The stranger in the mirror

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

owl looking at itself in a mirror Photo credit: © 2008 Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes from Flickr, used via Creative Commons CC-BY licensing

By definition, transformation involves a radical or thorough change in something. Yet despite the fact that I recognize that the last few years have wrought some pretty profound transformation in my life, my self-image still hasn't caught up with the changes. I tend to see myself as the person I used to be, and sometimes the person I have become takes me by surprise.

Over the last few weeks, quite a number of people have made comments about how good I am at setting boundaries, at standing up for myself, at saying "no." In every case, these are people who have met me fairly recently, and while they were admiring these traits, this new way of being is the only experience they have of me.

My reaction, on the other hand, is one of startled surprise every single time. On the inside, I can feel my held tilt in confusion as I resist the temptation to double-check: "Who me? Are you sure that's me you are talking about?"

My self-image is still based on the many, many pre-transformation years when boundaries were a mystery to me. I had no idea how to say a healthy "no," and standing up for myself only appeared in the most passive-aggressively dysfunctional manner imaginable (when I managed it at all).

And yet, when I stop and consider how I act now, I can see that these people who are acting as mirrors to me are right. My behavior and my way of relating to the world has changed dramatically.

In fact, I recently spoke to someone who used to know me very well over a decade ago but has had relatively little contact with me since then. As I was filling him in on what I'm up to these days, he asked me more than once, "Who are you?" He was admiring of the changes he saw, but he clearly felt like he was encountering a different person than the one he remembered.

I am not the person I used to be. My story about myself just hasn't caught up to my new reality yet.

Sometimes I think this gap in self-perception is the most unsettling thing about going through periods of intense transformation. Not only must one deal with the profound changes that come from going through such a time, but you must also deal with no longer recognizing yourself in the mirror. One's sense of self is no longer the solid anchor that we often believe it to be.

We become strangers even to ourselves. We no longer know what to expect from ourselves in situations, and our stories about who we are become ill-fitting clothes that need to be replaced.

As I've absorbed this feedback from the people who have (inadvertently) served as mirrors for me recently, my self-perception has begun to shift to better fit with this new reality of who I have become. As it has, my expectations of how I deal with certain situations has become more open and fluid, allowing space for me live more fully into these new traits in a conscious way.

As I shed the old stories of self that had become restrictive, it makes space for a greater blossoming of the person that I am becoming. And I'm beginning to recognize that stranger in the mirror as someone familiar.

What old stories about yourself might you need to shed to live into a more spacious self? How can take steps today to let go of that old ill-fitting sense of self to make room for the person you are becoming?

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