|| Looking Into The Mirror
by Teresa Joyce, NAASCA representative in the United Kingdom
Looking into the mirror. It's something we do every morning .. almost without thinking.
We brush our hair, we adjust our clothing, we question ourselves as to how we look. So, we would be right in thinking that this daily ritual should not need much thought because we are on automatic pilot. But for some, that could never be further away from the truth. We all stand in front of the mirror and judge ourselves – it's human nature.
There are mornings when the image looking back at us clearly shows that maybe last night's “one more drink” was a mistake. We know that we will suffer from the after-effects of the alcohol and that very late night throughout the day. As we stare back at our reflection, it leaves us with little doubt. We all find fault within our image and there is always something that we would like to change, if only that were possible. The image we see reflected at us can be very different from how others perceive us.
We see it differently because self-recognition is not always clear. In truth, we are our greatest critic.
Fear of the mirror is generally known as catoptrophobia. It's an all-consuming fear of reflection and, at its worst, can even cause the arrival of an apparition, which can alter with every glance. Written within those books of infinite knowledge, it is stated that it's an abnormal and persistent fear, which creates such extreme anxiety that those affected become completely terrified. This phobia can often be caused by a life-changing traumatic event, and child abuse, to my mind, sits at the top of that list. The trauma created within child abuse is eminent and on a scale that, in all truth, is unimaginable. That mirror, for some, seems to reflect with such gravity the abuse that still resides within. We can't try to make any sense of the whys or wherefores because it can never be explained. Quite simply, it's unexplainable, even to myself after many years on my journey. It still sits within me and it's true to say that we crossed swords for so many years. It's still recognised within and somewhat war-weary. But today, fortunately, we have been able to somewhat call a truce. But make no mistake, the mirror is a formidable opponent.
So, if looking into that mirror creates such unmanageable fear then clearly, in all sense, it needs to be avoided at all cost, right?
When we're reminded repeatedly that the abuse we were receiving as a child was a punishment, well, mud sticks, even if we have no idea of the wrong deed. We are a bad seed, this was self-induced, quite simply, we are the devil's spawn. How can that image, when reflected towards an abuse survivor, not be seen as bad or evil? So many adult child abuse survivors still believe that we had input, and by doing so we create within this dark image which is viewed with such revulsion. When our image is feared, there is nowhere to run.
Negative thoughts within our self or others are stored in the brain by the amygdala; we each have one on either side of our brain. Among other things, the amygdala is responsible for the brain's flight or fight stressors; it's where our survival instinct resides. When that stressor is induced, calling for either flight or fight from the one thing we can't leave behind i.e. our image, where can we go?
The image seen and reflected creates such bitterness, life becomes somewhat purposeless, and the pain felt towards our abuse is further prolonged. Our reflection towards the abuse becomes somewhat contorted – if we can stand there long enough in which to look. Within those feelings of disgust and revolution towards the abuse, we rightly feel somewhat stuck. We come to believe that, no matter how we try, we will never be able to outrun the mirror. Rooms are walked with the avoidance of those mirrors and shrouds are placed either physically or mentally at all times upon that mirror. A reflection within a shop window can create that feeling of revulsion and disapproval, Why? The answer is very simple: somehow, we still believe what is so very wrong, that within that reflection the devil still resides.
Changing rooms within department stores are surrounded by mirrors and the thought of using one is terrifying. To enhance or expose more than our facial image is a complete “no go” area. Because surely, everyone around us will then be able to see the abuse that we feel is emitting from every pore. The answer must be to take it home, to begin the ritual of identifying correct clothing sizing in a mirrorless room of our choosing, even if that means returning the item tomorrow. It's the only way in which to avoid that mirror.
The camera has to be avoided at all cost because the fear of being looked at and that image recorded by others is unthinkable. That image will be scrutinized and the devil within will surely be recognised. We just can't let that happen so we avoid any situation of being asked to smile for the camera. At times even the sight of that camera is enough to bring on a cold sweat, and so begins the mental arithmetic of scanning the room to avoid. The mental exertion needed within that avoidance leaves us feeling completely exhausted. Sadly, it may take many years in which to be able to address this issue fully.
Body image and that mirror can be a real concern for an adult child abuse survivor, simply because our body and its function as children was so completely messed up. We grew up with the feeling that our body is somehow dirty, a stain, that no matter how we try, it can never be washed away. Undressing in front of a loved one can also be feared; intimacy is only ever conducted when the lights are firmly in the off position. The thought of mirrored wardrobes within the bedroom would incite sheer panic, we would never feel comfortable with their installation. That reflection which is seen by us alone has been judged internally and it has to stay hidden, even from the ones that we love, which can be very difficult for a loved one to understand.
It's not difficult to understand why this poor body image and terrifying reflection will never be considered a friend. A singular thought seems to grip our very soul: that, no matter what, our body is tarnished. Coupled with the overwhelming emotion that was wrongly placed within, that secret is a huge and cruel burden for any child to carry. Child abuse of an innocent can never be altered, only survived. What was taken can never be given back; those memories deep within are there to stay. On becoming a child abuse surviving adult, we must feel that our life is beyond shattered. But if we are ever to believe that our soul still resides within, then we need to remember that the soul is imageless. But that's a huge leap of faith and a mountain in which to climb whilst seemingly blindfolded.
For another to take an innocent and place us within such self-hate is beyond any words, it would seem at this moment, we possess. Many words can be used, but there are none possible that can adequately describe child abuse. All us children come into this world with little more than blind faith that we will be cared for. A recognition, which was founded within the womb whilst being carried throughout those nine months. How could we know just what awaits us? So many children suffer within child abuse (and the actual figure is astounding), which then leaves us as adult survivors in the fight of our life. When we have an intense dislike of our self it's difficult to feel that we can succeed in winning that fight and to trust that others won't judge us in our efforts.
Our worth has been so tragically diminished, it's difficult to stay focused as we walk towards the future on a new path of trust. The truth has left us so far behind that self-questioning is inevitable, and that first movement upon the road to recovery will take time to achieve. Self-love is not simply a state of feeling good for an adult child abuse survivor, it's in finding the self-appreciation of any movement made, however small. In truth, the more we learn to love that reflection in that mirror, the less of that self-hate we will inevitably tolerate. With that comes self-recognition that nothing was given, it was always taken. We can never be anything other than ourselves, and so it's by trial and error that we learn to gingerly cradle our soul. By recognising who we are and not how we were made, we will bring that understanding of the truth. Finally, it will be seen. It was never our mistakes, choices or bad deeds. It was the invasion of a new soul that did not have the resources in which to fight back.
Self-love is the foundation of everything and every one of us has access, if only we dared to look.