Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

Very often, the person staring back at us when we look in the mirror is someone who’s been painted in our minds with the colors of personal experiences, and stroked by the brush of external opinions.
Many of us take pride in declaring we are immune from the negative perceptions of others, but are we being entirely truthful with ourselves? Since early childhood, we strongly rely on the opinion other people – mostly those we love- have of us, to help us bring our own inner image into focus. We revel in compliments which make us feel good, and cringe when others make us feel less than perfect. My daughter, for one, sees a princess every time she looks in the mirror. I’m not just saying that, mind you; she really, really does. Since birth, everybody has been telling her how sweet, pretty and good she is; in her child’s mind only princesses are sweet, pretty and good, thus, the only image of herself she can come up with is that of a princess.
We often hear of victims of abuse who see an ugly person when they stare into the mirror; in reality, some of them are really beautiful, but their broken spirit is preventing them from seeing the truth; the only image they can perceive is that of an ugly person looking back. The same can be said for individuals afflicted by eating disorders; the image staring back at them is simply a twisted reflection, deeply distorted by insecurity and fear.
The majority of the triggers which affect our self-image are planted in our minds early on; some sneak in through subliminal suggestions, but most of them are implanted, directly or indirectly, by our caregivers. We often associate goodness and worth with beauty, so if we have been made to feel not so good or unworthy we seldom see ourselves as attractive.
Once that original picture is published and stored within the archives of our mind’s screen, it is very hard to delete it and replace it with a nicer image. Even when people compliment us for our good looks, we skeptically look for excuses to undermine their opinion, and label it as non-reliable.
A simple way to replace the unwanted photo is to realize that it is possible we are seeing a distorted image. If we analyze closely the attitudes of the people who influenced us most while growing up, we will probably see that we are trying to reconfirm the image they had of us, and playing it over and over in our minds to see if they were, indeed, correct.
Our lives trickle through the limits which were imposed on us as children. By writing off some of those limits, and recognizing them for what they are - a faulty perception developed and planted by others - we can erase the board and draw a new outline. Maybe, then, the person in the mirror will finally smile back for the first time.

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