Have you ever been to the midway and gone through the house of mirrors? I haven’t gone into a house of mirrors, but I do remember an experience that I had as an 18-year-old. I was working for my father in a hardware store and was in Calgary attending a product promotional meeting. The meeting was close to the GSL car dealership and during one of the breaks I walked over to look at the new cars. My eyes were riveted on a sleek Oldsmobile convertible. I sat in the driver’s seat, looked over at the mirrored wall, and saw a successful businessman—the proud owner of this lovely car.
Several years later I had my own counseling practise. In the office where I counselled people there was a full-length mirror on the door. When it seemed appropriate, I would have people stand in front of the mirror and describe what they saw. For most of my patients, that was a painful experience. For many, the first response was to look at the floor. When they finally looked at themselves, their words were revealing.
People look into the mirror of value and see the word worthless; the mirror of success and see the word failure; the mirror of intelligence and see the word stupid; the mirror of competence and see the word inadequate; the mirror of acceptance and see the word rejected; the mirror of confidence and see the word insecure; the mirror of comparison and see the word inferior; the mirror of performance and see the words not good enough; the mirror of sufficiency and see the words not enough.
A pastor looked into the mirror of competence and saw himself as a new Corvette that was missing an engine and transmission. He looked like the real thing but inside felt empty and inadequate. His great fear: someday people would discover that the exterior form was not a true representation of the emptiness within.
A very successful man was second only to the owner of the company. He had risen to a very enviable position. Not long after his final advancement he developed a fear of bridges. The only way he could reach his place of employment was by crossing a bridge. His reaction became so intense that he just could not cross the bridge. This man looked into the mirror of success and saw failure. His father had repeatedly told him that he would not amount to anything. Regardless of accumulated success, he was haunted by the fear that he would be proven a failure.
Allow me one more illustration. This man looked into the mirror of value and saw a worthless person. When he was a young boy, his father called him a “little s#*%.” Deep inside a program played telling him he was nothing more than human waste to be flushed away. After 30 years of very successful work in his chosen career, he was caught in a police sting operation and charged with soliciting the services of a prostitute. His internal program finally convinced him to “flush the toilet.”
We have heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That is just not true. The labels people paste on us can be more damaging than a stick or a stone. So how do we break the power of words that have implanted in us?
There is not a “one size fits all” answer to that question. However, here are a few suggestions to help.
- Write out the negative things that were spoken to you, or about you as a child: by parents, siblings, friends, teachers or other significant people.
- What negative thoughts come to your mind when: something goes wrong; you fail at something; you answer incorrectly; you break something; there is an unforeseen glitch in your plan; you forget something; you disappoint someone; you fail to live up to an expectation of yourself; or, what you had hoped for fails to come to pass?
- Compare the negative thoughts of your mind with the negative things that were spoken to/about you. When this is done, people often find there is a direct correlation between what was spoken to/ about them and the negative thoughts in their mind.
- Recognize that you have given people the power to define who you are. Their opinion/evaluation does not establish the truth of who you are. When we accept the label that people paste on us, we give them the right to be “god” over us.
- Reaffirm that behavior does not define the value of who you are. Your actions may reflect poor, or wrong choices, but they are not indices of your value. Personally, I believe value is defined by the God who created us.
- Go back to the list of those who spoke negative words over you. Forgive each of them and affirm that the value of who you are cannot be defined or diminished by the words that were spoken.
Now, get the hammer of truth, smash the mirrors, and don’t let “all the king’s men” try to put them back together again.