On the day after I was left, I looked in the mirror. I saw a woman who had been discarded. Thoughtlessly thrown away like some worn-out or unfashionable sneakers. Good enough to be walked on, but no longer deemed worthy of the necessary closet space.
Some days when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who wasn’t good enough. As though looking at a negative, I saw myself for what I was lacking rather than for what I possessed. “No wonder I’ve been abandoned,” I thought, “I’m obviously lacking.”
Other days, the reflection in the mirror seemed too loud, garish even. Fearing that my riotous reflection would clash with others, I pulled back, pulled in. I turned down my volume in an attempt to evade rejection.
We all have a particular reflection that we’re prone to glimpsing when we look in the mirror –
“I’m a piece of shit.”
“I’m only valued for …”
“I’m too much.”
“I’m a coward.”
Words that were spoken to us in childhood by trusted adults or inferred by internalizing and personalizing the actions of those around us.
And without our conscious awareness, that reflection becomes the lens through which everything else is filtered.
I first became aware of my self-reflection in the early days of my relationship with my now-husband. He would get angry about something (which was a new experience for me to navigate since my ex carefully tucked away any ire) and I would begin to panic.
Not because of the words that were said.
But because of the words that I heard.
It’s not what the words say. It’s what the words say to you.
If you believe that you’re worthless, a slight criticism becomes confirmation of your inferiority.
When you see yourself as a piece of shit, the slightest mistake that hurts another becomes evidence that you’re a jerk.
If you’re convinced that you’re only valued for your looks, a passing comment on your appearance supports the belief that people only care about your physical presentation.
Each remark – whether it be positive, negative or neutral – is heard within the context of our beliefs about ourselves.
We assume that others are seeing the same version of us that we see in our own reflection.
Have you ever had someone compliment you on your courage or strength in a moment where inside you were feeling scared and weak? It can be challenging for us to comprehend that how we feel inside is often not how we present ourselves to the world and that others may have a very different view of us than we do.
When it comes to ourselves, we hear what we believe.
In my case, if somebody insults my responsibility or work ethic, I can easily shrug it off. Those are character faults that are in no way present in my own self-image, so it is simple to see those barbs as poorly aimed and meaningless barbs. But if someone says something that matches the reflection of the worthless woman in the mirror? That hits close to home and can even become part of the portrait reflected back at me.
No matter how much the people around you change, what you hear won’t change until your own self-reflection does.
Here’s the hard part – you can change the people you surround yourself with. You can set and uphold boundaries about what sort of commentary about yourself you will permit. But as long as you still identify with that negative reflection, who will continue to hear the words that confirm your self-belief.
If you want to change how others treat you, it starts with changing how you see yourself.