4 min read

Do we need the other to truly see ourselves?

Do we need the other to truly see ourselves?
Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia. Playing with our reflections

The true beauty of Narcissus

There is a Greek myth about Narcissus. The myth of Narcissus tells the story of a beautiful man who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and wastes away, unable to tear himself away from his own image. Oscar Wilde - an Irish poet and playwright from the 1800s - built upon this story:

“When Narcissus died, the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.
And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet water  into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and said,
“We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.”
“But was Narcissus beautiful ?” said the pool.
“Who should know better than you ?” asked the Oreads. "Us did he ever pass by, but you sought he for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.”
And the pool answered, “But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.”
–  Oscar Wilde

I couldn't help but wonder...

Geesje, my business partner, shared this story with me in a meeting. (Yes, I know, we have fun meetings ;)). The pool didn’t recognise the beauty of Narcissus but saw its own beauty in the reflection of his eyes and wept about the loss of his own reflection rather than the loss of Narcissus. And I couldn’t help but wonder - do we need the other to see our own beauty? Or in a broader context, to see our own talents and gifts? Knowing that once you recognise who you are, you’ll realise that you already are all these things one can see.

So I looked into the research “Others Sometimes Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves" (Vazire & Carlson, 2011). It highlights a few points why others might know you better than you do yourself.

  1. Blind spots in self-knowledge: there are gaps in our self-knowledge, influenced by both lack of information and motivated distortions. These blind spots can prevent us from accurately perceiving certain aspects of our own personality.
  2. Transparency of personality to others: many aspects of our personality are transparent to others, who can accurately perceive traits even without intentional broadcasting.
  3. Differential knowledge between self and others: the self and others possess different types of information and biases when judging personality traits. While the self may have better access to internal traits (e.g., thoughts and feelings), others may have better insight into external traits (e.g., overt behaviour) and highly evaluative traits. 

So, in sum, the study concludes that there are parts that are more visible to others than to ourselves for several reasons and that combining perspectives from the self and the other, can be beneficial. With Geesje, I explored personal examples, concluding that for us it’s often easier to see what you are doing ‘wrong’, instead of what you are doing ‘right’. 

For me personally, I struggled with feeling proud of myself. A few years ago this was a theme I worked with for quite some time. I was extremely proud of my best friend who had just finished her Master Cum Laude after a very difficult time. My pride for her brought me to tears. Feeling this emotion was beautiful and yet I realized that I couldn’t feel this emotion for the things I had accomplished myself. I knew that I had reasons to be proud of myself, but I couldn’t feel it, let alone believe it. So there I went on this uncomfortable path of asking people how they perceived me and at the same time delving deeper into my own examples of what made me proud. And ‘poco a poco’ (step by step), I started to believe in the beautiful things I did, the things that I was proud of. Letting go of words like ‘maybe I think that I did this well”, changing the narrative to "I'm proud of what I did here”. So yes, I did start to see myself as the person I already was partly through the eyes of the other, but combining it with consciously aligning my inner thoughts.

Self reflection = taking responsibility

A few weeks ago a meditation teacher said:

“A belief is just a thought repeated over time”.

I hear many people around me - including myself - feeding ourselves thoughts that our head is fuelled by our insecurities. What a shame. Then I realised that it works two ways. Create your own beliefs. Because if there is one thing I've learned these past years is that we can do so much more than we think.

As this post is already an accumulation of rather philosophical quotes and wisdoms, I might as well add the last one. The quote by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

You don't have to do it all by yourself

My personal conclusion to the question ‘do we need the other to see our own beauty?'. Need is a strong word, but it definitely helps. I think it’s our responsibility to discover the fire within us. The good part; you don’t have to grow all by yourself. You can learn from and lean on the people around you. Ask for positive feedback, dare to be vulnerable, and make fun together. At the same time go within. In the end, you are the one who can determine the patterns through the answers given. See your worth and your potential in these patterns. Be conscious of the story you tell yourself and remember to shine bright like a diamond (ooops, thanks Rihanna for the last quote ;-)).

If you want to grow, delve deeper into self-reflection. If you want to do this together in a group and find your inner fire > join our new programme GROW! Or contact me for more information.


Vazire, S., & Carlson, E. N. (2011). Others sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(2), 104-108.