Each and every one of us have two selves: the self we truly are in our mind and hearts and the self we present to the world. Let us call these the inner self and outer self. For the most part, we know both our inner and outer selves quite well, because we know what we are thinking and feeling and we consciously control what image we show to other people. But because we cannot read minds, we usually only know the outer selves of other people.
Our inner self is somewhat difficult to change consciously as it is mostly shaped by our natural personalities, our upbringing and environmental factors such as life experience. On contrast, we have the ability to change how others see us through various ways. We wear smart clothing to suggest we are well-cultured, we tell jokes to give the image of a funny person and we emphasise our strengths while downplaying our weaknesses and insecurities to show our best possible side. Because of this, it is unfair to compare yourself (your “inner self”) to others (their “outer self”). The “perfect” person you are comparing yourself to may just be an outer shell shielding that person’s weak, insecure inner self that is no better than you.
We all have our own demons and insecurities, but no one wants others to know as all we see in society are strong, charismatic, charming outer selves and we seem so weak in comparison. In the end, we all live behind masks to try fit into a world full of masked people, too afraid of showing our true selves and being hurt.
Then how can we truly connect if we are all pretending to be different people? Always remember that others are just as afraid of lowering their mask as you are. You cannot expect the other person to open up to you first when you are not prepared to yourself. On the other hand, you cannot be hurt when they are reluctant to open up just because you have. To show your inner self means leaving yourself to be vulnerable, so it is understandable for people to take time for it to happen. All you can do is to let yourself be vulnerable first and show the other person that you are just as weak and scared as they are. That is the cost of connection.
Imagine that you built a house out of Lego blocks. Now break apart the house until it is reduced to individual blocks. Where is the house now? You could say that the house is still there, except now that it is in the form of a small pile of blocks. On the other hand, you could argue that the “house” itself no longer exists – only its components. The pile of blocks does not have a roof or walls or a living room. It is not a safe, homely place Mr. Lego can return to after work to relax in. However, it has the potential to be a house again. All you need to do is arrange it in a certain way to make it a beautiful home for a nice little Lego family.
What makes the Lego house a house is the specific arrangement of the bricks in an aesthetically pleasing yet functional and practical way – crafted by a creative mind and a set of hands. Through these hands, the blocks can be crafted into a house, a car or even a space station. But without them, they will forever remain a pile of unused blocks stored away in some dark container.
Now look deep inside you and ask this question: what have you made with the Lego pieces that make up your identity? How have you pieced together your strengths, your skills, your experiences and your dreams? We are all unique in the sense that we are born with certain virtues and talents, while gaining various experiences and skills through the chaos that is life. But all of these are just Lego pieces. What kind of masterpiece these pieces will be a component of is up to you to decide, design and build.
Just like Lego, if you don’t are not truly happy with what you see inside you, feel free to tweak it, add to it or even disassemble it and rearrange it into a different final product. Try emphasising your language skills, or chasing after a lost dream. Draw from different experiences and play around with your various strengths. This is not to change who you are completely; no matter how many times you break up and reassemble them, you still have the same components. All you have to do is come up with a new design, build it and judge the product. Hopefully, you will find the right arrangement of pieces that result in a product greater than the sum of its components.
Mirrors are perhaps one of the most useful yet underrated inventions that we use every day. From shaving in the morning to fixing make-up during lunch, the modern man or woman will use a mirror (or some other reflective surface) at least once a day. Mirrors show us an accurate reflection of the world that we cannot see. We can only look forwards and need a mirror to reflect light going the opposite way to see behind us or – more importantly – ourselves. To do this, a mirror must directly reflect every photon (particles that make up light) at exactly the right angle so the image is not distorted. If the mirror is not completely flat or perfectly polished, light will not be reflected at the exact angle and we will see a distorted image – much like looking into a mirror at the circus. Therefore, one could say that a perfectly flat, clean mirror is absolutely honest, as it will reflect exactly as it sees.
However, this statement is not entirely true as what you see in the mirror is a mirror image of reality. This may seem trivial, but it has significant consequences. This is most obvious when you hold a book up to a mirror. Without training, it is very difficult to read something that is mirrored. This is why Leonardo da Vinci wrote his notes in mirror image. This phenomenon of something becoming completely different is also seen in chemistry. Because of the way molecules are arranged, it is possible to have a property called chirality – where two molecules with the same elemental composition are built in the mirror image of one another. Essentially, it is as if the molecule can be either left- or right-handed. It turns out that even if the composition is the same, two molecules of different chirality (called enantiomers) can act completely differently. This effect may be as simple as changing the way a liquid polarises light to making a drug completely inert or even toxic. For example, the amino acid carvone that gives the spearmint taste only tastes like spearmint if it is L-carvone (“left-handed”), whereas D-carvone (“right-handed”) is tasteless despite having the same molecular formula.
