This article appears in issue three of The Hilarian (The University of Adelaide Law School magazine). You can read the whole mag here.

 

What do you think about when you picture yourself? What are your tastes in music, literature, fashion and people? What morals and ethics do you adhere to? What are your religious and political stances? What’s your heritage? Do you care what other people think of you?

You probably don’t sit down and spend a whole lot of time considering the answers to these questions and contemplating your self-image in an intensive, reflective way. But on a daily basis you’d do it almost unconsciously, like second nature, and on a much smaller scale. The aspects of who you are—such as the answers to the questions above—culminate to illustrate the person you are and therefore the person you project on to others. But how often do we seriously reveal the extent of all these aspects to other people?

Our self-image is one we construct ourselves. This self-constructed image has a myriad of influences and inspirations and—hopefully—is constantly in flux. It’s probably safe to say that most people place the aspects of their self-image into some kind of hierarchy, such as aesthetic, taste in music and literature, religious and political views, sporting preferences, etc. The list could go on. The structure of your own hierarchy will most likely be prevalent from how you see yourself and how you wish for others to see you. How you dress, where you go at night, what music you listen to, what books you read: they all influence your self-image. We might hope to be truthful and not hide anything but who can honestly say they do that all the time, always?

When we meet someone new, we project on to them an image of ourselves that we find most attractive, or unattractive given the person and circumstance. Now this isn’t to say we’re being fake or lying to them (although some people may consciously do that); it’s more that we’re simply withholding information we don’t deem relevant or aspects about ourselves that could be detrimental to that person’s view of us.

Why do we do this? It’s an unspoken paradox we rarely think about. We sacrifice truths about ourselves for the sake of someone else’s opinion. Integral parts of our personality are left by the wayside.

Much of the time this may be circumstantial. You’re obviously not going to discuss your weekend sporting achievements with your thesis supervisor. You’re probably going to keep the discussion academic and try to increase your standing in their eyes. Similarly, you’re not going to reveal your illicit weekend adventures with your family or your boss, or divulge past sexual encounters with a new partner. Ignorance is bliss, for use of a better phrase.

Of course most of these examples relate to people you already know. When it comes to people whom you’ve just met, depending on whether you hold them in high regard or not, you’re only going to reveal certain things about yourself that you believe they’ll find interesting, thus increasing the likelihood that they’ll dig you. You may not believe this to be true but think about it for a minute. You do it. Everyone does. It’s near impossible to not. The only variable is how much you do it.

Some people may tell you they care not what others’ think of them. I believe that to be bollocks. This may be correct regarding certain people—people they have little respect for or interest in—but they surely have friends or family whose opinions they’d hold in high regard. And there’s your paradox: you can’t help but project a carefully constructed image of yourself on to others, regardless of who they are, even if you try to believe the opposite.

Now, in relation to this self-image and how people regard us, there are some instances where our self-image could be inflated or tainted by others. Having this happen could lead to change in how we view ourselves. Why should we let this happen? Our saving grace in such a situation is our ability to reason. In ‘Status Anxiety’, Alain de Botton puts this brilliantly, as always, saying that ‘according to the rules of reason, a given conclusion is to be deemed true if, and only if, it flows from a logical sequence of thoughts founded on sound initial premises.’ [1]

Essentially, if some mongoloid feels an overwhelming urge to talk smack about you behind your back—or has the audacity to do it to your face—you may call into question your self-image. Why are they saying that? Was it circumstantial? Do they have a personal vendetta against you? In all likelihood, you’ll come to the conclusion of ‘fuck them and the horse they rode in on and whoever sold them the horse’.

The same can be said for someone who bestows an overly positive affirmation upon you. What’s their real agenda? They may just be trying to get something out of you. Of course, this is a rather cynical way of looking at it. Usually you’ll have the ability to judge these comments objectively and act accordingly. Still, such comments could inflate your self-image and be just as detrimental as the previous example.

This article isn’t about proving the flaws in the way people think about how they act or are perceived. It’s purely about making you think. There is a paradox when it comes to our self-image and how we want others to perceive us. We just don’t consciously think about it all that often. You may believe you don’t care what others think about you but you do and you adjust your self-image to suit how you want those people to perceive you.

I’m not offering any solutions, for there are none; you can’t escape it. But just being conscious of it will make you think about it next time you meet someone. Winter is coming.

 

 

[1] De Botton, Alain. 2004. ‘Chapter 5: Dependence’. Status Anxiety. Penguin: London, 2009. 121.

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