This article as an extract from the forthcoming title ‘IF: Ironic Fundamentalism’.
IF is an upbeat, alternative perspective on how anxiety can lead to personal enlightenment and be the force that pushes you forwards – rather than a great weight or chain that binds you.
Worrying about how others see you? There isn’t anything wrong with that feeling, it’s perfectly normal to wonder what other people might think of us. But you should not actually spend a lot of time on these thoughts – it really isn’t any of your business. Honestly, this is not a telling off statement, but instead is one that should free you from feeling any kind of responsibility to finding out.
Understand, first, the reason why other people’s thoughts or opinions of you are none of your concern. It’s important to remember that just as you have your own personal outlook and experience, so does each other person you meet. Next time you are tempted to eavesdrop, just don’t. You will not learn anything except that you are overly concerned about judging others for possibly judging you, in a situation where you don’t have all the pieces of the jigsaw and it’s guesswork at best. Many famous literary stories including Shakespeare’s Othello warn us of eavesdropping because half-hard, half-understood comments can lead to fully realised tragedy.
Furthermore, what they think of you is not you anyway – it’s that individual’s impression of you. Their impression is comprised of their own unique biases – formed from their own circumstance, their direct experience with you, and their previous experience with other comparative people. And those people are also just a bunch of biases pulled together to paint an impressionist’s portrait. It’s all rather 2 dimensional!
My favourite line from my homeland’s national bard. It is part of Scottish schooling to learn and recite Burns from a very young age, where we would win certificates (and the teary-eyed pride of tartan grandparents). In particular, this line struck me like no other, nor any ever since. For as long as I can remember, it has inspired me to think about the concept of ‘self’ and all those other ‘selves’ that engage in a collaborative perceptual illusion of perceiving one another. The notion that there is any ‘self’ to perceive is a seriously iffy concept, as there is really very little consistency to go on beyond memories that link our experiences together across time. But this is a huge topic, so here I’m focussing in on the idea of how we think of ourselves, according to reflections around us – what we see and what we think others see.
Self as a reference
When we look in a mirror or other reflective surface, we see a reverse of that which is arguably ‘real’ and what others see when looking straight at us. Our left becomes our right and vice versa, so right away, we have this entire concept of self – through the filter of our looks – literally quite backwards .
Perhaps this why so many of us find it uncomfortable looking at photos of ourselves – we are the ‘wrong’ way around. Of course, looking in the mirror is always subject to light and how shadows are cast, making dramatic differences in our bone structure and fullness of face – try it yourself, taking a torch and experimenting with different angles in the mirror.
Paranormal enthusiasts often engage in psychomanteum (‘mirror gazing’) where they simply gaze at their reflection to watch their own features morph seemingly in to the faces of departed others, looking back at us through the mirror from some other dimension. Psychology speculates that the perception of our faces morphing is perhaps less to do with ghosts or spirits and instead is due to the Troxler Effect (where our attention starts to fade or blur information surrounding our point of focus) coupled with our evolved sense of facial detection – an innate, unconscious threat finding ability – where possible faces and especially unfamiliar ones, can be seen hiding in any surface. Better to mistakenly see the face of a lion hiding in a bush and run, than to simply see a quirky arrangement of leaves and get eaten. Mirror Gazing is quite a remarkable phenomenon, and whether you believe in ghosts or not, the morphing will still likely work for you. I have engaged in it and also guided ‘ghost hunters’ in this with interesting results. Give it a go and ‘see’ who you become, and try to determine the exact point at which you are no longer ‘you’…that is the ‘you’ you recognise and assume is correct.
So, who we are is not a constant, and is as changing as the sky upon the surface of water. As Narcissus would testify, gazing too closely and too long can be fatal, yet perhaps the deeper wisdom is that self-reflection ultimately leads to the complete dissolution or ‘death’ of self. Rather than being a cautionary tale or Vanity issue, the story of Narcissus is one of enlightenment – there is no ‘you’. Afterall, we are all ‘you’ to someone else and there is a point in time and space where any part of you starts to become something else – for example, when we absorb medication or when stroking a cat, which spaces between the atoms and which are the cat? What is giving rise to the shared experience?
Others as a reference
Our relationships also act as mirrors and when our relationships change for whatever reason, we can feel hurt or compromised. We were seeing ourselves based on how those others treated us – Not how they actually saw or regarded us. This way, self-image is built on assumptions about the behaviour of others and their motivations toward us. Therefore, when people leave you, you hurt and feel you must have done something ‘wrong’ to bring about the change – perhaps you are no longer attractive/ useful to them. When they seem not to care, it’s really about them – not you. The chances are it is their reflection of themselves that has inspired the change, not you.
This can be extremely challenging as our sense of self according to others is what often provides our self-confidence. Like two mirrors eternally reflecting each other, trying to establish any truth to reality, is an impossible task. So often as reflections of ourselves change we and to focus on questioning who we are – and often overlook the changes occurring in the perspective holder. Change is reflected, and so we may in fact have an altered perspective of them as well.
If friends or lovers or relations should ever leave us, it is time for multi-source ‘reflection’. We can reflect on who we are and build a more positive image than ever before by looking at and examining several reflective sources from the past, present, and even our intended future:
- history of projects/ career (what was the motivation/result)
- History of friendships (how the begun/ended)
- What/who is important to us now? (What/who do we think of first In the morning and last at night)
- What do we aspire to? (Not ambition as this relies on reflection on /and comparison with others… see blog on aspiration V ambition here) and what holds us back or pushes us forward?
