Reflections in a Broken Mirror: Deconstruction and Reformation of Identity (Dr. Susan Ridley)

This arts-based research project was an exploration into identity, “Who am I?” and used the mirror as a tool for self-reflection. Through the creative process of deconstructing (breaking the mirror and removing the shards), and reconstructing (putting the shards back together again), the mirror became a tangible reflection of an existential crisis. Using color, words, images and/or symbols to bind the shards together, insights may be revealed into the re-formation of self-identity; of being whole but with the cracks creating a tension of strength and vulnerability.

The purpose behind this arts-based research was to experience the process of self-reflection experienced by those participating in my dissertation research study. The broken mirror was chosen as a reflective examination into my own identity reformation from a childhood experience of violence and abuse. Palmer (1998), believed “identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials” (p. 13). This reflective research was an authentic attempt to seek closure from any unresolved issues, and to move forward on this journey called life from a position of strength and transformation. Reflective self-knowledge provided a foundation from “which experience and sense of self are integrated or constructed and gives continuity, coherence, and meaning to life” (Levine, 2002, p. 305). Which La Torre (2005) believed was the first step to self-awareness.

There was some trepidation in embarking on this reflective voyage, but I found that holding the space and contemplating the arts-based research helped me to clarify my intent, prepared me for the process of involvement, and helped me to integrate the experience. The underlying narratives of self-perception enabled the exploration of Schön’s (1983) reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action which was “particularly relevant to both the thinking and doing aspects of the creative process in art” (Bar-On, 2007, p. 226). Narrative research was particularly useful in this type of qualitative inquiry because it was designed to investigate how people make sense out of the realities that are lived and perceived, and help to create meaning out of life experiences (Bell, 2003; Connelly and Clandinin, 1990; Riessman, 1993, 2007). By creating a narrative identity, the participant was placed “meaningfully in their culture, providing unity to their past, present, and anticipated future” (Singer, 2004, p. 445), and gaining insight into “our own nature, values, and goals” (p. 442).

The blow unseen shatters the figment of illusion,

Revealing the shards of a life,

Once happy, sometimes sad, but no longer,

It is now lost between the cracks of emptiness.

The world revolves

But time stands still in silence.




Trapped in the blackness of despair,

And smothered in endless nothingness.

Words can not describe the desperate terror

And the pain of a soul ripped,

Torn beyond recognition.

Innocence lost forever

In an alien landscape

That was once a home.

The deafening echo of silence,

Pierces the heart with a cry that has no voice,

Who would have thought that the soundless agony,

Would be so revealing?

Piece by piece the shards reveal,

Emptiness, loss, shattered hopes,

Until nothingness appears,

Who am I now?

Slowly life returns in heighten fear,

Cowering from the lightest touch,

Reminded sharply of the fragmented pain

That was life.

What did I do to deserve this?

Why? Why me?

The words cascade in a fountain

Of tears pleading for an answer.

Piece by piece the fragments rejoin,

Washed by the breath of time,

Piecing together a semblance,

Of what had been.

Hope for life renewed, but never the same,

As the scars heal between the cracks,

Bringing strength,

And the tension of frailty.

There is a world between the cracks,

Of shattered dreams and lives,

Sharp, biting edges that stab,

An open wound long forgotten.

Paper veneers crackling under pressure

Of the unresolved

Hidden strengths revealed,

Behind a torment of held emotions imprisoned.

Letting go, understanding,

Forgive, Forgive, Forgive!

Is the mantra that fights with

Hate, Hate, Hate!

The wound is covered with a badge of honor

Bestowed on those who have fallen

And have risen from the ashes

Proclaiming to the world

I survived!


Journal Article
Ridley, Susan (2014). Who am I? Reflections in a broken mirror. ATOL: Art Therapy Online, 5(1), 1-10. Retrieved from


Bar-On, T. (2007). A meeting with clay: Individual narratives, self-reflection, and action. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(4), 225-235.


Bell, A. (2003, Spring). A narrative approach to research. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 8, 95-110. Retrieved from

Cavaciuti, S. (2001). Someone hurt me.Ridgefield,CT: Enhancement Books.

Connelly, M. F., & Clandinin, D. J. (1990). Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5), 2-4. Retrieved from

Debussy, C. (1909-1910). Maid with the flaxen hair [Recorded by R. Stoltzman]. On Fine music (Volume 1) [Mp3]. North Hampton, NH: Navona Records (2008).

La Torre, M. A. (2005, April – June). Integrative perspectives: Self refection – An important process for the therapist. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 42(2), 85- 87. Retrieved from

Levine, H. B. (2002). Self-inquiry and the relational frame: A historical note. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12(2), 305-315. Retrieved from

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life.San   Francisco,CA: Jossey Bass.

Riessman, C. K. (1993). Narrative analysis: Qualitative research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Riessman, C. K. (2007). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks,CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Singer, J. A. (2004, June). Narrative identity and meaning making across the adult lifespan: An introduction. Journal of Personality, 72(3), 437-460. Retrieved from