Reflections on Broken Mirrors

by | Dec 5, 2021 | Spiritual Direction, transformation

Sue Hunter Counseling

A friend recently attended an online course titled, Broken Mirrors, by the Jungian analyst, author, and teacher, Dr James Hollis. Regrettably, I was unable to attend the class but I have been inspired by listening to my friend’s summary and from studying a handout Dr. Hollis provided the class

The handout entitled Existential Adaptive Patterns lists two disturbances from which no mortal escapes: Overwhelmed and Abandoned. No one is exempt from either of these encounters. We do, however, vary as how often, the severity, and the length of time these disturbances have been endured.

Also, the handout lists coping mechanisms used when feeling overwhelmed or abandoned.  They are natural responses, and we have all used each of them. The question becomes how often and long do we cope, rather than confront the overwhelming and abandonment issues?  If we linger too long in coping mode, there is no growth in our consciousness or our ego’s ability to resolve these disturbing issues. Hollis refers to this phenomenon as the Broken Mirror.

Why does Hollis use the term Broken Mirror in relation to coping mechanisms? In Jungian terminology, the mirror is a metaphor for how we see the unknown, unconscious aspects of ourselves and the world. When we are open to transformation, the metaphorical mirror can reflect these once unknown aspects, and bring them into our conscious life. If we stay in coping mode too long, our mirror, our ability to reflect is broken. There is no opportunity for growth in self-awareness.

Below is an edited version of Dr. Hollis’ handout.

Existential Adaptive Patterns

1. Overwhelmment (I like this new term.)

A: Avoidance: simple avoidance, procrastination, suppression, repression, projection onto others, numbing, distraction, dissociation

B. Power Complex: exercise power over other, brute force, controlling behaviors, manipulation, passive-aggressive. A benign complex expresses itself through learning, growth and greater management of one’s life.

C. Compliance: give the world what it wants, “to get along, go along.”

II. Abandonment. (I define this as by others and/or ourselves)

A. Identification with deficit, substantial wound to self-esteem

1. Self-sabotage, avoidance, self-denigrative behaviors
2. Over-compensation by grandiosity

B. Power Complex: Use others for narcissistic, self-aggrandizement

C. Inordinate need for self-assurance, excessive neediness.

To determine if our coping mechanisms are continuing to be helpful, Hollis suggested we spend a bit of time with this list. Ask: Do I feel overwhelmed and/or abandoned today? What coping mechanisms I am using? Has the coping skill become problematic? If so, how do I move from dependence on a coping skill to confronting the stresses associated with the initial feeling of being overwhelmed and/or abandoned?

Below are some of my reflections on how to repair the broken mirror and gain self awareness.

First, Separate and Differentiate: List what is overwhelming you. Who or what is making you feel abandoned? Sort your list with the metric of the Serenity Prayer. Taken from a sacred text and used by twelve step programs, it can be a helpful mantra.

God, grant me the serenity to Accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and the Wisdom to know the difference.

I don’t want to get bogged down in a debate on who, what, and if there is a god. But, I believe these words are useful in recognizing there is a wisdom and strength within and outside of us on which we can call. We need to reconnect and call upon a deeper universal wisdom.

Overwhelming issues: After initial sorting, find the courage to change the things you can. Use a head centered approach. Set firm boundaries, enforce them, devise a step by step process of action, and empower yourself to confront the overwhelming problems.

An example: Multiple times a day you access news and become overwhelmed by anger, sadness, helplessness, and fear. Sort: Accept what you can’t change. You cannot bring back an extinct species. Courage: You can become a change agent where you have positive power.  Examples: Donate money, your time, write letters to people in positions to make a difference are just a few options. Set boundaries for the amount of time you watch the news. Psyche isn’t built to endure 24/7 fear and distress. With this extra time in your day, interject some soul soothing, peaceful, joyful time. Do what you love. Exercise, get in nature, sing, dance, play, be creative.

Abandonment: These issues need more of a heart centered approach.

For example: Sort: Accept what you can’t change. You can’t change the past and have encouraging parents, friends, partners you didn’t have. Courage: Today, you can find and surround yourself with more loving, encouraging friends, and family.

Another example: A colleague gives you a compliment. “You did a great job on the project.”  You say, “Oh, anyone could do it. I could have done it better. I made many mistakes.”  Refrain from this self-denigrative behavior. Accept the praise and recognition with a simple,“Thank you”. Say it often enough and your self-esteem will grow. Another example would be a constant need for affirmation and praise from others. It is nice, but you need to praise and recognize your own gifts and talents. Your soul is nourished by what you truly believe about yourself. Own and rejoice in your own unique gifts and talents.

Loving yourself is the absolute necessity to combat abandonment. Why this is so difficult is individual, but certain strategies are key. What others think, judge, say is NOT WHO YOU ARE.  This includes not only the outer world but your inner voice…who is talking in your head, a wicked witch or the kind godmother? Darth Vader or Yoda? Confront the negative judgements of “I am not worthy,” with a look in a mirror and say to yourself, “I love you. I am a human which means perfection doesn’t exist, so not a goal!. Starting with me, I will bring kindness, love, compassion, and forgiveness into the world.” These nourishing, creative, related, loving energies are needed to resolve feelings of abandonment. Lead with the inner and outer voices of the empowering Yoda and the loving, nourishing godmother.

***Power Complex in the coping mechanisms: Power complex is a default coping mechanism for both feelings of being overwhelmed and abandoned. It has positive aspects when we empower ourselves to learn, grow and better manage our own lives. Unfortunately, it is often seen in our world where it is wielded for selfish, narcissistic, overpowering of our own good intentions, others, even the planet. Brute force, manipulation, passive aggressive, these negative power complex behaviors are the opposite of love. Whether individual lives, politics, ideologies, overpowering energy is destructive. This is a difficult shadow aspect for all of us to admit but so necessary for genuine progress in relationships. Empower don’t overpower.

In conclusion, life will continue to present us with overwhelming days and feelings of abandonment. We will often default to one of the coping mechanisms. Our challenge is to move from coping to confronting. Every encounter with feeling overwhelmed or abandoned is an opportunity for our inner hero to use head and heart to restore balance and peace. In this way our broken mirrors are repaired.

The Japanese art form Kintsugi uses gold to put broken pieces of pottery back together making it even stronger and more beautiful than before. In Jungian psychology, our gold is our wisdom. Each of us becomes stronger and more beautiful with gold reclaimed through living a life unafraid to face our fears of ‘overwhelmment’ and abandonment. This is a message I hear in all of Dr. Hollis’ teachings. With the attitudes of love, compassion and empowerment for ourselves and our world, we can restore broken mirrors and reflect a life full of meaning and purpose. It takes time, patience, and a commitment to change. If not today, when?

For any of you unaware of books and lectures by Dr. James Hollis, I encourage you to delve into the treasures of his works.  Check book sellers and the Houston Jung Center website   A new book by Dr Hollis entitled Broken Mirrors is set for release in January of 2022.