Broken Mirrors and Mental Illness

It should come as a surprise to no one that as a result of my depression and social anxiety, I sometimes struggle in social settings. And by struggle I mean I have no idea what I am doing. So when all else fails I act like a mirror, or more accurately a broken mirror with mental illness.

What I mean by this is that I mirror what others are doing. Rather than revealing the dark and jagged edges of my depression, I instead hope that my mirroring act will be smooth enough that they won’t see the darkness. And maybe they will, or maybe they won’t, it doesn’t matter in the end. People don’t often want to be friends with mirrors of themselves. Healthy relationships have a give and a take with both sides contributing, something that broken mirrors with mental illness can never do.

And we understand the neuro-biology of the some as well. All humans have mirror neurons, neurons that seem to be activated by observing and repeating an action. Indeed, it is thought this is an important part of observational learning in youth. For me however, it becomes a coping mechanism for the social anxiety that is causing my brain to simply misfire.

Yet not understanding social behavior makes it hard to accurately mirror that behavior, hence the broken mirror analogy. And the social isolation caused by the broken mirror’s miscues further fuel the depression, suggesting that I shouldn’t even try socializing, that I am not meant to be around normal people, people who aren’t haunted by the darkness of depression. Yet that is just a lie that my darkness likes to whisper in my ear.

Yet the brokenness of the mirror is not just an explanation for why it isn’t a successful socializing strategy. It is an opportunity, an opportunity for you to step out from behind the broken mirror, step out of the darkness, and find your own path in the world. Because depressed and social anxious introverts like me want to socialize, we just want to do so in our own limited way. Recognizing the brokenness of the mirror helps us do that.

And if your depression and social anxiety has you hiding behind a mirror in social situations as well, know that it is never too late to step out from behind that mirror and discover your own path.

P.S. If you want to see a healthy way that mirror neurons help development, check out today’s Daddying with Depression post.

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