There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a quick peek as you walk past a mirror – perhaps admiring a new hairstyle or looking at yourself. Appreciating yourself and the care with which you look after yourself can often instill a sense of self-confidence, a perfectly healthy quality.
Maybe you don’t care too much about how you look. You may find it worrying or even uncomfortable looking at yourself longer than it takes to make sure your face is clean and your teeth are free of spinach.
However, if you tend to avoid mirrors, you may be missing out on seeing something deeper into yourself. According to Tara Well, the psychologist and professor behind mirroring meditation, this unique approach could help build self-love and self-compassion, especially on those difficult days when you worry that nobody will care.
To mirror the gaze, use a mirror to make eye contact with your own reflection in the mirror instead of closing your eyes and turning your attention inward. This practice can get profoundly intimate as you need to spend a few quiet, mindful moments sitting with not only your thoughts but your own watchful eyes as well.
Perhaps you have mixed feelings about yourself or your reflection and see the mirror as your personal opponent. When you avoid looking in mirrors to avoid internal conflict or self-loathing, looking in mirrors can prove to be a difficult exercise … at first. However, over time, you may find that it encourages a new, more positive perspective.
As a meditative practice, looking at the mirror is not that different from other mindfulness exercises. It still helps you stay more aware of the present moment, and it still provides an opportunity to find a sense of relaxation and grounded calm amid the various stressors you face every day.
Two main differences distinguish looking in a mirror: using a mirror and focusing on meeting yourself face to face to learn more about your inner thoughts and feelings.
Out in the world, one often hears messages like “Looks aren’t everything” or “It’s what’s inside that counts”. You may well know that attractive traits do not necessarily correspond to an appealing personality.
Looking in the mirror may then seem somewhat counterproductive. How can looking at your own face improve confidence or strengthen the qualities you value most?
No matter which type you choose, meditation can offer many benefits. People often meditate to, for example, increase their self-confidence, reduce stress and get more in tune with their emotions.
Mirroring can produce similar results.
When eyes, as people say, offer a window into your soul, looking in the mirror provides a direct path to the heart of your suffering, making it easier to explore emotional symptoms and identify underlying causes.
Some potential benefits are:
As you look at yourself in the mirror, you may feel uncomfortable when your reflection in the mirror reminds you of imperfections and weaknesses.
But looking in the mirror can help you take a more realistic, forgiving perspective. Sure, you have a few flaws, but who doesn’t? These imperfect qualities don’t make you any less lovable – especially your own love.
People often avoid thinking about mistakes they have made or wish to be able to change aspects of themselves that they believe are flawed. But in the mirror you can’t turn away from mistakes and imperfections. One possibility remains: to recognize them.
Remembering that everyone makes mistakes can help you forgive your own mistakes and put an end to hurtful self-criticism.
Similarly, compassionate appreciation of your unique self can help disrupt feelings of shame or your own worthlessness. Cutting back negative thoughts that germinate like weeds can in turn make self-acceptance and self-love blossom.
Authenticity and emotional awareness
People who are used to suppressing difficult emotions often get used to hiding their true feelings. However, your mirror won’t let you hide from anything. Uncomfortable feelings, worries and self-doubt emerge and break through the mask you put on in front of others.
Emotions often show up in the face, but research shows that pain can spread to other parts of the body as well. Stress can manifest itself in sagging shoulders, restless feet, or your inability to meet your own gaze. However, looking at yourself makes it easier to practice authenticity. You can’t escape the things that worry you, so you have to confront them instead.
The emotions moving across your face and showing up in your body language can help you take stock of your current state of mind behind the wrong fronts of joy and tranquility. If you completely open yourself to what is coming and relax into the experience instead of fighting it, you may even find that sitting with sorrow softens the edges of the sharpest pain and makes it easier to bear.
Learning to tolerate all emotions (including the unpleasant ones) or, better yet, to openly accept them can also make honest communication with others easier.
As a baby, you developed bonds with caregivers who have had constant presence in your life. During adolescence and adulthood, you probably had the strongest relationships with the people you saw on a regular basis.
Similarly, spending more time with yourself can help you get to know yourself better.
You are in the best position to affirm and validate all of your attributes. When opinions and criticism from others are affecting your self-esteem and making you feel vulnerable and alone, you can find a trustworthy friend simply by turning to your mirror. This knowledge can strengthen you, make you feel whole instead of fragmented, and make it easier to deal with unkind words and judgments.
If you don’t normally spend a lot of time in front of a mirror, you may find it a little uncomfortable to look into your own eyes. Regardless of the awkwardness you may feel, give it a try for a week or two.
Reviews from people who tried looking in the mirror suggest that 10 minutes a day can reduce stress and increase self-compassion.
You need a mirror big enough to see your face. It’s also best to use a mirror that stands on its own as holding one up for 10 minutes can be distracting (if not difficult).
- Find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable in a chair or on the floor.
- Angle the mirror so that you can easily make eye contact with your reflection in the mirror.
- Set your timer. If 10 minutes feels too long, start with 5 minutes. It is not necessary to set a specific meditation goal. Your goal is to sit with yourself as reflected in your mirror.
- Close your eyes and slow your breathing. Inhale deeply several times, inhale and hold, then exhale slowly.
- As your body relaxes, let yourself breathe naturally. Focus your attention on any tension in your body and imagine this tension slowly dissipating with each breath.
- Open your eyes and look in the mirror. Pay attention to the rhythm of your breath. Does it feel or sound different when you look in the mirror?
- See the message in your eyes. Is it critical or is it kind? Do you immediately focus on something specific that you don’t like about yourself? Imagine how each slow breath dissipates this aversion.
- What thoughts come to mind? Does a little voice start naming mistakes, one at a time? Do you find it difficult to keep your gaze because of self-loathing? When every thought comes up, watch it and let it happen. Notice how your emotions move across your face. What does a judgment look like? Fury? Fear? Adoption?
- If you find yourself reaching for any emotion or focusing on a particularly critical thought, gently draw your attention to your reflection in the mirror. Let your thoughts travel where they want, but hold your gaze steady and view yourself with kindness as they wander.
While mirrors may be an ideal tool for prioritizing looks and other physical features, they can reveal a lot more. Looking in a mirror makes it possible to face your emotions and the reactions that accompany them. It also helps you learn to approach self-judgment with appreciation, compassion, and love.
You have more to offer than your looks. As contradicting as it may seem, your mirror often holds the key to the depths of your true self.
Crystal Raypole previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her areas of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, science, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she works to reduce the stigmatization of mental health problems.