Since the topic of chirality is rather technical and hard to understand, let us move on to the field of literature. One of the best examples of how mirrors can completely change something is seen in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Lewis Carroll understood the significance of mirror images in chemistry and wrote this novel to portray how quirky and strange a “mirror world” may be. Through the Looking Glass is a sequel to the famous book Alice in Wonderland and describes a world that is the mirror image of Wonderland. Carroll cleverly wrote the first book so that it would be the opposite of the first book. The first book starts outdoors, is set in the summer, uses changes in size as a plot device and focuses on the theme of trump cards. The second book starts indoors, is set in the winter, uses changes in direction as a plot device and draws on the theme of chess. There are even characters such as Hatta and Haigha who are the mirror images of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare from the previous book. Although they are very similar, they are just not the same and hence Alice does not recognise them. Perhaps the line that best shows Carroll’s understanding of the dangers of mirror worlds is this: “Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink”.
The field of psychology is also heavily interested in mirrors. It is a well-known fact that our brains recognise the purpose of mirrors. If you put a mirror in front of someone, you know that the person will examine themselves, groom themselves or simply make funny poses. A simple experiment shows how used to mirrors we are. If you angle two mirrors at right angles and fit a transparent sheet of glass in front of the two to make a prism shape, the image you see through the glass is a reflection that is not mirrored. Because it is not mirrored, you can hold up a book to it and still read it fine. This is known as a non-reflecting mirror. An interesting experiment shows that if you make people use this kind of mirror, they become incredibly confused as they are too used to using a mirror image to see themselves. Even though the reflection they see is a “truer” image, because their brain automatically flips the mirrored image, they become uncoordinated and keep moving their hands in the opposite direction.
As mentioned at the start, mirrors are a human invention. Although reflection occurs in nature, such as on a clear surface of water, animals generally are incapable of using mirrors. This is such a universal fact that animal psychologists use a mirror test to determine whether a specie of animal is self-aware or not. The test is done by showing an animal a mirror. Most animals will see their reflection and automatically believe that it is another animal, as they are incapable of thinking that it is a reflection of themselves. Hence, they will try to threaten, attack or flee from the image they see. But if you show a higher-order animal such as an ape or dolphin a mirror, they will start to groom themselves as they realize that the mirror is simply showing themselves.
This is what sets us apart from animals. Not only are we capable of recognizing ourselves in a mirror, but we have the ability to go one step further and reflect on ourselves using the mirror of our minds. Some people may take a look at the person in this mirror and be content with who they are. But some will gaze into the mirror and, much like the animals in the mirror test experiments, see a completely different person they do not recognise. This may cause disappointment, frustration or even disgust as we realize that we are not who we think we are or aspire to be. Then again, sometimes you will gaze into the mirror and see a person that has strengths such as courage – a person you could be if you realized your true potential. The most frightening realisation would be to discover that there is no one in the mirror.
Lastly, we could consider the mirror of behaviour. Goethe said that “behaviour is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image”. The corollary to this is that human beings read behaviour to try and interpret another person’s character. One can use this to greatly improve the relationship and connection with another person. Mirroring is the act of subtly copying the other person’s behaviour to build rapport– where an empathic bridge is constructed between two people. Rapport is particularly useful in jobs that involve earning the trust of strangers in a short time, such as in healthcare or business. By matching the other person’s body language, such as posture or actions like taking a sip of water, the other person will open up more easily to you. The same applies to verbal and emotional mirroring where you subtly reuse the words the other person spoke and reflect their emotions such as excitement. Obviously, one must be subtle with mirroring as a direct imitation will appear mocking and strange. If you are able to subtly copy their behaviour, the other person’s subconscious mind will be tricked into thinking that you are similar in character and trust you more. This skill is extremely useful in improving your interpersonal and social skills.
A mirror is a paradoxical object that is absolutely honest yet relatively deceitful. Reflections in the mirror are true yet completely different. If you take a peek into the mirror of your mind, perhaps you will see the person you think you are now or the person you could be in a mirror world. If you are happy with what you see, then cherish that and be proud of who you are. Otherwise, you can always do what Alice did and jump through the looking-glass to find an alternate you – the best you that you can be.
