Thursday, June 27, 2013

Life in a House of Mirrors

There are three things I remember about my one and only visit to a world's fair:  the revolving restaurant at the top of a tower, bumper cars and the fun house.  After tiring of the long lines at the first two attractions and in an attempt to escape the oppressive heat of a South Texas summer day, I wandered into the fun house.  It was full of mirrors that reflected my image in a distorted way--in one I was short and fat, in another tall and lean; one reflected a nose that dominated my face, in another I had no nose at all; in one mirror I was far away, in another I was up close and personal.  And many years later, it occurs to me that much of life is often spent in front of funny mirrors; our internal world is often a house of mirrors and we do not realize that the reflections they are providing are distorted and manipulated and do not reflect reality at all.

Fun mirrors make small things larger, large things smaller, distort and contort and make the grotesque appear normal. According to Dr. Patrick Carnes, "Betrayal and exploitation are like being in the fun house.  It makes the abnormal and the grotesque appear normal.  Trauma distorts our perceptions just as sure as the mirrors in the fun house." (Betrayal Bonds, p. 199)  But it seems to me that the vulnerabilities that make it difficult to resist those internal fun house mirrors are created quite early in life.  Even in healthy, fully functional families, shame thrives and children are inevitably wounded.  A child is always less than their parent developmentally so shame is birthed quite innocently, amplified culturally and fully operational before a child enters pre-school.

Our internal house of mirrors has shiny surfaces that distort our view of self in relationship to others and the world.  They may include:
  • Mirrors that reflect abusive treatment as normal.
  • Mirrors that scream "not enough!"
  • Mirrors that assure us we are the center of the universe (narcissism)
  • Mirrors that convince us that our worth is found in what we do for others (codependency)
  • Mirrors that distort trauma, betrayal and exploitation so that they appear to be our fault.
  • Mirrors that persuade us that _______ isn't so bad (abuse, betrayal, exploitation, maltreatment, toxic relationships) by employing denial and minimization.
  • Mirrors that convince us that we are bad and somehow responsible for whatever is happening that is painful but absolutely not responsible for whatever is good.  These "mirrors" rely on shame, blame, internalization and magnification to distort our inner reality.
My almost 8-month-old granddaughter has discovered mirrors and absolutely loves to stand in front
of one and play with the baby she sees.  She laughs as she pats the mirror because the baby in the glass pats back. She has learned to talk to my image in the mirror but then to turn her head and look at me directly as she pats my shoulder.  I would love to know how her fertile and imaginative brain is processing the mystery of mirrors and the images that she is seeing.  My hope for her is that her internal mirrors will not become too distorted as she grows and matures.  My promise to her is to be a mirror that reflects back love, acceptance and value to her, especially when she grows critical of the image she sees in her mirror.  Mirrors that reflect distorted and manipulated images belong in a fun house, not in our internal home.

But, if I am to be a positive influence on my sweet Gracie--if I am to be a true mirror for her--I must continue to dismantle and destroy the distorted mirrors in my own internal home.  My favorite shame researcher, Dr. Brene Brown, recently stated that for her, God is a divine reminder of her inherent worthiness.  I love that idea!  My worthiness has never gone missing; I am loved unconditionally and lavishly and I am learning to live loved.  As I continue to learn this important life lesson, I will communicate it to my children and grandchildren by my attitude and actions--by my example more than by my words. So,  I've packed my bags and am moving out of the fun house.

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