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I Don’t Like This Photo
I don’t like this photo. I look awkward. The angle isn’t quite right. The pose is unnatural. My face is sorta smushed. My hair is a mess. When I think of myself, this is not the image I imagine. That happens a lot. I try to stay out of pictures, but whenever my wife manages to snap one when I’m not paying attention or guilts me into posing with the family, I am shocked to see the strange person in my place. The weirdness of it instantly pops off the screen. Everyone else blends in naturally, but I always manage to ruin an otherwise good shot.
Unless you’re a movie star or a model, I’m guessing the same thing happens to you. The mental image we have of ourselves is so ingrained that it’s awkward, almost painful, to see an image which challenges it. That physical image comes largely from the mirror. We check our shave or even out the shape of a beard, make sure our hair looks just right, try to smooth out the wrinkles on our foreheads or the hide gray spots on our temples, practice a smile that looks just right. All for naught as soon as someone takes a picture. We only see ourselves from one angle, through a single set of fixed eyeballs, but that’s not the whole picture. We are all the angles. Uncomfortable though that might be, it’s important to remember. You are not the person you see in the mirror.
The same is true for how you see your personality and character. You are not the person you think you are. Our internal thoughts and desires are not a full picture of ourselves. They are limited by our own perspective and bias, blinded by desires or distorted by trauma, shaped by our particular experience. You can’t define yourself by this narrow image. You’ll end up a flat version of yourself, like a reflection in a mirror. You’ll become self-centered and anxious trying to maintain that perfect image, shocked when the picture life shows you isn’t what you expect, upset when others don’t react as you think they should, but unable to adjust the way you see yourself.
There’s only one way to break out of this narrow self-perspective. You need something outside yourself. You need relationships that you care about and trust. You need love. To love anyone is to acknowledge that something apart from yourself exists and has value. More value, even, than you. When you love someone, whether a spouse or a child or a friend or a God, suddenly you must begin to consider their perspective as well as your own. You must put yourself in their place, understand their feelings, anticipate their desires, listen to their concerns, accept their praise and their criticism. Their life and perspective thus becomes intertwined with yours. The way they see you becomes an important factor in the way you see yourself. So the more you give away yourself others the more you learn about yourself through them.
It can be harsh. To be married or to have kids is a lot like having cameras constantly capturing you. You are always forced to see yourself from angles you don’t like at the times you wish no one saw. All your flaws will be exposed. They will tell you when you are too angry or too lazy or too selfish or too arrogant. That’s a good thing, because it’s easy to lie and clean yourself up in the mirror and filter out all the blemishes from a selfie, but you’ll never improve if you don’t see the whole truth. They’ll also reveal the beautiful things that you couldn’t accept, provide an outlet for the good qualities you never knew you had, and open up the joy and fun of companionship you never thought possible.
This picture of you, with both the good and the bad, may not be as flattering as you wish. You might be shocked the first time you see it. You probably won’t rush to post it on Instagram. But it’s a more honest picture of a fuller person than that image in the mirror. You’ll get used to it and be better for it. You might even start to like it.