How others see you: Think you know?

Posted: September 8, 2015 in counseling, religion, spiritual care
Tags: , ,

The truth is, we don’t know how others see us; we just think we do.

By Charles W. Sidoti

What do you think other people see when they look at you?  The way I think others see me can have a great impact on my self-esteem and therefore on how I experience and interact with the world around me.  If I view a personal characteristic about myself in a negative way, it may cause me to feel inadequate.  I may feel that I have to hide whatever I consider my flaw to be.  I may see myself as being too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too shy, too talkative or as having some other defect or imperfection.  I may even assume that others see the characteristic in the same negative light that I do.  We should not be so quick to make that assumption.  I have  been pleasantly surprised on more than one occasion to discover that something I had always considered unworthy about myself was actually seen by someone else in a completely different way.  The following story is a great example.

I have a sizable space between my two front teeth that, unless I am laughing spontaneously, I often cover with my hand because I feel self-conscious.  I don’t know why I feel this way. No one has ever made fun of me because of it.  But for some reason I have always felt self-conscious about it.

One Sunday, my family and I took our dog to church to take part in an outdoor event called the Blessing of the Animals, which is held in honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  After the pet-blessing ritual, I was chatting with some people and noticed a visiting priest standing nearby.  I said hello to him.  He extended his hand and greeted me, saying that his name was Fr. Gerald.  The next words out of his mouth were, “I like the space between your teeth.”

He pointed to his own teeth while referring to mine.  I didn’t know how to respond to his directness.  He went on, sincerely saying. “It is very nice.”  I thought he was kidding, kind of gently making fun, but he wasn’t.  He continued, “I am from Nigeria. In my country people want this gap.  They go out of their way to get their teeth to be this way.  They will even chip their teeth to get it.”

He explained that in his country, a space between the front teeth was considered a “disarming quality,” something that made people feel comfortable with you.  I had never thought of the space between my front teeth in that way, or in any way that was positive.  But hearing his words instantly changed that, and the sincerity of his comment helped.

I realized that he was right.  When I had previously met people with a space between their front teeth, it had often had a disarming effect.  I almost always had found these people very friendly and comfortable to be around.   I was able, for the first time, to see the space between my own front teeth as something good, even desirable.

Nothing has changed about the space between my teeth.  The only thing that has changed is the way I see it.  Because of the words of Fr. Gerald, what I previously saw only as a defect, I now see as an advantage, something that can draw people in rather than make me feel different than them.  Before this encounter, if you had asked me about the space between my teeth, everything I would have said about it would have been negative.  I might have even mentioned to you that I had thought about getting it “fixed” someday.

Since meeting Fr. Gerald I enjoy smiling.  The space between my two front teeth has had a paradoxical impact upon me.  The difference between its having a negative and positive impact has been my relationship with it.  A seemingly chance encounter with a Nigerian priest helped me to change my perspective.  I believe most of our problems are like this one.  They are at the very least two-sided, and may have a negative or positive impact upon us depending on how we choose to view them.

The fact of the matter is, we don’t know how others see us; we just think we do. We often assume that they see our flaws in the name magnified way that we do. It is helpful to realize that other people really are just that, other people.  They have their own way of seeing the world and us too, and that way is often more kind, gentle, and accepting than we give them credit for.

It is not always this way.  Yes, there are mean, negative people who go around focusing on others’ defects, but most people are not like that.  Tell yourself that just for today, you are not going to try to think for other people by assuming they think negatively of you.  Instead, try to trust in the goodness that is inside most people by allowing them to draw their own conclusions about you.  You will most likely be pleasantly surprised when you discover how you are really seen by others.  It can change how you see the world, and yourself.

Connecting Point:  There is a difference between the way you see yourself and the way others, including God, see you.  Reflecting on this simple truth can bring healing to your self-esteem.  Have you ever been surprised to find out that something you have always judged yourself very harshly about, some flaw or defect, is not seen so negatively by someone else?

Prayer:  Loving God, creator of all that I am, you tell me that I am your child.  I don’t always feel that way.  Grant that I may know in my heart that I really am your child and receive the healing and peace that comes from truly believing it. Amen.

This article is from my book “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time

Buy direct from Twenty-Third Publications $13.45

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