Fixation on Oneself

My work as a therapist involves paying attention to how patients view themselves in a reflective surface.  So I ask questions about what happens when they look in a mirror.  Children can begin to recognize themselves in the mirror by six months of age.  Thereafter, they consult the mirror to examine how they look in costumes or special clothes, and their use of the mirror depends much on how their parents utilize the mirror.  Some families are very mirror conscious and hang them in many rooms and hallways of their homes.  In other households, only the bathroom has a mirror.  As children get older, certainly by puberty, the mirror image begins to serve as an important window of how desirable they are to others.  And by the teenage years, the image they see begins to determine how attractive they can be to the opposite sex.  Loveliness is now a self-concept.  Questions are asked as young men and women peer into the mirror.  Is my hair too long or short, is my nose the proper size, how about my breasts, my musculature?  The physical body now takes on a crucial role in self-esteem.  Will someone come to love me?

Beyond some chimpanzee species, human beings are unique in formulating worthiness based on physical appearance.  For some men and women, the amount of time spent on grooming is very time consuming and costly.  While the need for beauty and handsomeness may relate to their occupation, lovelessness can be the underlying apprehension and account for why so much effort is placed on externals, as if without careful makeup or a tanned face a potential admirer would turn away in disinterest.  Of course, media and culture play a large role.  And there are the huge fashion and beauty worlds that propel the notions of admiration.  The universal fable of the charming prince and lovely princess attests to a very powerful and primal equation that love will naturally come to those who meet the criteria of physical splendor.  In the story of Beauty and the Beast, the latter turns out to be a prince upon whom a spell was cast, but the Beast becomes the handsome prince only when Beauty sheds a tear of pity for the Beast and declares that she loves him. Love transforms hideousness.  Or, more precisely, deeper qualities can matter more than the surface appearance.  But this notion is ranked far, far below human beauty in determining worthiness.  The preoccupation with self-love is, of course, an egocentric phenomenon, like Narcissus of the Greek myth who fell in love with his own image in a pool of water and pined away to his death because he could not capture his reflection.

Sensing that narcissism can reflect lovelessness, I try to get patients to explore a world beyond themselves.  This isn’t easy.  I urge them not to purchase glamour and beauty magazines, to give up television shows or shopping channels that emphasize appearance.  And as mundane and trivial as it sounds, I suggest attachment to the outside world and urge them to take up gardening, a cooking class, learning a foreign language, or the joining of a local gym.  Some patients are too fixated on themselves and can barely move outside of their own narrow orbits.  Since lovelessness stems from a lack of early nurturance, it is difficult for these patients to muster up the enthusiasm for meaningful outside ventures.  So I become in part a substitute parent who gently furnishes this encouragement.



Share This Post:    Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *