What do you see when you look in the mirror? I have asked many people this question. “Why, is there something wrong with how I look?” Others, also perceiving criticism say things like, “I Know! – I was running late and I forgot to ___.”
Please take a moment and consider the question yourself. If you are, for example, 35 years old, beyond the age of, lets say two, you’ve looked into a mirror thousands upon thousands of times. Therefore, like most people, you might say you know pretty much everything there is to know about what there is for you to see when you look at your face in the mirror – right?
Well maybe not. Many of us grow up with a harsh, even relentless, internal critic. Do you have one of those? Is there an observing – almost automatic – voice inside your head that’s habitually on guard – hyper vigilant for anything that sounds even slightly critical or judgmental?
And is that voice also one that doesn’t just wait for outside criticism, but endlessly evaluates and criticizes yourself? “Stupid” “Why did you do that you imbecile? “You can’t learn how to do that! What’s wrong with you – moron? “ “She/he doesn’t really love you! If she/he did she/he wouldn’t have or would have ___.”
Where does that critical voice come from? We can grow up afraid of relationships when from an early age we feel unsafe in our original family relationships. Maybe our parents were not able to provide an emotionally safe environment where we learned that our hearts and minds are precious, that we are special and truly lovable just as we are. Maybe we heard the message repeated countless times in many ways that nothing we ever do will be enough to get the love, understanding and acceptance we want and deserve! If you can identify with this, you are definitely not alone!!
It’s not necessarily that our parents were bad or purposely hurtful. Their own self-images were probably filled with similar negative messages when they were children creating insecurities, shame and fears. It’s a chain of behavior passed from generation to generation until someone says “Enough!”
Therefore many children are introduced to the experience of being evaluated, judged and all too often found to be lacking before they have time to learn who they want to be. In a judgmental world, one’s worth is frequently overshadowed by judgments about one’s performance, external beauty, social popularity or status.
Even high achievers become emotionally wounded when the message they get is that their true value is based on their performance. If the original you, the person and spirit you came into the world with, was never truly validated, what does that lead to?
It is the negative self–image that we learn from looking into the eyes of others that many of us carry around in our heads our entire lives – and then pass on to our children. When we look in the mirror and only see ourselves as an object to be evaluated, how can we ever look into another’s eyes and expect the reflection we find there to feel safe.
But each of us has the power to be the one who says, “Enough!”
Here’s a one minute exercise that can begin to quiet that critical – and wrong – voice within your mind that has gotten in the way of having the kinds of relationships in adulthood that you want.
Remember, this is to be done for no less than one full minute! OK, now find a mirror, then look deeply into your own eyes – not your entire face or your hair, but into that place were you meet your true self. Without looking away, ask yourself these questions:
“How do I really feel about me? Do I genuinely feel loveable? Am I doing all I can to learn how to live the life I want – all I can to learn how to share the kind of relationships I want enjoy?”
If you answer yourself honestly, then you’ve taken the first step toward learning to love the person in the mirror. This is essential if you want to make the most of your life, be capable of sharing a truly loving relationship with another or teach your children to love themselves and others.
Here’s the best news: If you’re willing, it’s never too late to learn to love the person in the mirror!!
Image from the Flikr stream of phil41dean under Creative Commons license.