On my blog entry entitled Issues with Body Image after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following question:
The mirror thing, that happens to me often too; it started around 2 years ago, which I think is around the time I started remembering abuse. I was always scared when I woke up and looked in the mirror, and didn’t know who was looking back at me. Is this (not recognizing yourself sometimes in the mirror) a common thing with child abuse survivors, anbody? ~ Janet
It is common for survivors of child abuse to struggle with looking in the mirror. There are many different reasons and many different reactions.
For example, a woman abused by her mother or a man abused by his father often struggles with looking in the mirror because, instead of seeing their own reflection, they see their abuser looking back at them. This is particularly a problem for any child abuse survivor who objectively physically resembles the abuser. I am grateful that I resemble my father’s side of the family since my mother was the abuser. However, as I get older, I physically resemble my paternal grandmother more and more, which is jarring. I will sometimes see her in the mirror instead of myself.
Also, anyone with dissociative identity disorder (DID) or other dissociative states can be taken aback when a child part looks in the mirror and sees an adult woman or man looking back in the reflection. Because that part of yourself is still “stuck” at age 6 or whatever, seeing an adult face in the mirror can be very disconcerting.
Another issue I have with looking in the mirror is when I can read the emotions in my eyes. I am quite skilled at “masking” my emotions from having to do it throughout my childhood. I remember when my mother-in-law really hurt me, and I could feel the “ice” breaking inside of my head and heart. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and was startled by the raw pain reflected in the glass. I reacted in anger, forcing myself to look into those wounded eyes and remember why I can never, never, never trust a mother figure again.
I have friends who are also child abuse survivors who simply cannot look in a mirror. They own small mirrors so they can view one part of their faces at a time for applying makeup, but they never, ever look into a full mirror. One friend won’t even sit at a table near a mirror at a restaurant because she is so freaked out by her reflection. They have the same reactions to having their pictures taken.
Photo credit: Hekatekris