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.


Broken Mirrors
As performed by "The Drama Queens" at IFGE Toronto 1998
Callan Williams Copyright © 1998

Once upon a time, in a land far far away
a child was born.

The parents were delighted
Their dreams were fulfilled.
"A little baby of our own!
to do with what we want" they cried.
"People will see our baby
and know how wonderful we are.
Eyes like daddy, smile like mommy
A baby just like us
a baby we can be so proud of!"

They bent over the crib
and giggled and cooed

"Hello baby! Look at us
and see who you will be.
We are show you your future
We are your images.
We are your mirror!"

It was a beautiful baby,
growing strong and healthy.
But the parents were troubled.

"Our baby isn't just like us.
Our baby is wilful
Our baby has a mind of its own.
Maybe this baby isn't really ours
Maybe the gypsies brought us the wrong child.
Maybe this baby thinks they are a swan.
Maybe the wolf has captured their soul.
What can we do?"

They went to their pastor
spoke of their fears.

"The answer is simple.
Babies can only know they are different
If they see themselves as different
in their reflection.
Break all the mirrors in your house!
Your baby will only see themselves
though your eyes.
They will be what you expect them to be,
nothing less and nothing more."

Together with all the parents in the town
they broke all the mirrors that might reflect views
they didn't approve of.

They made sure all the people baby saw
reflected the proper, positive views.

For the good of the child, they
eliminated the possibility that the baby
might see themselves in a way
that would let them think they were different
and not like their parents.

They got rid of odd teachers,
Turned off the TV,
Never went where the other people lived.
Kept their child in safe spaces
where the mirrors only showed
what the parents expected.

As the child grew, though
they knew something was missing

"Who am I? Why do I feel different inside
than I look in all the mirrors?
No mirror shows me as how I feel.
Either all the mirrors are wrong
or how I feel is wrong."

Not knowing about all the broken mirrors --
smashed to keep them quiet
hidden to keep them silent
destroyed to keep their images erased --
the child assumed that
the truth of their heart was wrong
and the remaining mirrors were right.

One day, though, though a veiled curtain
the child had a a glimpse
of "Someone like me!"

A brief flash of someone like themselves
in a mirror

For that instant they saw
their heart might be right
the soul that they had learned to hate for deceiving them,
for leading them away from the glow and affirmation
the proper mirrors gave,
that soul might not be sick.

That possibility glowed
as the child watched others search for mirrors
in the eyes of teachers
in the eyes of lovers
in the eyes of parents.

They dreamed of that glimpse of a mirror
where they saw themselves
for a brief moment.

They tried to fit in
but longed for a place
where they were visible
where they were reflected back
in the mirrors around them.

One day, they finally went out to search
for a place where they saw themselves
and were seen by others,
mirroring each other.

They found places,
communities where people
who were kind of like them
lived and played
and they were excited!

"Look! I can make myself into one of these people
who are kind of like me
and I will finally be seen!"

As they stared into the mirror --
behind the bar
in the support group
around the neighbourhood --
they began to see how they were the same
and how they were different --
how everyone is different.

They started to experiment
with finding not just an mirror image
but finding a unique personal vision
of who they were
as an individual.

When they did that though
the people around them
started to yell.

"Hey don't do that!
You don't look like us anymore!
Our mirrors show us that we are all the same!
They  show how proud we are
of people like us!
Mirrors that show us as different --
like you --
are flawed and broken
so we get rid of them.

And once again,
now a broken mirror,
the child wandered to find a place
where a mirror existed
which could help them discover
who they were
how they were the same
how they were different
a mirror that could help them learn
how to show outside
what they felt inside.

To learn to speak who we are
takes a mirror that we can use --
use to see back what we create
use to hear back what we say
so we can focus ourselves
into a clear and powerful way.

A way where our outsides match our insides
and we don't just satisfy the expectations of others
but we satisfy our own heart
seeing it in the mirror
seeing it in the eyes of the people
around us.

I still look for those mirrors
a place where people see me
see my heart.

A reflection that helps me trust 
it's the mirrors that are sick and broken
and not my heart.

Too many mirrors are broken, though
because they never learned
how to reflect what someone else is
only to show what they were taught to expect
the images they want to see.

Broken mirrors,
denying reality,
don't change the world.

They only break hearts
which continue to beat
even when made invisible.

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