The Looking Glass

How The Gospel Addresses The Looking Glass Self Theory by David Lee Chu Sarchet

If you have been through any kind of mental health service, the chances that you have encountered the Looking Glass Self Theory are pretty high. Even if your therapist, or other mental health professional, doesn’t expressly tell you this theory by name, they most likely will teach you it’s concepts.

As a Christian, I do have some serious issues with this concept and in this blog I will tell you what they are. Afterwards, I will tell how the Christian worldview responds to this theory.

First, it would be helpful if I explain The Looking Glass Self Theory.

This theory was first formulated by a man named Charles Cooley in 1902. Cooley was attempting to explain how human beings formulate their views about their own identity. He postulated that we form our view of ourselves based on how we perceive others to perceive us. This perception may or not be correct, but he would say that how we think others see us will determine how we will view ourselves.

For example, a teacher may grade a student’s paper harshly because the teacher sees the potential that the student can exhibit and they think that the student needs an extra push for them to achieve their potential. However, the student may internalize the harsh grade as if they think the teacher sees them as a bad student and then they will think they are a bad student. Cooley tells us that we all ask ourselves three questions: 

  • 1) How do I appear to other people? 
  • 2) What must other people think of me? 
  • 3) How can I revise what I think of myself? 

There Is One Huge Fundamental Issue With This Theory.

It is inherently man-centered, not God-centered

The core belief in this theory is that man determines the worth of an individual. When we base our identity on what we perceive others to have of us, we will inevitably be in a state of constant anxiety which will ultimately lead us to despair. I say this because our perception of what others think of us will be subject to change based on our feelings and experience. 

You are probably wondering what is it that I propose in order to solve this dilemma.

First, I freely admit that Cooley’s theory is descriptive of human beings, but I think the Gospel offers a prescriptive solution to escape this fear of man’s judgement. If you will allow the truth of Holy Scripture to sink deep into your psyche, then you will no longer care how other people perceive you because you will only care how God sees you and the word of God never changes no matter how we are feeling or what we are experiencing.

I propose three questions that human beings should ask themselves instead of Cooley’s three questions.

These questions are the following: 

1) How Does God view me? 

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  -Genesis 1:27 

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” -Psalm 139:13-14 

2) Who Am I In Jesus Christ? 

But, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a  holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” -1 Peter 2:9-10 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” -Ephesians 1:3-6 

3) How should I revise my view of myself based on what God says about me? 

This should give us a real positive image of ourselves because we know that no matter what I do or say or feel that God sees me as one who displays His glory and majesty as I am wonderfully created in His image. For those of us who are in Christ, God sees us as holy, blameless, and royal as we are redeemed by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, in order so we can give Him glory by proclaiming His gospel to all those whom we come in contact with. These fundamental truths are always true no matter what we feel, think, say, do, or experience because God’s word holds true in all places across all times. 

I hope and pray that this blog has edified you as you keep looking to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I thank you for taking the time to read this and please feel free to comment below in order to tell me how this has helped you view yourself. Soli Deo Gloria! 

-David Lee Chu Sarchet 
Christian Mental Health Advocate 

Please Check Out The Christ-Centered Mental Health Ministry website:

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