“Girl before a Mirror” by Pablo Picasso (1932), (Fair Use)

In this political season, there is a great deal of emphasis on image. Candidates craft their images with care, choosing just the right setting, just the right music, just the right wording for political ads, campaign photos, and sound bites.

These carefully crafted images are not necessarily a true reflection of the candidate’s character – more like a carnival house of mirrors, with everything distorted.

What about the images abuse victims have of themselves? How accurate are those?

One crucial distinction between the images politicians design for themselves, and those abuse victims carry over from childhood, is that victims do not get to choose their images. In large part, those are crafted by the adults around them.

However, when the mirror is cracked, twisted, and deformed, so is the image reflected in it.

Children see themselves reflected in their parents’ eyes. More than that, they see themselves mirrored in the actions their parents take toward them.

A good parent will make frequent eye contact with a young child, responding to the child’s physical and emotional needs [1].  That includes applauding the child’s efforts.  In this way, the foundation is laid for a strong psyche, and a positive self-image.

But children assume adults can see through to their souls.

When children are neglected, they believe themselves unworthy of attention.  When children are emotionally or physically abused, they believe themselves defective.  When children are sexually abused, they believe themselves unclean.

Breaking away from this early experience can be enormously difficult.  And the way we see ourselves matters.

We live down to expectations as readily as up to them.  We can self-sabotage or strive with every fiber to achieve our goals [2].  We can choose abusive partners who remind us of our past, or safe ones who will care for and cherish us.

Most of us know we would be foolish to take the images in political ads at face value.  The same applies to the image we have of ourselves, as a legacy of abuse.  The thing to do is find a better mirror.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16: 7).

[1] Patricia Cogen, MA, EdD – Individual and Family Therapist/Child Development Specialist, “Eye Contact between Parents and Children: A Calming Connection between Two Brains” by Patty Cogen, MA, EdD, 2000, http://www.pattycogenparenting.com/a-guide-to-articles/eye-contact-between-parents-and-children-a-calming-connection-between-two-brains/.

[2] This is not to suggest that abuse victims cause their own problems or can overcome the often devastating scars of abuse simply by deciding to do so.






Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Politics, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

11 responses to “Mirrors

  1. You have the politicians sown up well, but we all polish our own image, for ourselves and to impress others. Advertising is all about image and all around us is a reflected world polished for our daily consumption. Innocent children soon learn the art of image polishing from us skillful adults , and the art of deception is passed down the generations.

    • There is alot of truth to that. We often hide our “true selves” for fear of being hurt or rejected. Thank you for contributing to the conversation.

      • Also we may well find some of our feelings unpleasent to contemplate.
        Freud had this id summed up in his system. We are not what we would like to be. I’m often ashamed of myself there are things about me that are far from nice.

      • You’re right that none of us is perfect. It can be hard coming to terms with that. The amazing thing is that God loves us just as we are — faults and all. ❤

  2. Dear Anna,

    You wrote, “Breaking away from this early experience can be enormously difficult. And the way we see ourselves matters. We live down to expectations as readily as up to them. We can self-sabotage or strive with every fiber to achieve our goals. We can choose abusive partners who remind us of our past, or safe ones who will care for and cherish us.”

    Yes, breaking away from our self-imposed expectations, especially if we have been abused by those close to us, be it a parent or even a boy/girl friend or spouse, can leave us with a mindset of what we think we deserve. So, we finally meet a person who treats us with loving kindness and what do we do? We start sabotaging the relationship. Subliminally we say to ourselves, “I do not deserve to be loved like this!” And we start acting in such a way as to destroy their love and kindness for us so that they DO live up to our expectations. This can be so strong that if this ploy fails, we finally leave the one who unconditionally loves us and find one who lives up to our expectations. I know this practice of relational sabotage quite well. I have seen it in others that I love and in myself as well. God help us.

    • Sometimes though we get it right, Michael. I believe that change is possible, even if it is often slow. Awareness gives us better control over the choices we make.

      This is such an imperfect world. We make mistakes. We hurt one another, whether we were abused in the past or not. But God is there to catch us when we fall. He knows every detail of our story. And He forgives us. We have to learn to forgive ourselves.

      Your friend,

      A. ❤

  3. nessa3

    Simply by deciding to do so?
    There is no simple, in it.
    If you have had pounded in you as a child ,negative words…there is no easy fix.even knowing whats going on…its still a difficult task to ignore the tape running in your head and replace it with positive.

    • I am sorry if anything I said suggested that breaking the chains of the past is an easy task for abuse victims. That was the furthest thing from my mind. But the task begins with a decision to change our actions — to respond differently to the message pounded into our heads, while we work to replace that message with something positive and encouraging. We owe no loyalty to the past or to those who put our chains in place. They had no special knowledge about us, no magical power to foretell our future. In fact, the image they left us with is a distorted one. Recognizing that is a step on the long road to healing.

  4. Great post. I love what you say about politicians and their “house of mirrors.” If voters knew what they were really like behind the scenes, they might change their vote.

    “Let me pass on to you the one thing I’ve learned about this place. No one here is exactly what he appears.” G’Kar, Babylon 5

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.