Who is looking back at you when you look into the mirror? Is it you…really you?
One of the most interesting things about my nursing career thus far is the insight I have gained into people’s perspective of themselves. Right now, I work primarily with patients afflicted with varying degrees and types of dementia. In a very strange way, it gives you such a truthful, naked view of people…and how they see themselves. Because dementia wreaks such havoc on the brain, the “regular” functions of the brain are all affected-including perception and judgement. The experience of observing a person look at themselves in the mirror and not recognizing their own face is incredible. Although there are pathological reasons for why this happens, it made me wonder about how people identify themselves and the role of physical appearance in “who” someone is.
Because I don’t think “who” you are is what is displayed right now in your physical reflection.
People identify so heavily with how they look or physical abilities/inabilities they have. What happens when that is taken away as it so often is with illness or other circumstances? Does it change “who” you are…your true nature? If anything, I believe that it makes your intimate knowledge of yourself even that much more solid-you realize that sometimes those things can fall away. And YOU are still there.
I have thought a lot about this concept over the years-especially when loved ones have passed away. How many times has the “chatter” in the funeral home turned to “oh, that doesn’t look anything like Uncle Teddy in the casket”? I remember when my dear grandfather passed away-how little and waxy he looked laying so perfectly still. It gave me such a sense of reassurance…that absolutely was not him! He was not in that physical body that was laying in front of me not moving. What made him HIM was all around me-and what made him HIM also made that physical container he carried around as his body look beautifully alive and strong. Spirit, soul, inner beauty-whatever resonates with you, is what breathes life into the carcass that you happen to be carrying around.
When I’m in those moments with my patients, it has been my experience that they won’t even look at themselves in the mirror. To them, it’s a part of the wall-just another fixture in the bathroom. There are times when I will say “look at how lovely your hair looks today” or something other general comment to engage conversation. Most often, there is complete non-attachment to the person reflected back to them. Sometimes, the response is even “who is that” or “that’s not me”. Medically, of course, there are reasons for that. I believe that part of that, though, is absolute truth. That is not who they believe they are-in THEIR mind at THAT particular time. There is no recognition-no connection. Sometimes, a person will even say “I don’t have gray hair!” And who am I to tell them any different?
I am reminded of this when I’m playing with my 15 month old now-she sees the “baby” in the mirror, but she does not realize that baby is her. It’s just an interesting little face! She hasn’t yet linked physical appearance to her identify.
Imagine if that step in development never happened. If you never latched onto your physical body as a part of what made YOU up! Who would you be then? No parameters placed on your self-image…no limitations. Absolute freedom. Because, essentially, you are eventually going to end up back there anyway-this vehicle we call our body will give out at some point. Who does that leave YOU with?