18th Century German Mirror, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession No. 1990.329), Author/Source https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/207941 (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)
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 . 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 . 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).
 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/.
 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.
Originally posted 2/21/16
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