The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

November 2023: House of Mirrors

Posted on Nov 30, 2023

November 2023: House of Mirrors
Telus World of Science, Edmonton, AB, 1997

I had assumed my healing journey update for November was going to break the overarching theme, from the past few months, of amusement park rides. So I was humoured somewhat by the realization that this month’s journey update suits the concept of a house of mirrors. To recap: August was a tilt-a-whirl, September – a drop tower, and October – a haunted house. My house of mirrors this month conveniently dovetails with the counselling concept of mother and father wounds.

We all have mother and father wounds, even if we grew up in stable and relatively happy homes. No parent or guardian is perfect, after all; which means some of us have mere scratches to contend with, others flesh wounds, and yet others have gaping, oozing sores that seem to get re-infected just when we think they are beginning to close over. If you’ve been following my story this past year, you’ve already guessed mine are of the third variety.

As we’ve gone along together this past year, I have talked about attachment theory, mirror neurons, and our parents being the first reflectors of what they see in us and what we’re about. I use the word parents loosely as the people who raised us. We all have biological parents, whether we know them or not. Generally speaking, they are the same folks who raise us. However, in today’s age of blended families and adoption, it is not uncommon any longer for people other than our biological parents to raise us.

In my childhood, it was rather uncommon to have a stepmother. It also wasn’t advertised by my family; so many people didn’t know that fact outside of extended family or close friend circles. There were a few others in high school with stepparents; but we didn’t form a club, so their identities are not necessarily known to me. In retrospect, it might have been helpful if we had formed a club (aka support group). 😊 However, club or no club, it is tough to grow up not knowing who you are or having skewed images reflected back to us. Hence the house of mirrors.

I know I have previously broached the subject of changing my self-perception by choosing not to see myself as my parents see me. Their view, and therefore mirrors, haven’t altered as I’ve grown and branched out. My parents continue to reflect back their skewed images of me. It’s a bit disconcerting at times, as I try to clarify my self-perception, only to see distorting images staring back at me. I must do a reset and/or refuse to look whenever I encounter that house of mirrors.

When we grow up with skewed images of ourselves, it contributes to the formulation and subsequent healing of mother-father wounds. I have dealt with my mother wounds in the past in various contexts, most prior to my blogging efforts; and back in March 2012 it was far too raw when my dog Gracie died. And this month did stir up the stepmother wound in dealings with an obstinate caseworker. A long, tiresome story for another time. However, it didn’t take centre stage; which really seems fitting now considering how my dad loves to be the centre of attention.

I have been grappling with the father wound off-and-on since last December and a disastrous family web chat for which I take full responsibility. Something snapped in me, and I exploded. It wasn’t pretty. I can’t remember if I blogged about that previously. The fallout hasn’t been particularly lovely either; which I know I haven’t blogged about directly as it is too dark and complicated. Plenty of unwritten material for my book.

I am not certain what shifted or triggered the father wound to become front and centre—to the point of wondering why my mother wound seems less severe given the circumstances of abandonment and abuse. From my journal: “Why is it so much deeper than the mother wound? Why is the knife of betrayal so much sharper? Maybe because there were always women on the periphery; but no men to step in and fill the void. The void was glaringly obvious due to dad’s presence rather than (birth)mom’s absence. Dad was physically there—and did nothing. I have been seeking dad’s notice—his attention—since I was an infant, let alone a little girl. Dad refused to step up…How do I help heal that father wound? How do I hold it and let it go? How do I grieve the loss so that I can move forward?”

I had to delve further into my journal to pick up the thread as it had subsided without my noticing. And I found far more content for just one blog! Several threads were tugged as I explored this father wound including: safety, romantic transference (I know there is a therapeutic term for this, but it escapes me at the moment), familial and cultural covert sexual abuse, abandonment, advocacy, and many frayed ends off those tugged threads. For this blog, my goal is to tease out the threads relating to the house of mirrors.

Some of what was reflected back to me was definitely absorbed subconsciously, such as the beliefs about safety. As I pondered, a hidden drive surfaced that applies to all human interactions, but particularly with males: Please make me feel safe because my dad never did. Growing up, my safety meant a twisted circus act where I had to balance the emotional equilibrium at home. I was never truly safe in that environment. If mom was angry, I was to blame, and dad was unhappy. It was my responsibility to try harder to please. I still do that in all relationships. Try hard to please, and I will be safe. If I fail to please, connection and attachment is lost. An adjacent thought has to do with pleasing clients. Keeping them happy to keep myself safe.

