves derives from the contemplation of personal qualities and impressions of how others perceive us. In reality, the way we see ourselves does not come from who we really are, but rather from how we think others see us..

People form their self-concept based on their understanding of how others perceive them. Our own image, therefore, is the result of our own reflections on the evaluations of those around us..

If parents, relatives and other important people consider that a child is intelligent, they will tend to raise him with certain types of expectations. As a consequence, the child will eventually believe that he is an intelligent person. This is a process that continues when we grow up. On the contrary, if you think that your closest friends and family see you as a kind of "fool", it is likely that you project that self-image on yourself even if it has nothing to do with reality..

According to Cooley, this process has three steps:

  • First of all, we imagine what we look like in front of other people. Sometimes this picture is quite accurate, but it can also be wrong, as it is simply based on our subjective assumptions..
  • Second, we imagine what judgments people make of us based on our appearance..
  • Finally, we imagine how the person feels about us, based on our own judgment. The bottom line is that we often change our behavior based on how we feel that people perceive us..

Build a strong self image

"I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind." Charles Horton Cooley.

So how can we, or anyone else, know who we really are? Can we be sure of our "true self", separated from all things in the external social world? In reality, the "real social world" as we often perceive it is not only wrong, it may be a mere illusion. You have probably experienced dislike for someone you just met on more than one occasion, but after spending more time with that person you discover that in reality that first impression was unfounded, and you end up being good friends.

All people want to be loved and appreciated for their talent or personality. But if we have a weak image of ourselves, if we believe that the opinion of others is more important than our own, we may end up living our lives in accordance with the expectations of others..

The construction of an "imagined self-image" is done unintentionally. We are not aware that we often try to conform to the image we imagine other people expect of us. If a person develops a negative self-image, self-esteem will tend to be low. Low self-esteem and poor self-image have long been associated with a whole range of psychological problems, and it is necessary to counteract the passive individual who relies heavily on the social world to build self-image. Therefore, we must develop a self-image that is based more on our own evaluations than on how we think others see us..

The concept of the mirror offers us a vision not only of our own thinking, but also of how we form our identity based on how others see us. While we are interacting with others we are vulnerable to changing our own image, a process that will continue throughout our lives..

Our self-image

But aside from this interesting theory, our self-image is actually the conceptualization that we form in our minds about the type of person we are..

We all draw a mental picture of ourselves, and it is a picture that tends to remain relatively stable over time unless we take deliberate steps to change it. Some researchers use the term self-schema (the term schema referring to a model or representation) when studying self-image and how we acquire it..

There is evidence that the image of ourselves that we develop is largely based on what we have learned from our environment, such as what other people have told us about ourselves from a young age or how they seemed to respond to our actions. But our self-concept is also based in part on our own reactions, on our unique interpretations of events, and especially on the way we appreciate ourselves and the nature of our interactions with others. There is much evidence that the important thing is that we see ourselves.

Our self-image is important for many reasons, but mostly because it significantly affects our overall psychological well-being and the character of our relationships..

What makes up our self-image

The image we have of ourselves is formed by several factors:

What we think we are

The own conscience that we have been acquiring of ourselves through our experiences and that shapes what each one thinks of himself.

What we want to be

The image with which we compare ourselves through referential models that imply cultural, social, family values, etc. is the idealized image, the closer it is to what we think we are, the more coherence we will have and therefore the happier we will be. One way of working is what are you going to do to get from the image you think you are to the one you would like to be? And draw the plan of action.

What others see in us

This conditions attitudes and behaviors towards ourselves. This section is very interesting, sometimes it coincides with how we think they see us with what the person on our left has said, here the reflection would be, do you feel identified with that image? And if you don't like it, what actions do they make? you project that image?

The image with which we are identified by ...

"How are people of such age", "of such sex", "those of such profession", or of any of the groups we belong to, as they form the basis of stereotypes

Today we are going to propose a practical exercise of self-knowledge to see to what extent you know yourself. You dare?

It may interest you: Self-knowledge test

Personal identification images

Below you can see a series of images with a character who stages an action or behavior.

Self-knowledge questions

This dynamic is an excellent work tool to get to know each other better and draw up an action plan based on the results obtained..

  1. What number do I think I usually act like? Why?
  2. What number do I think others see me as (colleagues, family, bosses)? Why?
  3. What number would I like to be seen as? Why?
  4. What number would I not like to be seen as? Why?
  5. What number do I think the majority usually act like (teachers, bosses, colleagues ... depending on the case)? Why?
  6. Like what number do I see the one who sits to my right? Why?

With this last question we get an idea of ​​the image we project.

We will have greater self-esteem when

  • My "real me" matches my "ideal me"
  • The "image that I do not want to project" is far from my "real self"

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