Searching for Identity: A Christian Counselor on the Reflective Self, Part 2
In my previous article, I introduced the concept of the reflected self. People with a reflected self look outside of themselves to find their identity and worth. They look to others to reflect back what they are to believe about themselves, expecting other people’s behaviors, feelings and words to mirror their inner selves. The reflected self is constantly looking for signs of acceptance or rejection. Such people often feel controlled by others, and mask their genuine self in order to gain approval. In this article we will explore how people with a reflected self can manipulate others to maintain their identity and learn what it means to give up one’s personal power.
The Reflected Self Controls OthersPeople with a reflected self may try to control others in order to preserve their positive sense of self. These people are unable to control themselves, so they control others. For example, Sam has problems controlling his anger and anxiety when life does not measure up to his ideal. He sharply rebukes his children when they act silly and criticizes his wife when she is unable to discipline the kids. When his family performs as he sees fit, he is able to feel calm. Sam controls his family because he cannot regulate his own temper and is unable to hold himself together. He needs his family to act perfectly so he can feel composed and believe that he is a good dad. Another example is that of a husband who wishes that his wife would initiate sex more often. He perceives that his wife is disinterested in him, and this makes him feel unattractive and undesirable. When she turns down his sexual advances he retreats emotionally, punishing her with his silence and his passive aggressive comments. What his actions are saying is, “You must have sex with me in order for me to feel desirable. If you don’t, I am going to punish you with silence and criticism until you give in.” This is manipulation.
Your Reflected Self has Relinquished Power Over Your Own Life
By adopting a reflected self you have given other people the power to control and define you. When this happens, your identity is at the mercy of other people’s feelings and behavior. The Bible tells us that a double-minded man is like wave in the ocean that is tossed to and fro (James 1:8). You will not find stability if you allow others to define you, for much of the reflected self is based on lies. Just because someone says you are stupid or worthless does not mean that you are. We interact with broken people every day and they do not always reflect the truth. Your reflected self gives up your own power and allows other people to control your emotions and behavior. God did not create us to be a powerless people, but somewhere along the line we have given away the “keys” to ourselves and have allowed others to take ownership of us. Jason Vallotton (2011) states:
Powerlessness is the process of giving away ownership and empowering someone or something else as your sole decision maker. You cannot fix something for which you are unwilling to take ownership (p. 61).
Taking Responsibility for Our Own Lives
We have to take responsibility for ourselves in order to be healthy. People can only control your sense of worth if you let them. We have all experienced the pressures of conformity and of people trying to make us into what they want us to be. But it is up to you stand up for yourself and make a choice. You can say, “I will not let this person control or define me anymore.” In his book, The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness, Vallotton explains how he gave away the keys of his happiness to his wife. He describes how he made her the source of his strength and wholeness and allowed her affair to define his own value. He challenges his readers with a profound question: “Who is in your God spot?” By this he means: who have you allowed to lead you? Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture of God leading us to beautiful, restful and restorative places. However, Vallotton explains that he had allowed his wife to be his “master.” He states:
My wife is my shepherd. I am in want. She has taken away my power because I have given it to her. I am guided in the path of least resistance because there is not comfort for my soul. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear all the time because she is my source (p. 53).
This is a powerful revelation and challenges us to ask who or what is in our “God Spot.” For no amount of human affirmation can give a solid sense of self. Feeling unworthy is like a never ending hole of blackness and no amount of praise can fill the emptiness and satisfy the hurting heart. Only God can fill this gap in our souls and tell us the full truth about our identity. Once we appreciate this revelation about our true selves, we become empowered to take responsibility for our choices and to live a life that is powerful and free.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Find Your True Identity
If you need help with putting God back in control of your life and discovering your true identity, you may want to consider speaking to a Christian counselor. I would love to support you as you seek to become free from your reflected self. In working together, we can uncover what keeps you stuck in a negative reflected self, help you gain closure from the pain of the past, and help you to discover your true value in Christ so that your identity can remain anchored in the storms of life.
Schnarch, D. (2009). Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship. New York: Beaufort Books.
Vallotton, J & K. (2011). The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness: Discover how to escape your prison of pain and unlock a life of freedom. Ventura, CA: Regal.
Images are from freedigitalphotos.net; “Question Or Doubt” by Jeroen van Oostrom; “Woman In Doubt” by David Castillo Dominici