I wanted dad to see me and the situation from my perspective. I wanted him to advocate for me—not the other way around. There’s the rub. Why I loathe advocating for myself and why I’m so quick to do it for others. I know what it feels like to be left abandoned. Not just at my mother’s gravesite, but in the kitchen amidst the volatility that was home. That is definitely the worse abandonment. I didn’t count, I didn’t matter—only as a means to an end for dad. He saw my purpose, my reason for existing as a prop for his own needs—make him feel good, look good. If stepmom said I was in the way of that, then it was as she said. He never once sought my perspective, my lived experience. They saw my mental & emotional well-being (or lack thereof) as totally separate from themselves.

I internalized the absence of dad’s care and concern as something being wrong with me. Makes sense then why I perceived any unwelcome attention or awkward relationships as being my fault, my failing. My needs weren’t met because of me. And if I had something good and lost it—also my fault—not the nature of the relationship or other person. I was abandoned because I was bad. My abandonment issues are not solely due to the death of my mother. Yet it’s the father wound that somehow crushed me—my confidence, self-concept—even more than birth mom choosing to leave.

What our parents reflect back to us, what we internalize about ourselves, becomes our operational manual for living. In a catch22, however my modus operandi came to be, it is my responsibility as an adult to make changes when I recognize some aspect is no longer working or serving my best interests. I pondered a great deal about those questions posed earlier: How do I help heal that father wound? How do I hold it and let it go? How do I grieve the loss so that I can move forward? All questions that stare back from the distorted images in my house of mirrors.

The answers to my own questions filled pages of my journal and far exceed the acceptable lengths of a blog. To summarize, I had to grieve the loss or unmet need of an advocate. Someone to act as a buffer from the storms of life. I had to recognize how my flawed coping mechanisms can never fill the gaping wound left by my father’s inattention. I can’t heal my father wound by advocating for others or by delegating my safety. I also have to accept that I am no longer a vulnerable child, but an adult with choices. And those choices are for the next blog.

I recognize that this blog may feel a bit open-ended. Perhaps I am giving you an opportunity to practice increasing your window of distress tolerance—managing the discomfort of unknowns or loose ends. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to consider your mother or father wounds before expounding on what to do with them. Perhaps I said too much or too little. It is after all, challenging to be one’s own editor. 😊 And perhaps this is about me not being comfortable that this blog isn’t wrapped up in a neat package to present to you.

So, feel free to share you feedback via this blog or email or messenger or your preferred platform provided we share it. 😊 What thoughts or feelings spring to mind that you would be comfortable sharing?


  1. This entry gave me much food for thought. For me, I always felt like I didn’t fit “the mold” of what my parents expected me to be. I wasn’t the classic all-Canadian boy. I could never even throw a Frisbee, much less hit a ball, or even skate. I was a moody, introverted weirdo in their eyes. My dad always seemed perplexed by me more than anything else, so after awhile he more or less gave up trying. We still did stuff, but it felt like he was mailing it in. The only thing we really enjoyed together was fishing, but a couple weekends a year isn’t much to build on.

    When my brother came along 4 years after me, everything went sideways. He had lots of medical challenges for the first four years, so I became accustomed to ambulances arriving and random relatives and neighbors being babysitters. Then as he got older he quite literally turned into the golden boy with his blond hair, amazing academic ability, and countless athletic accomplishments. So their focus was pretty much on him from day 1, and never changed.

    I basically responded by withdrawing as much as I could. My dad bought me a used 10 speed at aged 12, and after that I operated more or less independently. My thinking is if I didn’t fit what they wanted, I’d just go and be me and to hell with the lot of them. In retrospect that bike was the single best thing they ever did for me.

    So yeah, I guess I felt basically ignored, albeit not neglected in any physical sense. I got myself into a lot of trouble in those years, and their general response was a shrug; Bryan was the superstar of our family, and if I could look out for myself, all the easier for everybody.

    As an adult, I tried to confront them with my reality and basically got shut down, being continually told that we were treated precisely equally and anything I thought otherwise was in my head. So I turned to that early independent streak, and chose to deal with it by mostly ignoring them.

    My brother for years tried to guilt me into engaging more, but I never saw the point; one time he even came to the house to confront me, and I just quietly shut the door in his face. That put an end to those efforts. My dad and I never really made peace; when he died I didn’t feel much of anything. I just had no emotional engagement. These days not much has changed. I phone mom once a week, but mostly it’s banalities. My brother and I didn’t speak much for decades, but recently we’ve been talking a bit more. Not long ago he acknowledged “how rough” I had it. Not much, but it remains the first and only time my own feelings have been recognized.

    So that’s my story. I guess I dealt with it by giving up and just doing my own thing, because that’s how I’ve been doing it since forever.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story, Doug! I’m honoured that you chose to share it with me, and that telling my story helps others to tell their own. I have benefited from our mutual support of each other’s experience.

Submit a Comment

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