From a Funhouse of Mirrors: Finding Your Way in the World

There are two mirrors that everyone holds. One mirror is depicting of admiration and encouragement. And the other mirror is a distorted echo of judgment and critique.
8 July 2021#mental-health

A funhouse mirror is a popular attraction at fairs and playgrounds. While it’s fun for some to see themselves from a distorted view, for others these warped reflections of reality are the only way they have to see themselves. And while no one would choose to use a funhouse mirror to get ready for the day, for some, distorting mirrors is all we offer them.

Of course it’s more complicated than just the type of mirror used. A person could choose to design the lighting and perspective of an environment. This has an effect of making certain qualities appear appealing to some judgements.

While some might like this type of mirror to influence a decision, a mirror that distorts positive light is not accurate reflection either.

In child development, we use a process of emotional mirroring for children to learn how to identify their emotions and also themselves. I did not really think about how people might have mirrored me as a child and I especially never considered how people still to do it today. As a parent, I think about it all the time.

A flat plane-mirror with natural lighting is necessary as to show the size and shape of the actual object. But how does one reflect the life without distortion or judgement? Are mirrors even the right measures for objectives and guidance?

The emotional mirror.

When looking to give support, there are two mirrors that everyone holds. One mirror is depicting of admiration and encouragement. And the other mirror is a distorted echo of judgment and critique.

Either projects from a place of experiences and expectations of the observer.

For us to know what attitudes and directions fit us, everyone expects to be shown either of these mirrors from time to time. But the reflections of light or dark are proportional to the mirror that is being provided to them.

Parents do this in several verbal and nonverbal ways with their children. The role of providing a reflection is maybe the most important, since it provides the basis of how a child feels seen.

Admiration isn’t just a need to feel special. What is important in any relationship is to that the person providing the support communicates they see you.

So if we base our relationships to the world on mirrors first established by our parents, then certainly the mirrors we reflect on the world can only reflect the conditions in which each person comes to “feel” known. The fortunate come to know themselves (and thus the true nature of relationships in their lives).

The ancient oracle.

The Greek transcribed the expression “Know Thyself” on the Temple of Apollo.

Many find this to be another a reflection of how challenging the importance of self-knowledge has been to get across to humans over the years.

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Is it a stretch to assume this is the same message that came from across the world where the unified self derived from the Buddhist tradition? Not to undermine the Buddah, but surely the roots go back even further into the origins of human history. I can imagine a time that predates any form of recent civilization, to where these intellectual abilities are starting to first develop.

It was probably only those who could come to grasp with the self that is underpinned by the new tool set who could survive. And being driven by your unconscious is no way to survive. For many, the role of the parent guides them throughout their whole life. But as we mature and build emotional regulation,

For collective human to see it for what it is, they must examine themselves. It is the only way for us to survive. But to this we must hold the mirror in a way the reflects what is real.

It’s not enough just to say “I see you” and it’s counter-productive o say “I see you and you are flawed”. The proverbial child needs is for the parent to say “I see you—and you are real”.

What happens in any relationship- with the self, with a spouse, with a philosophy in the world- is when anyone does not see or hear certain behaviors and qualities, they cannot develop. The reflection, regardless of the positive of negative, needs to be accurate. Otherwise, without these qualities being mirrored, they might as well be invisible.

The suggested direction.

To see ourselves accurately, we must use something outside of ourselves. But is a mirror the right tool?

Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge. - Carl Jung

By focusing on distortions in the mirror, we leave one to rechecking the mirror looking for the need for accurate reflection to be satisfied.

When an individual's need for accuracy is not met; when a supporter cannot see ongoing attempts to feel seen by a person—or when a person does not “feel” we have understood them—the self gives up.

For the more emotionally sensitive parts of us, they believe they are not real.

Even if you attempt to apply a balance between these two reflections, the distorted mirror never meets the need. It does no good to keep the view.

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So for the relationship, it’s better to work as a compass than a mirror. A compass reflects only the truth. Even if a compass can still lead us astray. Our internal magnetic compass can also distort and feedback can pull ourselves into other directions. But demagnetized needle is easy to repair. Which is why it’s much better to rely on two compasses than it is to rely on one compass. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about your relationship to a parent, a child, a spouse, or friends.

Instead of adopting reflections and following the default directions conclusions forces us to follow, a healthy relationship helps us not only find our way, but think with accuracy.