For me, the hardest thing to do when I am disgusted with myself is to look in the mirror. The whole idea of coming face-to-face with myself throws me right back to whatever the incident was that made me so upset with myself. I don’t even have to be upset to feel this way. I have days when I feel very lonely and isolated, days when I feel like no one will ever get me or fully understand me. On those days, I don’t have a problem with how other people see me but with how I see myself.
The reflection in the mirror is all wrong and distorted, like the fun house mirrors on the fifth floor of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. When you stand in front of one of these mirrors, you look super tall and skinny, and when you move to another, you look very short and fat. No matter where you look, you can never get a true reflection of yourself because the mirror won’t allow it. What I need is a new mirror.
That’s where a real friend comes in.
I cannot reconnect with myself on my own. I need a friend to come along and pull the fun house mirror out of my hand and hold up a true mirror that shows the real me. Even then, I have trouble seeing me, but a friend will not let me look away. “This is who you really are,” they keep saying over and over until I finally get it.
When I feel worthless, a friend reminds me that I have value. When I feel isolated, a friend pulls me back in and tells me I matter. When I am overwhelmed with guilt over past mistakes, a friend reminds me that grace is available to give me a second chance. I’ve even had friends come to me with a mirror that showed the ugliness I needed to deal with when all I wanted to do was gaze in a magic mirror that told me how great I was. They told me I was wrong when no one else would. Those weren’t easy words to hear. At first I fought back and tried to deny what they said, but my friends wouldn’t put the mirror down until I saw the truth for myself. Man, those days were so hard but so necessary.
The only way any of us can fully reconnect with ourselves is to surround ourselves with friends who know us well enough and are brutally honest enough to never let us forget who we really are.
The hardest part of that last statement comes from the fact that, when we are disconnected from ourselves, we aren’t sure who we are. Instead, we hide behind masks, projecting an image of what we hope to be — an image we want others to believe. And if that’s true, then this has to be the most disconnected time in human history because masks form a major part of our culture.
Unconvinced? Stop reading for a moment and start scrolling through Instagram feeds. What do you see? You see everyone at their best. Their vacation pics show the dream vacation, the kind you know you’ll never get to take. Their date photos show the perfect meal at the perfect restaurant with the perfect little touches like flowers and cards placed there by the perfect guy or gal. I know this is what people do because I do it! I don’t post my disaster trips on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. I don’t post videos of me losing my cool with slow service at a restaurant or me getting angry because the airline lost my luggage. Maybe some people do, but I think most of us only show our best because that’s the image we want to project. We only want others to see our best, even when our best is not who we are. And that’s been true of human beings long before social media was ever invented.
Most of the energy expended in relationships is spent trying to cover up the parts of ourselves we don’t want anyone else to see. It’s not that we’re afraid of being embarrassed as much as we fear our so-called friends might cut and run if they saw the real us. We end up expending so much energy trying to keep people from seeing who we really are that we can’t even be sure who that is anymore, resulting in a giant disconnect within our souls. At some point we will all run out of gas, which is usually followed by a crisis and a crash.
It’s not like this is anything new. The earliest glimpse of humanity can be found in the garden of Eden. In that story, the moment the ugly happened, the first two people covered up and hid and blame shifted. I think that’s why we have an epidemic of surface-level friendships, where everyone pretends and hides and then, the moment things get hard, we run.
I thank God that the one thing that has most kept me connected to myself, the one thing that pulls me out from behind my masks, are the friends I have who know everything about me, who have seen the ugly and still accept me. They can tell when I’m pretending. They can tell when I’m not being honest with them and I’m not being honest with myself. But they don’t leave me there, nor do they abandon me to my worst impulses. Instead, they come to me and tell me I don’t have to hide the parts of my life I am embarrassed about. Without using words, they tell me they know that part of me scares me, but it doesn’t scare them. More than that, they are willing to walk with me as I work through these ugly parts of myself. They pull me back into the light.