House of Mirrors
These days The Power of Direct Mirroring is led by Cathy McNally and Wendy Huntington (pictured). Here they revisit two pieces written for Shen 17 years ago, by Gary Holdgrafer and Suzanne Gobeil Partridge.
House of Mirrors
By Suzanne Gobeil Partridge. Suzanne is The Haven’s Reflexologist. This poem was first published in Shen in 2000.
I was brought up in a fishbowl
Always to be aware of what others see
And as any good student I quickly learned
That being on display didn’t mean
I was seen
So I swam around perfecting my doily image
While living my secret life behind glass.
Years went by and I became more proficient
At juggling masks on and off like a magician
And like a master of illusion
I fooled myself and became detached from reality.
From this anguish I professed I would change
No longer live in a glass bowl—instead
Introduce myself to being authentic
And in so doing I created a house of mirrors.
Mirrors that reflected concave images
Where I felt safe and began to reinvent old patterns
Patterns with a new name like ideal self,
A place where I could engage my perfectionism
And fail and then try harder.
Mirrors that were convex so that I
Appeared larger than life
Kind, beautiful, always selfless
Where I could be modest in my thank yous.
So I was brought up in a fishbowl
And I created a house of mirrors
Both, distorted realities
Thinking I could control the outcome
Yet, vacancy has no reflection.
There is another room in my house
It has potential for great things
A place where relationship is part of my mirror
My reflection there is sincere
A loving, tough honesty that shocks at times
Warms and attracts curiosity at times
This is where I feel the most alive
And closest to me.
By Gary Holdgrafer. Gary is Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta, a resident of Gabriola Island and has a long history with The Haven.
Most of us are on a personal approval-seeking mission for confirmation that the image we present is seen by others as the ideal version we are striving to construct for ourselves. We see others as mirrors to which we persist in asking “mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Direct feedback from the mirror, as in the case of Snow White’s wicked step-mother, is clearly not always highly appreciated when it is at odds with the idealized image.
Coincidentally, the mirror or other person is usually on the same approval-seeking mission and is only too happy to be held in view by another person. The reflection is a projection of the approval being sought by the mirror. The viewer naturally approves of the reflection that is projection and the mission is accomplished all around! Except, of course, for the wicked step-mother. It doesn’t seem fair if you are expecting to be the fairest and are told by a mirror that you’re not.
Approval involves attention and direct feedback involves recognition. Attention is what we get when we do something to please others. Recognition is what we get when we are seen for who we are, “warts and all” – which may have been the first clue in the recognition of the wicked step-mother. She really did not have a chance anyway. No make-over possible would have ever made her competitive with the idealized image symbolized by our snow white little lass.
Inferring from T. Rubin (in his book Compassion and Self-Hate), the creation of superlative illusions is the play of children that unfortunately becomes the very serious work of adults. Self-compassion is the prerequisite for letting go of illusions which, in turn, is necessary for recognition. Resistance to this process is far more likely. It comes in many forms that can be wicked to ourselves and to others.