If I was to put a yellow ball in front of you and ask what colour the ball is, you would confidently say “yellow”. As you say, the ball appears yellow, but the answer is technically wrong. Strictly speaking, the ball itself is not yellow – it is merely reflecting the colour yellow. The ball only appears yellow because we see the yellow part of the natural light spectrum bouncing off the ball. We cannot say that the essence of the ball is “yellow”. For example, if you were to look at the ball through a red lens, the yellow light would be filtered and you would see a black ball. A person with a certain kind of colour blindness would say the ball has a bluish hue. A butterfly, which sees the ultraviolet spectrum as well, would see a colour we cannot even name.
Human beings judge objects using the vision. We describe an object as we see it and store that information in our brain to define the object. For this purpose, the fact that a colour blind person or a butterfly sees the ball a different colour is irrelevant to us. All we need to know is that object appears yellow to us. But this is only the case for objects. Let us imagine the ball is a person. If everyone in the world sees you as a yellow ball, would that make you a yellow ball? Of course not. However, people worry too much about how others see them. Although other people’s perception does not change our true nature in the slightest, we even go as far as erasing or abandoning our nature to look good in front of another person. Thus, whether our essence is white, black, red, blue or technicolour, when others see us as yellow, we have a tendency to try desperately to become yellow.
If the world says you are a yellow ball, act crazy and be a red ball. There is not a single reason you should have to hide your true nature. Have confidence in your essence. There is nothing wrong with that.
This world endlessly tells us to live for the desires and wants of others. We live every day to fulfil the desire of our parents, our teachers, our friends and our lovers. But to live for other people’s desired, you must first fulfil your own desires. For our weak “self” identity to survive and develop, we cannot allow other people’s desires dominate us.
There is a mental illness called delusional disorder where the patient is obsessed about a “false belief” and is completely convinced that it is the truth. The word “delusion” brings to mind strange cases such as “I was abducted by aliens” and “the government is monitoring my phone calls”, but these delusions are more common with conditions such as schizophrenia. Instead, delusional disorder presents with delusions such as Othello syndrome (believing your spouse is having an affair) or hypochondria that are not too strange and allows for a relatively normal day-to-day life, making delusional disorder very hard to detect. Furthermore, the patients form these delusions in a very logical and highly structured manner, causing the patient to become easily obsessed with it and make the delusions more believable.
Delusional disorder can be categorised into six types:
Erotomanic type: delusion that someone is in love with you
Grandiose type: delusion that you are godlike and possess greater value, strength, intelligence or identity than others
Jealous type: delusion that your lover is unfaithful
Persecutory type: delusion that someone is acting malevolently or trying to harm you
Somatic type: delusion that you have a medical condition or physical defect
Mixed type: delusion showing characteristics of more than one of the above types, with no one type being prominent
As these patients are so attached to their delusions, treatment is extremely difficult. As soon as a psychiatrist or psychologist attempts treatment or even a close friend denies the delusion, they instantly become an “enemy”. The patient automatically incorporates those people into their delusion and antagonise them to worsen the situation. This is why the key principle of treating delusion is “do not touch the delusion”. For example, if the patient believes they are someone else, instead of negating that delusion you should give them a chance to be that person. A treatment called “psychodrama” uses impromptu acting to bypass the delusion and tries to reach the patient’s subconscious, or their “self”. Through this, one can approach the patient’s “self” via affirming their delusions, allowing the psychiatrist or psychologist to ask what the patient’s “self” wants and discover the source of the delusion. The important point is that this treatment is not an instant cure for the delusions (it takes a while for the patient to rid themselves of the delusions completely).
Delusional disorder is a phenomenon which is not uncommon in people who live for the desires of others. A perfect example would be young celebrities. If young teenagers begin life in the entertainment sector and live for the audience before they develop their own “self”, they may not be able to find answers to questions such as “who am I” and “what do I want”, ultimately causing a weakening of their identity. As the “self” is highly capable of tricking itself, it creates a delusion that can rationalise this situation and works to create a different identity.
Thus, the most important tool for surviving in this world is not money, power, wisdom or love: it is your identity and “self”. If you do not know what you truly want, then life cannot give you happiness and success.
