Looking Glass Shame

“We develop our self-concept by observing how others interact with us and label us. By observing how others view us, we see a reflection of ourselves that Cooley called the looking- glass self.”  Linda A. Mooney

I had looking-glass shame. 

As a youngster, my stepmother blamed the children in her care for the sexual abuse they endured. She provided daily assaults on any and all forms of femininity, brutally crushing anything beautiful. All beatings were witnessed by her until I was unconscious, often the last thing I heard was, “don’t kill her -you’ll go to jail.” Her concern was for the predator, not the victim. Beauty grows in the most desolate of places… and as I grew, the crushing continued to increase in intensity.

It took me years to wear clothes that fit properly rather than ones that were two sizes too large. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I bought any undergarments that were not a sports bra. Sports bras made me feel safer as they hid my shape. To be female and seen was to be victimized, so I hid – even from myself. You can wash, tidy and clothe yourself without ever looking too close.

I share this snapshot because – well, it’s me, it’s her, it’s us. It is real, it feels like life, and tastes like hope. Hope beyond abuse. Hope beyond loss. Hope beyond shame. Hope beyond hopelessness.

It was taken in 2017 by my oldest child (selfie extraordinaire) when we were walking the streets of her college town after eating a vegan meal (I am not vegan, she is, but everyone should eat more plants) and walking several city blocks to where my car was not. Of note, this city was recently recorded as the worlds coldest city, as luck would have it, I was in a skirt.

I had made the trek up to see her just before her week of exams. She had taken the train back and sadly did not have enough room in her bulging bags for the new coffee maker I bought her for Christmas, the bag of laundry, groceries, and tin of pumpkin muffins I made her. I love this kid – she is my firstborn, the one I have made the most miserable mistakes with, the one I have wept over profusely, the one with whom I have saved the most money for therapy… I mean college.

Her self-named “brown” college friends are in the custom of walking arm in arm down the road, she shares with me as she slips her arm through mine. We huddle close, my girl and I, and walk. She is almost twenty, I am just over forty – and it feels like we made it. We are just on outskirts of surviving and moving into the spacious landscape of thriving.

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