The looking glass self is a social theory which holds that your image of yourself is created from the way others react to you. Or more importantly, how you perceive that others react to you. We perceive that others see us in a certain way, and respond accordingly. This image is then reinforced by others responding to the image we created in reaction to the image we perceive we have.
In other words, your sense of self, identity, and self-worth is created in a three-step process:
1. You imagine how you appear to others
Ex: She thinks I am intelligent and good-looking.
2. You imagine how others are judging you based on that appearance
Ex: She thinks that I believe I’m better than other people since I am intelligent and good-looking.
3. You feel pride or shame based on this judgment, and change and evolve in reaction: either conforming with the judgment or opposing it
Ex: I am better than other people because I’m intelligent and good-looking.
Some interpret the looking-glass self to mean that your outside environment is the major contributing factor to your sense of self-worth, so a person can’t be faulted for their image of themselves, whether that image be beneficial or damaging. But this is not necessarily true — what is more important is how the person believes they are seen.
How is this relevant to you and your sense of self-worth?
At the basis of the looking glass self is your perception. You believe that you are seen a certain way, and shape your sense of self in reaction to this. What moves you to feel proud or shameful and change yourself is not the judgment of other people, but your own judgment. What you see in the mirror may or may not reflect reality in the minds of others, but it always reflects your reality.
This means in order to form a healthy self-image, you have to picture yourself as that image, not anyone else. Self-esteem is not determined by your environment or your genes, but by your attitude towards yourself. In the looking glass, believing is becoming — what you believe about yourself is what you become.
What are you? What are you becoming?