Do you want to gain trust and build intimacy with someone? That is easy – all you have to do is recognise and accept their identity. Every person tries to define who they are by building an identity or their “self”. This identity includes their personality, experiences, philosophies and interests. If you wish to have a deep and meaningful conversation, start off with a light conversation to explore the person’s identity. What kinds of films do they like? What leisure activities do they enjoy in their free time? What occupation are they in? If you slowly learn such superficial information, an outline of their identity begins to take place. Also, observe the person’s attitude as they speak and how they respond to certain topics. You will be able to know or at least guess what their interests are.
As the person slowly becomes fond of you through conversation, simply lead the conversation towards their interests that you found out. The person will talk excitedly about their interests. Now, respond accordingly with a smile and a look of interest (better if you are actually interested). A positive conversation has been established. Steer the conversation so that the other person talks as much as possible about their “self”. The person will think that you share their interests, and nothing is as attractive as common interests.
Shall we go one step deeper? Interests give an outline and begin to add colour to the identity, but to recognise their identity as a whole you must gather more specific data. Once a sense of trust and intimacy begins to develop, the conversation can develop into a more personal one. Talk about the person’s past, their philosophies, their dreams, hopes and aspirations. The more intimate information they share with you, the deeper the intimacy becomes and the more you learn about their identity. The important point here is that you not only learn about their identity, but acknowledge it every step of the way. The greatest gesture you can make to another person is accepting them for who they are. If you talk with someone that understands you and accepts you, you will talk as if time does not matter and share your deepest secrets.
On the other hand, if you wish to attack an enemy psychologically, what could you do? As you might have guessed, you should attack their identity. Pull out all of their weaknesses and faults and attack them, while logically disproving their fundamental beliefs and philosophies. Systematically pull apart their psyche and destroy the pride they have for their identity and even the strongest enemy will fall to their knees.
Two psychologists, Bob Josephs and Pran Mehta, performed an interesting experiment studying the how extroverted and introverted people react differently to a rigged game. They told a pair of participants to play a game where they had to draw lines to connect numbers in sequence as they popped up in a grid. They also told them that it was to study their spatial awareness and intelligence. The pair were given the game in a competitive setting at the same time so one could tell if they were “winning” or not. The grid could be easily rigged to determine who would win. Josephs and Mehta posited that men and women with high testosterone levels would have high confidence in their spatial awareness, while those with low testosterone would be the opposite. What they found was quite interesting.
When those with high confidence in their abilities lost a game, they were more distressed relative to when they won (as measure by their cortisol, a stress hormone, level). Those with low confidence were more distressed when they won a game. Furthermore, after winning a game these participants would show a fall in their ability to reason and solve logic problems.
The reason behind this perplexing result is likely to be a cause of “mismatch”. It has been hypothesised that human beings are very protective of their self-identity and when this is challenged, they try stubbornly to rationalise their identity even if it means a negative outcome. For example, a person who believes they are not creative will dress and act to show this trait, even if it means others will see him in a negative light. In the case of the game, the participants were confused as they won the game when they believed they would do badly. This same effect has been found in studies looking at pay raises. Those with self-esteem issues are less likely to be satisfied with a raise as they feel that “they do not deserve it”. They are also more likely to quit after a raise rather than before. It is quite possible that this would also apply to students with low self-esteem, as they would expect lower grades and (subconsciously) actively achieve lower grades to satisfy their self-identity.
In the Peanuts comic strip, the character Linus van Pelt is always seen with his trustworthy security blanket. What is it about a simple blanket that lets certain children feel so safe around it, and why do they become so agitated when it is taken away from them?
Psychologically speaking, the idea of attachment plays a heavy role in the child’s obsession with their security blanket (or any other comfort object, such as a teddy bear). An infant’s perception of the world is very limited and it cannot understand the concept of “self” until it develops further. In fact, it is theorised that an infant believes that whatever it wishes, the mother (still considered by the infant as “self”) will bring it to it, thus creating an illusion of omnipotence. When the realisation that there is something other than “me”, the baby becomes frightened. It suddenly understands that the mother and it are not one, but two separate beings. At this point, it loses the sense of omnipotence and realises it is dependent on others, creating a loss of independence.
Losing its independence and a large portion of itself (the mother), the baby becomes confused and anxious, a phenomenon paediatricians call infant’s lament. The baby tries to comfort itself by attaching itself to its first “not-me” possession – such as a blanket or teddy bear, also called a transitional object. This then allows it to be separate from the mother for periods of time. The transitional object is a reminder to the baby that it still has some control over life and some independence, which gives it comfort and allows the baby to sleep better at night (literally). Thus, the security blanket is aptly named, as it provides the baby with the confidence and security to adapt to the new world, allowing the baby to grow and develop into a social being.
