Mental selfies

James E. Mattson | 09/25/2015

A few tips for improving how we see ourselves.


Shortly after I began graduate school, another student asked me if I considered myself an intellectual. Clearly, the inquirer viewed himself as such. Ever watchful for trick questions, I hedged and responded self-protectively, “Well, I like to think I think deep thoughts.” Not sure I passed the test.
JEM_ID_embed_SFWI recently learned that more people died this past year from selfies than shark attacks. And what does that have to do with what I stated in the first paragraph? Mental selfies—how we see ourselves—can be as tricky as digital ones.
Google “tips for taking selfies” and you’ll find plenty of ideas. They include such pointers as 1) tilt your head, 2) find the perfect light, and 3) hold the camera above your head. But what about tips for taking mental selfies, how we see ourselves in our minds’ eyes? Are there ways to improve the mental selfies we take?
Sometimes, others can help us improve our mental-selfie skills. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote in dialect, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” Others can help us see ourselves more accurately and guide us on our journey to becoming how we want to see ourselves.
Kelley Johnson—Miss Colorado—recently found herself at the center of a news media and social media storm after she walked on stage wearing nursing scrubs and a stethoscope in preliminary Miss America talent competition and described how, in caring for a man with Alzheimer’s disease, she learned not to see herself as “just a nurse.” For her, it was Joe, a patient with dementia, who helped her see herself and her profession more accurately and, as a result, help educate those with inaccurate perceptions of nurses.
But a word of caution: Don’t let others define you, especially if their definitions are harmful, hurtful, or otherwise unhelpful. See yourself exclusively through the eyes of others or how you think others see you, and you won’t get to know you for who you really are.

The delete button is a great way to improve mental selfies. Recently, my wife took a couple pictures—not selfies—of me in a restaurant. Although she was pointing the camera in my direction, I didn’t realize I was in the field of vision. When we downloaded them a few hours later, I did not like what I saw. What I saw was an unsmiling, uncool man who didn’t look a thing like me. Well, not what I want to look like, anyway. But Mary Ellen and I have this agreement. If I take a picture of her or she takes a picture of me that either of us doesn’t like, we permanently delete it, no questions asked.
Maybe you have a mental selfie that plays over and over again in your head, on an endless loop. Maybe it’s how someone a long time ago said you looked, or what you were like, or what you could never be. Now, there’s a great selfie to delete. Delete it, and then take some new mental selfies to replace it, self-images that help you become the person you want to see and be.
When mental-selfie deletion doesn’t seem to work, supplanting the old image with a new, positive one that reduces the negative power of the troublesome self-portrait may be what is needed.Christopher Lance Coleman, PhD, MS, MPH, FAAN, an RNL blogger and author of Man Up! A Practical Guide for Men in Nursing, recently addressed the topic of self-image in a post titled “Know your value.He recalled a professor who once told him, “I think you have chosen the wrong profession.” It was a devastating assessment, and it wasn’t until another professor challenged Coleman with, “How can you let one man convince you to entertain the idea you were not called into nursing?” that he was able to shake the traumatic effect of the former assessment and replace the negative self-image with a positive one.
Finally, awhile back, I told you about Tofu, our goodwill ambassador. He’s been taking some selfies lately and has given me permission to share a couple with you, RNL readers. On the left is one he took when he wasn’t quite ready—it’s hard to take selfies without thumbs—and it wasn’t how Tofu wanted to see himself. So he took another shot and came up with the one on the right. Kind of reminded him of McGruff the Crime Dog. He liked it much better than his first attempt, but it’s not particularly accurate, either, at least not all the time. As with Tofu, the real us is often between how we want to see ourselves and how others see us. As I said, mental selfies can be tricky.

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James E. Mattson is editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.
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