Mirror Shards

Accurate mirroring gives you permission to feel what you feel and know what you know — one of the essential foundations of recovery.
 — Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score

You can no more see your own soul than you can see the back of your head.  ‘

The only way to get a glimpse of who you are is in the mirror of society by looking into the reflections of how your choices effect others.

This is why humans need mirroring.   It is why we need to enact transgender, not just keep it inside (1996) and why broken mirrors can cause big problems (1998)

It is also why we are always trying to determine bias in the responses of other people: is their reaction about them or about me?   Is their mirroring of me accurate or is it funhouse?

The consistency of reflection is important to this process.   If everybody sees you one way, you have a high degree of confidence in that mirroring.

I was talking to a friend of my sister about this.  “Do you really need other people?” she asked.  “Can’t you do it alone?”

Everybody ends up with an internal, virtual mirror of themselves, stored in our self image.  We use that inner mirror to model our own choices, to create a virtual us in the world.

For people who haven’t, for whatever reason, had accurate mirroring in the world — people I might call “too people,” who are too intense, too smart, too queer, too whatever — those mirrors we build aren’t made up of nice, big, affirming chunks of mirror, ones we hold with confidence.

Instead, we build our model mirror out of tiny shards, little reflections.   Our nature isn’t normative, expected, simple, unchallenging.   Much of who we are is masked or occluded, made invisible in the world.   We struggle to express it, but more than that we struggle to get useful and affirming reflections of what we are trying to share in the world.

Like a crazy paving mosaic, we use tiny fractured off shards of mirror to build our self image.  Alone we create our own inner mirror as best we can.

We know, though, the limits of that kind of mirror.    We know that it contains gaps and flaws, refractions and spiders.   We know not to trust that self image because we know that we don’t have the simple reflection of accurate mirroring in the world.

If we doubt our mirror. we doubt what we see in it.  That means we doubt the knowledge and feelings that we see, not feeling the shattered reflection gives us enough truth for strong permission to feel what we feel and know what we know.  Our foundation for recovery is weak.

By covering the mirrors to avoid reflecting what is uncomfortable, normative society tries to erase the power of accurate mirroring for the challenging, “too” people.   We struggle for visibility in the world because we struggle to be confident and empowered in our own self image, struggle to believe the strength and beauty we see reflected.

For social beings, do we exist without the mirroring of relationship, the networked mirroring of community?  How can we know who we are until we can see ourselves reflected?   It is my fondest hope that in my writing and speaking I have offered some useful mirroring for others, that by revealing myself I have helped some get a glimpse of what is inside them.

Still, those of us whose self image is made up of tiny, tiny shards of mirror, scavenged and scraped and saved, glued together the best we can, have low confidence in that reflection, low confidence to trust our own feelings and self-knowledge.

We experience others trying to project on us rather than to accurately reflect us, to come from their expectations, to make our search for truth about them and their fears, about the feelings and knowledge they want to keep invisible and unchallenging in their lives.

The struggle for visibility is the struggle for mirroring and the struggle for accurate mirroring is the struggle for permission to feel what we feel and know what we know, which is one of the essential foundations of recovery.

Without an effective self image, we cannot build an effective life.

Shards, well, as much as we scrape, they just don’t really cut it.


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