When the baby develops into a child, it develops its own sense of self-confidence so that it can detach from the transitional object. However, some children never detach themselves and the security blanket persists for a longer time. Unfortunately, this is often found socially unacceptable and seen as a sign of weakness. Interestingly, studies show that these children are often more independent than other children, due to their ability to be less dependent on their parents. The security blanket never criticises or doubts the child’s abilities, therefore gives the child a source of infinite confidence.
Another research by Lucy van Pelt shows that removal of the security blanket from a child results in withdrawal symptoms such as fear, panic, perspiration, glazed eyes and unconsciousness within 50 seconds.
It is human nature to want to know more about another person. However, ironically most people know less about themselves than they know others. The following is a simple psychological test that tells you about your true self.
Complete as many sentences as freely as you can, writing down whatever comes to your head. You have 5 minutes: (e.g. I am a male, I attend university)
This test is very useful as it is simple yet accurately portrays the subconscious mind and inner self. It is especially used in adult psychiatry consultations as answers become more subjective and creative as the subject’s age increases. According to a study, from about number 10 the answers show the person’s wants and potential, and from 15 onwards subconscious desires and concerns. Ergo, answers become more accurate in their depiction of the true self as you fill in the lines.
The responses are sorted into six main categories:
Social status (I am an employee of…)
Faith (I am sure that justice will always win in the end)
Desire (I want to be rich)
Likes (I like watermelons)
Judgement (I am stubborn)
Blank (nothing written)
Interestingly, nothing shows more than you expect. For example, those who do not finish all twenty lines tend to be authoritative. This is because they show a tendency of seeing the world as black or white, or good or evil and cannot stand fuzzy, “grey” statements. Therefore, their view of their self tend to be simplistic, making their answers less detailed.
Now, let us explore the world of the inner self and the subconscious mind. For a more objective analysis of yourself, ask someone else to scrutinise your answers.
A gaze is defined as “to look fixedly, intently, or deliberately at something”, but its true meaning is far deeper than that. In art and psychology, the “gaze” is described as a complex medium of communication between the subject and the object being gazed at. There are many theories as to what the gaze signifies.
A popular explanation is the exertion of dominance by the subject by gazing at an object. In essence, this act objectifies something, such as a painting or a person, placing it on an inferior level relative to the observer. This applies to the concept of the “medical gaze” – where the doctor can see the patient as just an anatomical body, or a holistic being with a soul – or the “male gaze”, which feminists claim to be the tendency for films to objectify women and play to the male audience, providing them with the power and dominance. In this case, the gaze acts as a projection of the viewer, placing himself as a dominant figure indirectly interacting with the female being gazed at in the movie. Although the male gaze itself is questionable, there is no doubt that people tend to project themselves into the characters in a movie through gaze. This theory explains the uncanny feeling brought on by a gaze, as it gives the impression that you are being defined by someone’s gaze, whilst becoming dominated.
The gaze plays a vital role in the development of babies as they pass through what is called the “mirror stage”. This is when babies first conceive the idea of self, as they see an external image of themselves in the mirror. At this point, the baby’s gaze defines the external image (reflection) while the reflection’s gaze gives the baby an uncanny feeling of “self”. The concept of the gaze has been well-known throughout history, and is reflected in myths such as the evil eye (that brings bad fortune to those being gazed at) or Medusa (the gorgon who petrifies those who make eye contact with her). Interestingly, the story of Narcissus shows the danger of gaze by misidentifying “self”.
Artists use this concept of gaze effectively by either letting the audience simply gaze at the picture, essentially letting it be defined only when being looked at, or invite the audience in a “conversation” with the painting. This can be achieved when characters in the painting are gazing at the audience, giving the illusion that they can actually see past the two-dimensional plane, gazing into the viewer’s eyes. This produces a strange feeling, while also giving the viewer a heightened appreciation for the painting as he/she feels at level with the painting. Furthermore, as the gaze is a two-way conversation, there are also examples of “setting oneself at gaze”. This means that they are exposing themselves to be gazed at, a common example being nude art. Of course, this ties into voyeurism and scopophilia, showing just how complex the meaning behind the word “gaze” can be.