Get a Better Mirror
David Spero, RN
Adapted from the book "The
Art of Getting Well: Five Steps to Maximizing Health When You
Have a Chronic Illness". © 2002 Hunter House Publishing.
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Remember those circus fun-houses
with the monsters and the distorting mirrors? Those mirrors
twisted our view of anything we put in front of them. They made
us look tall or short or fat or thin, and it was fun because we
knew it was a trick.
But many of us have these distorting
mirrors in our heads, and they aren’t fun at all, because we
think the images they show us are real. Our internal mirrors
are distorted thoughts that twist our view of ourselves and of
everything we see. If your internal thought-mirror makes you
look fat, you will always look fat. It doesn’t matter how much
weight you lose, or how many people tell you how good you look.
You will still be fat in that mirror.
If, like many of us with chronic illness,
you have a mirror that shows you as a useless cripple, it won’t
matter how much you do, or how important people say you are to
them, or how much they love you. In your thought-mirror, you
will still look like a useless cripple.
Where do these mirrors come from? We get them from what we were told by parents, teachers, peers,
and media images, and from ideas we picked up about ourselves as
children. Maybe it was somebody else’s birthday, and they were
getting all the attention, and we decided it must be because we
weren’t good enough to deserve the attention. Or maybe our
parents used to tell us how bad we were, instead of how much
they loved us.
Sometimes society has a distorting
mirror and pushes
on us, and we keep it. This happens a lot, especially with minority
groups or people who act or look differently than the norm in
any way, like people who are disabled.
These distorted thought mirrors can damage
our health and happiness. We’ll be less likely to take care of
ourselves and more likely to act self-destructively if we feel
we are hopelessly flawed or wounded. Even our internal healing
systems won’t work as well if we’re constantly stressed with
How can we get a better mirror? First we
have to find and identify our distorted thoughts. What thought
keeps reflexively running through our head? (“I’m ugly”… “I’m
lazy” or whatever.) Then we can test it for accuracy. If the
thought is “I’m useless,” is it true we NEVER do ANYTHING
useful? Probably not. If we can disprove the negative thought
– and it’s OK to ask a friend for help with this – we can
replace it with something more accurate like, “I do as much as I
can, and that is all anyone can do.” (It’s more than a lot of
people do!) We might also ask ourselves if having the
distorted mirror gives us any benefits. For example, “I’m ugly”
is a painful (and distorted) thought, but it might serve to
explain everything that has gone wrong in our lives, so we don’t
have to try to change anything else.
We can decide to get better mirrors.
Moving the new ones in and the old ones out will take some work,
and you may want to get some help from a cognitive-behavioral
therapist who specializes in this kind of work. You can also
use a self-help program like the one in my book. Don’t forget to ask for help from
family and anyone else who cares about you. Tell the fun-house
goodbye. You can see much more clearly out in the sunshine.
Some good books on cognitive
Mind over Mood
by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky (Guilford 1995)
The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns
Adapted from David Spero's book,
Art of Getting Well," available online at Amazon.com
House as well as fine
bookstores. David is a nurse with multiple sclerosis, who counsels
and coaches people with all types of chronic conditions. Learn
to overcome barriers to self-care and gain more health and quality
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