One of the lingering triggers of childhood abuse is such a tough one for me that it is hard to even talk about. But, it’s on my heart that I have to start facing it and owning it. So here goes. I’ve always avoided mirrors because of insecurity, self-consciousness and low self-esteem. Recently, I’ve started being bothered by my own physical resemblances to past abusers.
Some days I’ll walk by a mirror and my own face will be a reminder of the uncle that abused me. We have similar features, hair color, and stature. Or I’ll see mom staring back at me; and shudder. Particularly the way my jaw is dropping now from the passage of time. When I am angry–my bones can set just so and I am reminded of mom’s chronic clenched jaw and scowl. Or I’ll be taken aback sometimes while driving. That’s usually when I notice, via the rearview mirror, the way my eyes are getting smaller as I get older. If I let them go blank and uncaring, zoned out (while aimlessly driving somewhere), they remind me a lot of my dad’s cold-dead-stare, or my uncle’s gaze that looked right through you. The same ‘looks’ that came right before some shattering thing erupted from their mouths.
I’d like to look different than I do, for those reasons. I smile a lot. And try to let it reach my eyes. I always have. People have always commented on that about me- how I am always smiley. I think it may be one way that I unconsciously tried to separate my appearance from that of abusive family members.
I think of certain public figures/celebrities/musicians/evangelists/ etc. who have come out about their own child abuse. Some of them have also had a lot of plastic surgery. To the point of not even being recognizable anymore. I have pondered whether or not they also were seeing their abusers in their own facial features. Perhaps they too wanted to change that.
It is something I will likely have to accept and live with as this one isn’t going away and I’m not really sure how to face it, embrace it, or erase it. So I’m turning to the Bible for help with this one.
I take comfort in Old Testament stories. I relate well to the family dysfunctions that are listed therein. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Queen Esther was sold into the sex slave trade of her time. And I have always felt connected to the writings of King David. When he was anointed King of Israel, God told the prophet Samuel that none of the sons of Jesse that were before him were to be King. Samuel asked if there were any other sons and they sent for David. And then God said he was the one to anoint. Because while humans look at outward appearances, God looks at the heart. It was David’s heart that made him such a great servant-King, and a beloved writer of so many psalms. It sure seems to me, in reading his ‘stuff’, that David had a wounded heart that sought after God with a passion that few others had.
Some time back I found a commentary about the life of David, which helped me peel another onion layer in my own heart: Several scholars believe that David was illegitimate. Psalm 51 gives us a clue: ‘in sin my mother conceived me.’ Traditional thought points that line all the way back to the sin condition we all inherited after the fall. But, it makes sense to me. An illegitimate status within the family could also be why he was treated as secondary by his family and why he wasn’t lined up with his other brothers that day Samuel came to examine the sons of Jesse. It also explains some of the painful things about rejection which David writes about in the psalms. And if David were illegitimate he would be an even stronger ‘type of Christ’ as it would mirror the same claims of illegitimacy which were made against Jesus.
If that is true (mine is not a highly educated opinion, but my heart and gut tells me it is true), it would also explain why I have always felt a kindred connection with David from the Bible.
It’s a difficult thing to be displaced within your own family of origin. To look like and dwell under the same roof with people who make you feel like an outcast. Yet I wonder if that is also the very thing that draws some closer to God. Would David have clung to God, danced without reservations for God, cried out with such utter honesty to God–had he had early acceptance and sense of belonging into a loving earthly family?
I send Shalom to any reading this who are also reminded of traumatic things, of brokenness, of abuse, of stolen childhoods, or any other hard thing when looking in a mirror. May The King of Kings redeem these broken family ties and bind our hearts with the understanding that the physical appearance is not what matters most to Him. He is after our hearts. And if my face in the mirror matters so little to Him; then perhaps I can stop letting it matter so much to me, as well.