Trying to avoid seeing ourselves only through the eyes of others

“I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am.” 

Charles Cooley

Charles Cooley talked of something called the “looking-glass self”.

I am not what I think I am –I don’t usually see myself for what I am.

I am not what you think I am – I seldom know what others really think of me.

I am what I think you think I am – I think about how others might be perceiving me. This is the image I have of myself, which I try to live up to.

We often see ourselves through the eyes of others.

Conforming to an Image

Sometimes then, there is the urge to conform to this image we think others have of us.

If my friends think I’m a rugged, non-emotional type, they’d think it weird if they found me crying. And because I know they’d find it weird, I’d go out of my way to avoid crying even if I wanted to.

If someone has a reputation for being a rebel or not studying or defying whatever he’s told to, people would expect him to keep up that image. If he suddenly becomes docile, he lets his audience down. There’s pressure now to perform for the crowd, to behave the way they expect him to.

If you’re not aware of it, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m expected to behave a certain way – there’s pressure to live up to expectations, and so I will. And every time I do this, this image builds up and gets reinforced, making it even harder to break free the next time.

Outsourcing Accountability

This self-fulfilling prophecy can work as a force for good too. Someone recently told me this is something called an “accountability partner”.

When I went to an old gym after a long time, someone told me he was surprised I hadn’t come for so long – he thought I was regular. I’d been going to another gym elsewhere, but I knew that I might have felt the need to “defend” myself if I hadn’t thought of this before.

So if you’re struggling with learning the guitar or exercising or studying, a coach who checks on you might help – you’ll be accountable to him and try to live up to his expectations.

I don’t believe in this myself – if you need someone to hold you accountable, you probably don’t want to do whatever you’re doing. You’re doing it to live up to someone else’s expectations, rather than your own.

And you depend on that person. If your coach is laidback and okay with you skipping your classes or not performing well, you’ll probably be okay with it too, because it’s his expectations that drive you. That’s the risk of putting your accountability in someone else’s hands – someone who isn’t really that affected by whether you achieve whatever you’re after.

But if outsourcing accountability helps you do better than you were doing before, there’s no reason not to do it.

Anyway, this post is about something else.

Removing Distortions

I’ve experienced the self-fulfilling prophecy many times.

If I’m not interested in art and I praise a drawing, I’m told I’m contradicting myself. Yet it’s possible to appreciate the skill it takes to depict a scene, especially if you lack it entirely, without caring for the aesthetics of it.

If people think you’re a “logical” person, they might ask you why you “waste” your time in chatting with friends, even if they do the same. As though there was a need to justify your actions.

The point of this is not to criticize others for expecting us to behave a particular way. That’s only natural and rational – we see a person’s behaviour and try to deduce patterns out of it to make sense of it.

Everyone does that, though we can try to help by not interrogating others needlessly for doing actions that don’t live up to our image of them.

The point is to be aware of the internal pressure we might create for ourselves by thinking that others expect us to behave a certain way, and then trying to live up to that.

The onus is on us, because it’s us who think that others think about us.

We can try to make an effort to keep looking at ourselves through our own eyes rather than using mirrors to see ourselves through other people’s eyes.

For that, it helps to know that this self-created pressure might exist.

And then to think about why we’re doing whatever we’re doing – is it because of the need to live up to our image? This is where our values enter – something I’ve written about here


Amit Kumar

You clear our thought process by exactly pointing out our illusions. The true Stoic.


It may be irrelevant but I want to ask – How much you read ? You quote number of author’s/number of ideas from so many sources. Do you read there whole books or try to understand Ideas from shorter sources (Eg Ted talk) ?

Reena Singh

Why do we refuse to think! It really is an irrelevant question. By quoting a relevant author/thinker, one can humbly shift the onus of (intellectual) authority from him/her to them.., and then may swiftly lay the premise of what he’s basically trying to say. Another, reading and writing is a constant process of making/drawing connections that lets us to articulate well that we want to express/say. It can be achieved by number of ways- via reading volumes of books and just forget, listening to innumerable talks and scroll next or simply contemplating (logically) on a thoughtful and provoking quotation and proceed in our own way. Basically, reading and writing equips us with necessary concepts and vocabulary but the actual process takes off with thinking!


Usually both.
A summary (reviews, wikipedia) gives me an idea if I’ll like it.
Then I read the book.
I use summaries as an indicator whether a book’s worth reading, not as a substitute for reading it, because the summarizer usually only gives his/her interpretation, which might not be the same as mine.


Yes ma’am, I accept mediocrity on my part. But on lighter note – I read a lot, a lot,if I see my peers, even more than many upsc selected friends. Unable to match with Pratyush so I was awstruck with his knowledge. This person is a gem. It is not lack of thinking on my part . It is appreciating someone for something and if he replies my query Its ok, if not still ok. The way and how much I read and still unable to match the knowledge of this guy. Just amazing for me. This is not I, me,myself but a genuine interest if he has few quick ways that may interest me. Otherwise nothing wrong where I am. I am just curious, may be little extra.

Reena Singh

..perhaps you need to believe in yourself (more)


I suppose this is what sustains and dare I say, even feeds patriarchy. Taking you example further, a man who cries is not masculine enough, and a women who isn’t shy is not feminine. So we confine to the roles we believe best suit us in the eyes of the society. But in this case, the onus is not entirely on us to self-reflect, is it? It’s not easy to shatter generations of prejudice with a moment of self reflection. Self reflection also requires confidence and some amount of liberty, which in my experience, is a privilege reserved for few. Perhaps I am dragging an entirely different debate here. But this is where my mind first wandered after reading this.


I don’t deny it’s hard to expect those without leisure or education to self-introspect.
But that’s not a reason for those fortunate enough to deny themselves it just because others can’t – the way we don’t starve ourselves because many people in the world go hungry.
On the contrary, if you understand its benefits, you can spread it to those who otherwise haven’t been able to realize it themselves.


Sir in this article, you have clearly mentioned that almost we try to maintain our reputation in others.
But it’s also happen that we have to opposition of the same relatives, elders in taking decisions related to our goal. Then we have tried to be neither good nor bad in their eyes.

And we also have to represent our capability in front of them, so that we know my real test is in exam which we have to give.
What is reason behind it? That he has more experience than us, but not hre knows about us better than us.


Beautiful piece of writing! It’s not easy to get rid of self deception and free ourselves from others perception. I am glad you achieved this.

Anubhav Kumar

Praryush bhai, ur thinking is very deep and meaningful. I relate with ur blog.
Every time I realized I have not done any things in my life. I wanted to crack iit but I didn’t. I wanted to do pg from top college but I didn’t. I filled up lots of form of different government job but i did not clear any of them. I always compare my self with other. I blame my failure my schooling and so cold bihar government and my parents. Why my parents didn’t admited me in English medium school. Why I didn’t prepare upsc from college etc.
In age of 23 when I watch toppers interview I feel guilty .how hardworking smart guys they are.some guys crack upsc in age of 21 .other hand when I observe myself I really don’t know what I want to do.
When I passed my matric .i had make a plan. Plan of 3I.iit iim than ias. 🤔.in reality I do nothing in my life.
I watched lots of topper interview but u r something different. U don’t show yourself as other topper do.
I try to implement three lessIons in my life
1 never compare myself other
2 input outPut Funda
3 use my mind not totally dependent on other

B now I try to forgive my self. I will not compare myself other. I will make my plan what I think not what other if I fail .i am responsible not other.(I Am feelIng something relax after writing)
I am not what I think I am and I am
not what you think I am; I am what
I think you think I am.”

Thank u pratyush .