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. Goodbye." 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.