In an ideal world, when we’re born, our caregivers are emotionally whole. They care for us with attentiveness, responsiveness and nurturing. They make sacrifices for us when necessary. As we become aware of ourselves as separate from our caregivers, they reflect our image back to us, they show us who we are and who we can be.
Ideally, our caregivers reflect a whole, loved, unconditionally accepted and valued child.
But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes our caregivers are so mired in their own emotional dysfunction that they can’t give us back a healthy image. So they give us back a broken one. Sometimes they reflect a shattered one.
There are many ways we understand ourselves to be broken when we see ourselves in a broken mirror. We may decide that we’re not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough or lovable enough.
This broken image and the beliefs we develop because of it become a part of our inner dialogue. We’re often minimally aware of this “self talk” but it’s impact is profound. We surround ourselves with people and experiences that reinforce the broken image with which we have become so familiar. We come to believe we are the broken image. It’s not that we like feeling broken, but it’s all that we know and we stay in spite of the pain because we cannot see another way for ourselves.
So how can you fix the mirror?
Become aware of your mistaken beliefs. Fold a sheet of paper in half. On one side list the messages you received about yourself as a child, spoken and unspoken. On the other side, write the truth about each of these messages. Were they projected onto you by a caregiver? Were they unfair? How have they affected your perception of yourself as an adult? How have they influenced your life?
Determine who you surround yourself with. Are they the people who see the good in you, appreciate you for who you are? Or are they the people who reflect the broken image.
Tune in to your self talk. What do you say to yourself when things are hard? When you’re frustrated? When you need help? These are often important insights into what we believe about ourselves and the messages we received as children.
Consider counseling. A good therapist can provide a healthy mirror and help you gain insight into the messages you received as a child. Once you understand what you believe, you are free to decide what you’ll keep and what no longer serve you. You are free to create new beliefs about yourself and your role in the world.