Armina Dobrică

“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” 

Thomas Cooley

Charles Horton Cooley was an American sociologist best known for his concept of the looking glass self, which describes the development of one’s self and identity through interpersonal interactions within the context of the society.

Written in 1902, his work Human Nature and the Social Order, analyzes the meaning and the phases of a social self, identifying three principal elements of the looking glass:

  1. the imagination of our appearance to the other person;
  2. the imagination of their judgment of that appearance;
  3. the self-feeling, such as pride or mortification;

The second step might not seem like an element of reflection, and yet it is essential in the reflection process. It is not the mere act of looking in the mirror that is triggering the feeling. It is the thought-up effect of that image on someone else’s mind – the imagined judgement – that acts like a compass, steering emotions one way or the other. It is our perception of that person that gives weight and meaning to the feeling, to the sense of conformity and belonging. All for avoiding the pain of getting rejected.        

Cooley writes: “When we speak of getting out of one’s ‘self’ we commonly mean any line of thought with which one tends to be unduly preoccupied; so that to escape from it is indeed a kind of salvation. […] It is well to beware of persons who believe that the cause, the mission, the philanthropy, the hero, or whatever it may be that they strive for, is outside of themselves, so that they feel a certain irresponsibility, and are likely to do things which they would recognize as wrong if done in behalf of an acknowledged self.”

What I get from Cooley’s looking glass self is that if you ever find yourself in a situation in which you think you know what everyone else is thinking, and they’re all thinking the exact same thing (like that’s even possible), ask yourself why that is. Why is it that you feel that way? What is triggering you? What sort of feeling of fear and lack are you experiencing? It might not be obvious right away, but it’s important not to give up. I’ll explain why.

From the withinside

Imagine listening to an orchestra playing, with your eyes closed. Could you say how far the band was? Probably, yes. But where does the music come from? Where does it happen? In the instrument that’s being played?

Your auricle has to “capture” and conduct the sound waves, which travel down the auditory canal and hit the ear drum, causing it to vibrate and send those vibrations through the small bones of the middle ear: the malleus, incus, and the stapes. The stapes connects to the oval window, between the middle and inner ear. The vibrations pass through the oval window, into the fluid in the cochlea (inner ear), stimulating thousands of tiny hair cells. This results in the transformation of the vibrations into electrical impulses finally deciphered by the brain as sound.

If music happens inside the instrument, then this complex, perfect, natural process is pointless. Would music even exist, had it not been for the sense of hearing? The way I see it, things happen as a result, not as a cause.


A cause has to be a cause of something. Imagine an annoying situation. Someone cuts you off in traffic, a colleague sends you a rude email, you get home from work and “someone” didn’t do the dishes…whatever it is. You get angry or offended or frustrated. But what if you don’t? What if instead of blaming your state of mind on the circumstances a.k.a causes, you simply (yet not always easily) decide not to let yourself affected by actions that are out of control? There will be no results, ergo no cause. And if a cause can just vanish into thin air, then maybe it was never real in the first place. Maybe it was just a perception, followed by a choice.

Wanted results can generate causes. But never the other way around. If you wish to stop listening to the orchestra, you just have to cover your ears or move further away. Does this mean that the music they’re playing no longer exists? Of course it does, just not to you. It’s the same with feelings. They have a cause, but the result is always your choice, because they come to life inside of you. That’s why we sometimes react differently to the same people or the same circumstances, depending on the state of being we’re in at that moment. We might not realize it, as it is an unconscious choice, but we can move our awareness to whatever we like and make it a mindful decision.

Attention cures tension

There’s a saying that ignorance is bliss. However, becoming aware of your thoughts and intentionally deciding to shift your perception is not ignorance. Just like every behavior has a positive intention, every situation is, not has, a bright side. The facts (the cause) stay the same, with ups and downs, it is just the result that differs. Moving away from an orchestra doesn’t mean you stop acknowledging its existence, it means you no longer hear the music.  

I think we don’t have to become incurable optimists, living in a constant state of euphoria, if we don’t resonate with this idea. In fact, most people would say they don’t want to be happy all the time. Apparently the “bad” makes them appreciate the “good” more. We’re funny like that. We somehow want the bad, until it actually happens. Then we feel like someone or something out there in the Universe is out to get us. Of course, it’s a cunning illusion our brains fantasize to avoid the effort of actually dealing with the situation. Becoming accountable for our own feelings means letting go of the reactive attitude, in which things happen to us, and becoming proactive by focusing on the positive aspects and accepting, not ignoring, what we cannot change.

“Whatever you turn your attention toward becomes your experience, your reality. If you turn it toward something unreal, such as the ego’s fears, negative feelings, or its coulds and shoulds, the ego’s world will become your reality.”

A Heroic Life, Gina Lake

However, before shifting towards a proactive attitude when it comes to our state of mind, we must first be able to correctly identify what it is that we’re feeling.

Feeling, tell me your name

In his book Power vs Force, David Hawkins, an internationally renowned psychiatrist, consciousness researcher and spiritual lecturer that I find brilliant, describes in detail a list of 17 feelings (levels of consciousness is more exact) and their corresponding frequency levels – vibrations of energy. They each have an associated emotion, inner process and view on life and they all influence our perception of external events.

Power vs. Force, David Hawkins

While the methodology of Hawkins’ research is captivating and intriguing, it can take hours to explain and provides little insight into how we can essentially apply his findings. However, most would agree that joy, for example, feels better than grief and it’s a state of consciousness in which we feel more energized, more alive.

Becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions gives us the power to change them. Sometimes there is a fine line between what we think we feel and what is actually happening inside of us. Desire, for example, can mistakenly be interpreted as love; guilt as anger.  

So…how do we do it? How do we master our feelings?

The process is simple, but not necessarily easy. We have to look at how feelings are born.

  1. We are involved in a situation or event strong enough to have an impact on our state of being.
  2. There is an almost instantaneous (and unconscious) reaction. We can physically feel it – a lump in the throat, a pit in the stomach, goosebumps, shallow breath, muscle tension. That’s the emotion.
  3. A stream of thoughts starts flowing, keeping the initial, primal emotion alive, intensifying it or changing it altogether.

This is where awareness comes in. We can consciously choose to break the chain of thoughts, if the feeling is unpleasant or give it more power, if it feels good. We can fully enjoy a romantic evening with a loved one, by choosing not to worry about that important meeting at work, just as much as we can defuse a very intense argument by looking at the bigger picture instead of exaggerating that specific moment in time.

So when you’re dealing with a very unpleasant feeling, ask yourself these 5 questions:

  1. What is this feeling telling me? What am I lacking or fearing in this moment?
  2. What am I judging? What am I deeming right or wrong, good or bad?
  3. What am I missing inside to turn this situation around?
  4. What or who am I really blaming?
  5. What expectations did I have about this? Which outcome am I attached to?