Within your subconscious mind there is a mental mirror that helps you to reflect on who and how you are as a person. This mirror’s purpose is to help you examine yourself so that you have some idea how you are seen by others, which then helps guide you toward the best way to fit into the social fabric of your world. But can you trust that your mind’s mirror is giving you an honest reflection of yourself?
The truth about our mind’s mirrors is that they are full of distortions, just like those warped mirrors at the carnival that make your body look extra fat, skinny, or like some alien from outer space. And just as we know that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, what we see in our mind’s mirrors is subjective too. So we need to clear mirrors in order to have healthy self esteem and healthy relationships.
These are the three most common ways that our minds’ mirrors distort how we see ourselves:
- We exaggerate what is positive about ourselves and obscure those things that are negative
- We exaggerate what is negative about ourselves and obscure those things that are positive.
- We confuse our mirrors for windows, causing us to mistakenly believe that the negative images we see are about others when those images are actually reflections of our own negatives (a psychological phenomenon known as projection).
Each of these distortions have consequences for how we see ourselves, how we see others, how others see us, and how we relate to one another. Ultimately these distortions do us disservice because they are not providing the guidance of truth. It’s like trying to navigate a forest with a faulty compass.
For the sake of our emotional and relationship health we need to have clear mirrors that provide us with accurate reflections. But scrutinizing our minds’ mirrors can be scary because there are inevitably unhealthy trees in even the healthiest of forests.
There are two primary causes of distortion in our minds’ mirrors. The first is the influence of toxic judgments. Being harshly judged by others and by ourselves threatens our sense of identity with guilt, shame, and humiliation. These are painful and destructive emotions that distort our mirrors so that the distortions either serve as defense mechanisms or else are the consequence of inadequate defense mechanisms.
The crudest way for a subconscious mirror to protect us is when the distortions only reflect back positive images while the negative images are projected onto others. Psychologists refer to this combination of defense mechanisms as denial and projection, and they are what narcissists rely on to feel superior to others and above all criticism and/or blame. These distortions can be so powerful that the partners of narcissists often fall prey to the illusion that all the positives belong to the narcissist and all the negatives belong to themselves. This is a clear example of how distortions in two people’s mirrors can result in a highly toxic and dysfunctional relationship.
The second major cause of distortion in our minds’ mirrors comes from our egos. Our egos’ job is to burnish our images as much as possible for the sake of maximizing our social status. In doing so our egos fuel competitive social comparisons that result in distorted perceptions of superiority or inferiority. People who regard themselves as superior are frequently oblivious to the ways their offensive arrogance makes them unlikable. People whose distortions make them feel inferior or inadequate suffer damage to their self esteem and often tolerate others treating them unkindly.
Clearing your mind’s mirror from the distortions of judgment and ego is entirely possible and can be accomplished with or without therapy. Guidance for clearing the distortions of judgment can be found here, and for clearing the distortions of your ego here. Doing so will improve your self esteem, help you become less judgmental of yourself and others, and ultimately improve the quality of your relationships.
Mirror, mirror in my mind, help me be more clear and kind.