The Mirrors of My Mind

Reflection by *79Silver CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 deviantART
Reflection by *79Silver
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 deviantART

I remember as a child being quite captivated by a  poem I found on a bookmark.  It was Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte.  The poem begins:

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn . . .
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight . . .

It goes on to talk about positive things also.  You can read the entire poem here.

I have been thinking about a version of this recently.  Sometimes I feel that our society gives mixed messages.  On one hand we talk about how important childhood is, as this poem portrays.  And yet on the other hand, when you are struggling as an adult due to things that happened in your childhood some well-meaning people will tell you “don’t dwell on the past” or “just let it go”.

Some things cannot simply be let go, but they have to be worked through.  Sometimes our mental software needs re-writing.  Lately I think of it as a mirror.  One of my favorite books is  Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson.  It is a fascinating story of a girl from our world who is swept into another world where mirrors do not reflect, but show scenes from other worlds.  Scenes of things that someone with the right skills can bring forward, sometimes with horrifying consequences.

This is a great analogy of how our minds work.  When a child is raised in a warm and loving home, they develop a mirror in their mind that reflects realty (as much as people can, everyone has blind spots after all).  But when a child lives with fear, even terror, with isolation and loneliness instead of love, their mind forms a mirror that does not reflect reality, but scenes from the past sometimes with horrifying consequences.

Another way to understand this is to think of PTSD and triggers.  A stereotypical example would be a soldier who hears a car backfire and hits the ground because the skewed mirror in his mind tells him it is a bomb going off.   In this scenario, the soldier’s mind is not presenting him a reflection that is true.  War, childhood abuse, rape and other traumas can skew our internal mirrors.

Fortunately, these skewed mirrors can be repaired.  The mind can heal.  During dark times, survivors may wonder if healing really is possible.  Yes.  Yes, absolutely.   Consider these hopeful words from Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood.

“For more than thirty years, Dr. Richard Mollica of Harvard Medical School has treated refugees traumatized by war, violence, and torture.  His travels have taken him to the darkest places on earth, including the killing fields of Cambodia, the massacres of Bosnia, the genocide of Rwanda, and the ruins of the World Trade Center.  Dr. Mollica and his colleagues at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma have counseled more than ten thousand survivors of unfathomable brutality.  He has helped patients who are physically paralyzed because of their psychological damage.  He has worked with women who literally cannot see because of their emotional anguish, a condition called hysterical blindness.  In all his encounters, he insists that he has never met a person without the capacity to overcome suffering.  “Never a hopeless patient,” he says adamantly.  “Never.. And I don’t say this lightly.”

The mirrors of our minds can be reformed.  There is always hope.

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  1. Your blog came just at a time when I was contemplating what i actually see when I look into a mirror. I know that what I see is different than what is actually there, or what another might see. Our pasts have impact on the presents we see. Hopefully, as the problems with abuse are resolved, or are made better, when we look in a mirror, we will see past, present and future come into focus and merge.

  2. This blog will give several people one more spoonful of hope. The real mirror is Heavenly Father and His Anointed One but they seem so hard to get to and so hard to trust. In them is Hope. I think many of Grimm’s (appropriate name, no) fairy tales were designed as early counseling sessions. And merge is an excellent word, Mary Sue.

  3. Leslie,
    Thank you so much for this (btw, loved The Mirror of Her Dreams, although its been ages!). I am back doing some very difficult work in therapy, finally digging into my body/weight issues which is turning out to be all about some very deeply embedded shame. The distortions in my perceptions are so strong that I am feeling at a loss to know what is really true (my poor therapist!). And experiencing the shame has been so overwhelming and painful that I have been questioning more deeply than I ever have, if I truly have the strength to face this and heal. This was a sorely needed reminder of hope.


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