There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a quick glance whenever you pass a mirror — perhaps admiring a new hairstyle or looking yourself over. Appreciating yourself, and the care you take in your appearance, often inspires feelings of self-confidence, a perfectly healthy trait to have.
Perhaps you don’t care too much about your appearance. You may find it disconcerting, or even uncomfortable, to look at yourself for any longer than it takes to make sure your face is clean and your teeth are free of spinach.
Yet if you tend to avoid mirrors, you could be missing out on seeing something deeper in yourself. According to Tara Well, the psychologist and professor behind mirror gazing meditation, this unique approach could help boost self-kindness and self-compassion, particularly on those difficult days when you worry no one else cares.
To mirror gaze, you use a mirror to make eye contact with your own reflection instead of closing your eyes and turning your attention inward. This practice can become deeply intimate, since it requires you to spend a few quiet, mindful moments sitting with not just your thoughts, but your own watchful eyes.
Perhaps you harbor mixed feelings toward yourself or your reflection and consider the mirror your own personal antagonist. If you avoid looking into mirrors to keep from triggering internal conflict or self-loathing, mirror gazing might prove a challenging exercise… at first. Over time, however, you may find it promotes a new, more positive perspective.
As a meditative practice, mirror gazing isn’t terribly different from other mindfulness exercises. It still helps you learn to stay more conscious of the present moment, and it still offers the chance to find a sense of relaxation and grounded calm amid the various stressors you face each day.
Two main differences set mirror gazing apart: the use of a mirror, and the focus on coming face-to-face with yourself to learn more about your inner thoughts and feelings.
Out in the world, it’s common to hear messages such as, “Looks aren’t everything” or “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” You might be perfectly aware that attractive features don’t necessarily equal an appealing personality.
Mirror gazing, then, might seem somewhat counterproductive. How can looking at your own face improve self-awareness or strengthen the traits you value most?
Meditation can offer plenty of benefits, no matter which type you choose. People often meditate in order to increase self-awareness, relieve stress, and get more in tune with their emotions, for example.
Mirror gazing can yield similar results.
If eyes, as people say, offer a window into your soul, mirror gazing provides a direct route to the heart of your distress, making it easier to explore emotional symptoms and identify underlying causes.
Some potential benefits include:
Looking at yourself in a mirror might make you feel uncomfortable when your reflection reminds you of imperfections and weaknesses.
But mirror gazing can help you embrace a more realistic, forgiving perspective. Sure, you have a few flaws, but who doesn’t? These less-than-perfect characteristics don’t make you any less worthy of love — your own love most of all.
People often avoid thinking about mistakes they’ve made or wish they could change aspects of themselves they consider flawed. But in the mirror, you can’t turn away from errors and imperfections. One option remains: acknowledging them.
Reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes can help you forgive your own errors and put a stop to hurtful self-criticism.
Similarly, the compassionate acknowledgment of your unique self can help disrupt feelings of shame or your own unworthiness. Pruning back negative thoughts that spring up like weeds can, in turn, allow self-acceptance and self-love to bloom.
Authenticity and emotional awareness
People accustomed to pushing down difficult emotions often grow used to hiding how they truly feel. Your mirror won’t let you hide from anything, though. Unpleasant feelings, worries, and self-doubt all surface, breaking through the mask you put up in front of others.
Emotions commonly show up on your face, but
Noting the emotions shifting across your face and showing in your body language can help you take stock of your present state of mind, behind false fronts of cheer and calm. As you fully open yourself to what comes and relax into the experience instead of fighting it, you may even find that sitting with distress dulls the edges of the sharpest pains, making them easier to bear.
Learning to tolerate, or better yet, openly accept all emotions (even the uncomfortable ones) can also make it easier to communicate honestly with others.
Stronger sense of self
As a baby, you formed attachments to caregivers who had a consistent presence in your life. In adolescence and adulthood, you probably had the strongest relationships with the people you saw regularly.
Similarly, spending more time with yourself allows you to know yourself better.
You’re in the best position to affirm and validate all of your traits. When opinions and criticisms of others fray your self-worth, leaving you feeling vulnerable and alone, you can find a trusted friend simply by turning to your mirror. This knowledge can strengthen you, leaving you feeling whole instead of fragmented and making it easier to cope with unkind words and judgment.
If you typically don’t spend much time in front of a mirror, looking into your own eyes might make you a little uncomfortable. Regardless of any awkwardness you might feel, commit to giving it a try for a week or two.
Reports from people who tried mirror gazing suggest that doing it for 10 minutes a day can help ease stress and increase self-compassion.
You’ll need a mirror large enough to see your face. It’s also best to use a mirror that stands on its own, since holding one up for 10 minutes may prove distracting (if not difficult).
- Find a quiet place and get comfortable in a chair or on the floor.
- Angle the mirror so you can easily make eye contact with your reflection.
- Set your timer. If 10 minutes feels too long, start with 5 minutes. There’s no need to set a specific meditation goal. Your aim is to sit with yourself, as reflected in your mirror.
- Close your eyes and slow your breathing. Take several deep breaths, allowing yourself to inhale, hold, and then slowly exhale.
- As your body relaxes, let yourself breathe naturally. Turn your attention to any tense spots in your body and visualize that tension slowly dissolving with each breath.
- Open your eyes and look into the mirror. Pay attention to the rhythm of your breath. Does it feel or sound any different as you gaze into the mirror?
- Consider the message in your eyes. Is it critical or kind? Do you immediately focus on something specific you dislike about yourself? Visualize each slow breath dissolving that dislike.
- What thoughts come to mind? Does a little voice begin to name flaws, one after the other? Do you find it hard to hold your gaze because of any self-disdain? As each thought comes up, observe it and let it pass. Pay attention to the way your emotions move across your face. What does judgment look like? Anger? Fear? Acceptance?
- If you find yourself grasping at any feelings that come up, or narrowing your focus to a particularly critical thought, gently return your attention to your reflection. Let your thoughts travel where they will, but hold your gaze, looking at yourself with kindness, as they wander.
While mirrors may seem an ideal tool for prioritizing appearance and other physical traits, they can actually reveal much more. Gazing into a mirror makes it possible to face your emotions and the reactions that accompany them. It also helps you learn to counter self-judgment with appreciation, compassion, and love.
There’s more to you than the way you look. As contrary as it may seem, your mirror often holds the key to the depths of your true self.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.