When I first notice a reflection, it is hard to tell what I am actually looking at. As my eyes start to focus I begin to notice layers. Using the photo above as an example, the first thing that jumps out to me is the trees. I am mystified by the way the branches appeared to be growing right down into the water and yet 3 stories tall into the sky at the same time. I notice pine needles floating on the surface then a few that just submerged. I see stones that are both above and below the water's surface. I see the shallow pond floor along the shore yet struggle to see anything in the pond where I see the sky above. I think I could get lost in the illusion inside the reflections on the water.
Dictionary.com shows the psychology definition of illusion as a perception that represents what is perceived in a way different from the way it is in reality. Why do we so easily let opinions change what we believe? Why are other people's opinions so powerful? I agree with what Jon Bloom wrote in an article from 2016, "... It’s important we understand why our desire for approval and fear of disapproval is so strong. Due to our sin, weaknesses, and perhaps traumatic past experiences, we might assume these things are merely consequences of the fall. But at the core, they’re not. God actually designed us to be motivated by these emotionally powerful forces, for they uniquely reveal what we love. ... This fear comes right from the place where our heart’s treasure is stored (Matthew 6:21). It is a fear of losing or not obtaining something we really desire, which is why it wields such power over us. Courageously confront your fear of man. ...We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Obedience calls for courage. Courage is not the absence of the emotion of fear, but the resolve to obey despite what we feel. Exercise your trust in God by stepping out in obedience. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6)." "
Society pushes us to strive to "fit in" with the mainstream. They want us to compare who we are to what Hollywood tells us we should look like, sound like and be like. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own gifts. Diversity is beautiful. Stepping out is not easy but if we are courageous and take that leap of faith, we start to change the image in which we reflect. I truly believe that the world will not change until we change. If I change how I react to what the world says is true then maybe you will believe a new perception. Then if you change how you react to what the world says you should be maybe the next person will have the same courage to accept you for who you are. Now that's three people who turn into three more who turn into three more. You get what I am saying, right? The world is not going to change until we change our world first.
Stigma (as defined by Merriam-Webster.com) is a mark of shame or discredit: stain. This mark is not always visible. Those of us who struggle with or have struggled with mental illness, past abuses &/or drug use get really good at hiding the shame. We create an illusion in attempt to hide from pain. I believe you can't hide from pain forever or I guess even at all. You can create that illusion and dull it for a short period, but it will always return until you remove the power it has over you. The power is removed when you address it head on.
First, you need to name it. Let someone know you are hurting. The longer you keep the pain a secret the more power it builds. The more power it builds the weaker you will feel. A weary soul will not be able to persevere.
Second, be honest with yourself. Are you creating more pain? I myself am guilty of this. I was born into a chaotic home. The chaos continued to build and lasted my entire childhood. It took way too long for me to learn that I was subconsciously creating chaos during quiet seasons because I only knew how to operate in a co-dependent self-destructive environment. I found comfort in pain because it was all I knew. I had a counselor challenge me once to look at the reflections of past chaotic, hurtful times and honestly admit what I had created myself. It was a humbling, life changing exercise that I have tried to make a habit of doing. Be courageous and take the step into the unknown and you will find peace. By doing so, you will release the valve for the pressure of expectations to escape.
Third, don't harbor ill feelings. Forgiveness is THE most empowering tool you to break down the pain from stigma. The only way I have found to truly forgive is to remember that each person has flaws. There is not a single person on earth that has not done something (big or tiny) that hurt someone else. Do we then have the right to say we are better than someone else? If we don't want people to judge us then why do we judge them?
Lastly, I ask you to give grace. Give yourself grace when you find yourself falling into the stigma that you are trying to stop. Change takes time, give it what it needs. It takes unwarranted favor (grace) to forgive, and I believe we can't fully forgive others until we show that same grace to ourselves.
Awareness and education of stigma will bring strength and freedom from the undeserved shame. Take a look at the reflection that brings an illusion in your life. Find where you can bring awareness and education of the damage that stigma brings to society.
If you need help or want to help, reach out to Live R.E.A.L. Foundation, email@example.com