Researchers Simine Vazire and Erika Carlson explore this self-defining issue in an article published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science. (This study is actually a follow up to their 2010 study which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).
In their 2011 piece, Vazire and Carlson suggest others have a better picture of who we are than we do. Why? Apparently we have a blind spot that is a result of what they refer to as “motivated cognitive process” in other words at some level we are motivated to not see all that we are. Those motivations can be conscious or unconscious, seen or hidden.
They suggest that we have a better concept of who we are internally, meaning we can tell what’s going on inside whether anger, anxiety or optimism. On the other hand, others have a better view of the external picture of us. For example, a good friend may tell you that you give off a confident energy when you may not believe that you do. According to this research your friend is probably right. But they are probably not picking up on what is going on inside you – all of that anxiety behind the confidence. This doesn’t mean the confidence is not there. It means that both are present and part of your experience.
Vazire research shows that across the board, others are able to give accurate impressions of one another: but here are exceptions.
When the relationship is too intimate, say a spouse, it may be difficult for a loved one to see the others’ faults. Why? Because seeing that a partner is actually a jerk would jeopardize their own perceptions of self. This is a bit oversimplified, but the idea is that some people won’t have any interest in giving others positive and honest feedback when their own self-image is at stake.
Vazire is offering that how others see us is just as important as we see ourselves. This is certainly not a new idea: Psychologist James Bugental offered in his work “The Search for Authenticity” that “the human consciousness includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people.”
And Carl Rogers suggested that we are shaped by our own ideas, the relationships we have with others and by the world around us.
Vazire and Rogers seem to share the idea that in order to have a clear picture of ourselves we need the perspectives of others. In 1959 Rogers said that we have the incredible ability to understand ourselves … and to change who we are. But genuine self-awareness can be honed if we take the time to join our own self-awareness (who we think we are) with the perception that others see in us.
Rogers believed that we are capable of seeing both self-perceptions that Vazire speaks about: we can see the inner and what others see when they interact with us on a daily basis. Self-awareness is part of the journey of being.
Scary as it may sound, taking the chance to explore how others see us, may open the doors to gaining greater awareness of how we are in the world. It may be good to ask a friend, a good and supportive friend, about how they see you. It might be a hard chat, but with the right person it can be eye opening.
— Makenna Berry