Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt. Shakespeare
Measure for Measure

Who Knew?
The Source of Insecurities

Imagine that you are in the midst of an important interview or are making an important class or business presentation. You are keyed up and nervous, as the outcome is important to you. Coupled with the tension you are experiencing, you are convinced that it isn’t going well; you think the interviewer, audience, or customer is painfully sensing your angst. After the event concludes, the employer smiles and thanks you warmly, or your classmates congratulate you, or the audience applauds. You are struck by their kindness and generosity, but know that their responses were, at best, insincere. What’s going on here?

The answer may be found in the work of Joe Luft and Harrison Ingham via the creation of an amazing tool for personal insight and understanding: the Johari Window. Named after an amalgam of its authors’ names, the Window describes our relationship with ourselves and those around us.

The “”Window” contains the following four “panes:”

Pane #1: Facts that we know about ourselves as well as what others know about us. For example, my students know my name and that I am a CMU prof. Obviously, I know these details about myself as well. This is our “open window.”

Pane 2: This involves facts and attitudes that others understand about us, but we are unaware of ourselves. For example, students may see me as an old fashioned dresser while I think that leisure suits and Nehru jackets make me look cool. This pane is labeled as my “blind spot.”

Pane #3 – We all have secrets or facts from our past (or our present) that are not known to others. This is called our “hidden self.” For example, students may notice that I always wear long sleeved shirts or jackets, even in hot weather. They don’t know that I have embarrassing tattoos on my arms.

Pane #4 – “The Unknown.” This final pane contains elements about ourselves that are a mystery to us and everyone else as well. For instance, I may be genuinely puzzled by my need to continue smoking cigarettes, despite several stages in my life when I quit successfully. Why do I go back to this unhealthy habit that I know is bad for me? I don’t know, and other people who know me can’t see why I can’t quit either.

So that is the Johari Window: four elements of our makeup that influence our daily lives. It has great applications for counselors in their work with clients, but also addresses the day-to-day uncertainties we all experience. Let’s go back to the first paragraph of this newsletter and explore how the “”Window” explains our feelings of inferiority and anxiety in stressful situations, like interviews and presentations.

Simply stated, how we see ourselves is different than how others see us and, too often, we judge and perceive ourselves more harshly or inaccurately than others do. The interviewee may feel nervous inside but not show it. The presenter may exhibit confidence and poise yet feel uncertain or fearful inside.

Our “blind spot” may keep us from realizing that we appear competent or organized, even though we don’t feel that way. And our “hidden self” keeps our fears to ourselves while others aren’t aware of them.

The answer to this dilemma? The solution is to expand our “open window.” As we become more open with our fears and concerns and cease to hide them, we draw closer to others.

And when I finally trash my leisure suits and listen to my wife’s fashion advice, I’ll no longer need to wonder why my students are snickering when I walk into class!

Take the courageous risk of openness and see what happens.

Sometimes our thoughts are backed by so much insecurity that they create lies we believe. (Anonymous)

John & Anita Farrar