Get a Better
Mirror: Overcoming Negative Thoughts
by David Spero, The
Art of Getting Well
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 see yourself as 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 mirrors come from?
Where do these mirrors come from? We
create 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 offers it to 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
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 negative thoughts.
Time to Change Mirrors
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"or "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. 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.