It all leads me to think again that there is little point in worrying about what others think of us – and that anything other than self-acceptance is a reflection of egoic concern and pulling in the opposite direction of growth.
Average is a Mean Illusion! (stats joke!!)
Every body and every mind is beautiful. Fact.
Beauty norms are an illusion. Mental or physical. Every cell that makes up every single body is a unique expression of the universe, creating itself. Regardless of height, weight and other measurable things, immeasurable beauty lives in the whole-ness and joy of every living being. Love your body and know that it is astonishingly exquisite – as this is exactly how it has been made.
What does an average mind or body look like? Where would we find one?
All our notions of ‘normal’ and ideal are illusions – in many cases these are illusions on which we all collaborate! Averages are concepts that only exist because of human VARIETY – how ironic!
Statistics are a great tool for understanding populations or groups – but they do not define any one person in any way! This is where we often get ourselves all wound up. Thinking we should tend toward any ‘average’ or ‘mean’ leads us in fear and to think unkindly about ourselves (and sometimes others too). The ‘mean’ or ‘average’ of any set is more like a numerically derived guesstimate of what’s there – and actually is less likely to apply to anyone involved!
When we ‘deviate’ or differ in some way from the average, we are simply demonstrating that we are all individuals that cannot be accurately charted. So, celebrate being a deviant! It’s natural and ideal!
There is a LOT of shame surrounding being sexy and sexual that has led us to live with a cultural mindset of judgement. Sexiness is often considered to be somehow ‘desperate’, deviant or indicating disease or damage.
It’s really odd that celebrities such as pop stars and actors are perceived as being positively sexy – in a kind of permitted sexuality (we might call them ‘professionally sexy’). Yet non-famous people identifying with sexuality are often considered to be unwell or socially unsuitable, even dangerous, and this is especially true for women. Ironic considering that all our mums had enough sex that we can all be here and be ashamed. Women’s sexuality has been denied, suppressed and vilified through the ages leading to persecution and execution.
But here’s the rub, ahem.
Men aren’t perverts and women aren’t shallow. Evolutionary psychology of physical attractiveness shows us that it’s ok and actually totally correct that men should be spellbound by cleavage and thoroughly enchanted by jiggly bottoms. They also are drawn to youthful faces, long hair and manicured nails. They aren’t ‘perverts’ or shallow or ‘driven by their knobs’ – they are instead driven by an unconscious evolutionary drive to seek women who display certain fertility characteristics that are a physical display of oestrogen.
Similarly, it is totally expected that women would be impressed by a fancy car, nice suit and big bank balance over any other measurement. This is because in our evolution, women relied on attracting a mate who would be able to feed, defend and care for her when pregnant and once their child was born. Put simply, it’s peacock over the other kind of cock… it’s the man with the money that is attractive because he is displaying characteristics of social dominance. Ever wondered why the ‘unattractive’ but funny guys get dates? They have an ability to influence a room – their comedy provides them with social dominance.
There is even more good news for the ladies here! As well as being perfectly entitled to admire a man’s bank balance, your figure figures far more than you realise. You see, it’s not the magnitude of your boobs or bum that matters (nor is being thin remotely relevant) – the trick here is in mother nature’s ample wisdom. It’s the geometry of your body that counts as sexy – it’s the ratio of bust, waist and hips that determined attractiveness and that this ‘fat distribution’ across those assets, is most desirable as it tends toward Greek number ‘phi’ aka ‘the golden ratio’ – a ratio that appears to be nature blueprint for creation – we see it clearly in spiral sea-shells, the centres of flowers, the distribution of a galaxy.
Why do we all worry about perfection and presentation? Because we think everyone else is achieving it? Or that despite not being perfect themselves, they will judge imperfection?
Well… if they do, let them. If they are seeking perfection in you… it’s because they lack so much more in themselves.
Focus on being REAL. On being exactly who you really ARE. This is TRUTH. Being your own authentic self does not require competition or validation! I for one am excited to be a continual work in progress and would shudder at being considered ‘finished’ – and up for consumption like a Barbie doll! Real women aren’t immaculately presented in boxes, tied in place by the shackles of consumer demand and waiting on the shelf for false liberation.
In love, never seek someone to be your ‘better half’ or to ‘complete’ you – be the whole person you already are. YOU are ‘The One’. Only when two whole people come together can lives be truly shared. You both need to have an existing life to share in – not be out to share in someone else’s out of personal lack.
We tend to seek out others romantically with notions of their ‘completing us’ or being the ‘better half…. wholeness/individuality… Ironically, we think we love them but actually it’s how they influence how we feel about ourselves that counts. Finding someone with whom we appreciate ourselves better is the aim – not someone with whom we will always feel inadequacy or anxiety. Or be in search of the ‘one’ based on criteria that can never be fulfilled.
In order to share a life with another we first need to have one to offer – not assume we will share in theirs and become ‘fulfilled’. Two halves don’t make a whole. They remain two individual halves forever bargaining and compromising for their own half to be ‘completed’. Instead, be the whole person you already are, and accept that only a complete other is going to be suitable. Otherwise, what is there to share? How can you ever grow?