Seeing Ourselves through the Johari Window
A quick review
Between myself (I) and another person (you) there are four quadrants of what is known about me. There is the arena (A) where we both are aware of it. There is the blind spot (B) where the other sees it in me but I don’t.
There is concealment (C) where I know it’s true of me but the other does not. And there is a hidden or dark area (D) of what is true about me that neither of us is yet aware.
These quadrants interact in what the pioneering sociologist Charles Cooley called the looking glass self: a person’s self grows out of a person’s social interaction with other. In a Rogerian way, the more affirmed I feel in your perceptions of me, the generally easier it is for me to honestly face myself.
How much is known or unknown in each quadrant can vary. Ideally, we find someone with whom we can safely drop our guard and open up our deeper thoughts, feelings and actions. And ideally, we offer the same for mutual development.
For example, I admit to you feeling anxious around haughty police officers. As you intently listen I experience my concealment area shrink. And the arena between us grows.
As I find you trustworthy to share some painful experiences behind this fear, the arena between us is safe to grow. But if you reacted by dismissing my fears as irrational, I am likely to put that item back into my concealment zone.
Perhaps you see something about me in this experience that I don’t. For example, you may point out how I seem to be taking personally a police officer’s impersonal stance.
As you help me shrink my blind spot, and I find it safer to expose more of my concealed anxieties to you, my dark area increasingly shrinks. As my arena expands I become much more confident in all of my relationships.
Unfortunately, many of us do not have someone in our lives to reliably fill this role. Or to serve this role for others. This tends to be an artifact of modern society.
In modern society we spend most our time interacting with others with whom we have little to no personal relationship. Such as coworkers, store clerks, other shoppers, or most of our Facebook “friends.” They don’t know the specifics in our lives, nor do we know theirs.
If we don’t have anyone with whom to share our deeper secrets and joys, with whom to safely drop our guard, the arena will be understandably small. And the dark area tends to remain large. Correspondingly, the blind spot and concealment areas tend to be limited.
Life is indeed painful for the chronically estranged. We are psychosocial beings yearning to connect with at least one other for a meaningful life. Our emotions will report how well that need is being met.
Problems in living tend to emerge without a significant other expanding one’s arena. Blind spots and concealed secrets routinely undermine one’s optimal functioning. Anxiety and depression may spring from unresolved needs hidden in those dark areas.
A qualified counselor (you) sees signs in the client (I) illuminating some blind spots. And hear more in reported symptoms to draw out more into the shared arena. Meeting the treatment goal will hopefully shrink the client’s dark area.
In our highly individualistic culture, these problems in living tend to be posited within the individual sufferer. After all, it is generally easier to compel the individual to adjust to their social environment than to change the social environment to fit the individual.
Such a stance has its limits. Do we as counselors help clients suffering from the impacts of systematic racism to adjust to their social environments? Our ACA ethical standards assert otherwise. Yet I am cognizant of the danger.
Glasser’s reality therapy emphasizes individual choice when countering unresolved needs. This is to suggest we always retain some human agency when addressing our needs. What is often overlooked in this apparent contradiction, I believe, is our need for psychosocial parity.
This psychosocial parity compels us to access our internal resources (i.e., ego needs like self-efficacy) on par with our external resources (i.e., social needs like belonging to a group). I see the therapeutic relationship, in part, helping clients to balance their internal and external resources.
If I don’t fit in anywhere to attend to my social need for belonging, or others impose their efforts in lieu of my self-efficacy, I can see how my arena would shrink. And my dark area expand. Effective counseling, therefore, includes a dimension of advocacy for the disprivileged.
Can you envision the opposite scenario? I enjoy a significant sense of self-awareness. I am unique, existing outside of many conventional limits. This can mean I am challenging to get to know.
My secrets are not guarded, just waiting for an invitation to be known. My blind spots stem largely from simply not knowing how to fit into more conventional spaces. My dark area is thick with the mysteries of untapped potential.
But I often find myself surrounded by the limits of conventionality. So much to offer, so few takers. Or the takers tend to be exploitive, who may not realize their exploitive tendencies (i.e., blind spot).
Instead of complaining I aim to help others to also reach more of their full potential selves. And drop my concerns about receiving such help in kind.
Could this be one of my motives to serve as a counselor? Could this be among your motives to be a counselor? When you look through these Johari windows, what do you see?