Struggle With Self-Love? Why You Might Want To Look At Yourself In The Mirror
If the thought of looking at yourself in the mirror for a prolonged period of time sounds a bit uncomfortable, you wouldn't be alone—but that may very well mean it's exactly what you need.
What is mirror work?
Mirror work involves gazing at yourself in the mirror while saying positive affirmations such as "I love myself," and "I am strong." While you can practice mirror work for extended periods of time, you can also do it any time you find yourself looking at yourself in the mirror, even if just for a moment.
The practice was created by transformational teacher and self-love expert Louise Hay, who authored Heal Your Body, as well as Mirror Work: 21 Days to Heal Your Life. As Hay writes in Mirror Work, she believed "doing mirror work is one of the most loving gifts you can give yourself."
How the process works.
The objective of mirror work is to help people overcome their inner critic, learn to love themselves, and in essence, start believing the positive affirmations they're saying to themselves in the mirror.
Hay's 21-day program involves doing mirror work for a total of three weeks in the beginning, noting in her book that after those three weeks, you'll have begun to plant seeds of self-love in your psyche.
So does it really work? Moun D'Simone, a spiritual mentor and meditation instructor, tells mbg she has found mirror work to be incredibly transformative in her own self-love journey.
As D'Simone began welcoming a more loving attitude while looking in the mirror, she found "it became this practice of intentionally spending time in front of the mirror, to break free and break through the negativity and self-judgment that comes so easily from conditioning."
While it was uncomfortable at first, she says she was able to learn how to peel away the fears and insecurities and truly see herself and the truth of her heart.
And if you're curious about what the research says, one 2017 study on mirror work1 found it to be an effective addition to self-compassion practices, with the study authors noting, "The mirror enhances the efficacy of this self-compassion manipulation in activating the soothing affect system connected with parasympathetic nervous system activity."
Benefits of mirror work:
Strengthening your connection to yourself.
Because mirror work helps you see past the conditioning that creates insecurities and fears, you're able to connect more deeply to your true self.
As D'Simone notes, "I felt this sense of deeper connection to myself by being in front of a mirror and looking at myself, my face, looking at my body, and just embracing, loving, and uncovering a deeper sense of kindness with myself."
Boosting your self-esteem.
Being in front of the mirror can be a challenge, especially if you deal with low self-esteem. But as you learn to state positive affirmations in front of the mirror, chances are you'll slowly but surely begin to believe them.
As you continue to do mirror work, the confrontation that happens in front of the mirror can eventually help you break through negative self-talk.
Healing your inner child.
If you're curious about inner child work, mirror work is a great practice to incorporate. Much of the focus on overcoming insecurities and deepening your connection with yourself overlaps with inner child work, with the two practices working in tandem.
As D'Simone tells mbg, "Now I actually enjoy looking at myself. It's like I'm just meeting that little girl in the mirror all over again by way of being with my body."
And last but not least, mirror work can help you increase confidence and self-assuredness. Rather than looking outside yourself for emotional support, praise, love, and even compliments, you can give all of that to yourself, D'Simone notes.
A step-by-step guide.
There's really no right or wrong way to practice mirror work, but here's the simple three-week plan D'Simone found so powerful:
- Start by looking at your face in the mirror for five minutes, three times a week. Put on a relaxing playlist in the background. Use your breath to come back to the present moment and repeat the mantra: "I love myself; I accept myself; I am safe."
- After two weeks of doing that, increase to 10 minutes five times every day for one week.
- For the last week, stand naked in front of a full-length mirror every day and repeat your mantra. Stick to the practice and show up daily, and when you catch yourself being negative, come back to kindness.
Tips for getting started:
Choose personal affirmations.
The affirmations you choose as you do mirror work are an important factor, so you'll want to choose ones that are special and specific to you.
D'Simone recommends working with affirmations that go beyond physical appearance; for example, rather than "I am pretty," you could say, "I am powerful." You want to "incorporate things that feel more genuine and profound, not so separate and judgmental," she explains.
Here are some other positive affirmations if you need some inspo:
- I believe in myself.
- I am a wonderful person.
- My confidence and self-esteem are high.
- I know my worth.
- I love who I am.
- I am strong.
- I am capable of overcoming anything.
- No challenge is too great for me.
- My life is abundant and fulfilling.
- I am committed to my personal growth.
Start with short amounts of time and work your way up.
As you get started, don't feel intimidated by a certain time restraint. If even five minutes feels like too much at first, that's OK! As D'Simone notes, mirror work can definitely be jarring at first, so start slow and be gentle with yourself.
"Set a timer for one minute and start there—and then a little more," she says, adding, "And remember, too, that our innate worth is much more than what we see in the actual reflection, and that's why we stay there looking into our own eyes, to get to the part of us that is innately worthy and loving and full of potential."
Try practicing mirror work naked.
Yes, really. If you want to take your mirror work to the next level, D'Simone recommends trying it naked in front of a full-length mirror. This can be particularly impactful if you deal with body image issues.
D'Simone says mirror work has helped her be able to look at herself and find beauty, contentment, and appreciation. "I kept staying [in front of the mirror] until I could really meet the part of me that was OK with the temporary, transient nature of my body and how things are always changing," she explains.
Once you're more comfortable in front of the mirror for extended periods of time, you can start incorporating different things to ritualize it in any way you see fit.
"Make a whole ritual around it; you know, light some incense, maybe put some gentle meditation or mantra music on in the background," D'Simone says, adding, "Set yourself up with a mirror and say, 'OK, I'm ready to meet more parts of me. I'm ready to really be more loving and more appreciative and more tender to more parts of me by way of looking at myself instead of rejecting any part of me."
Make it a daily practice.
And lastly, while it's certainly nice to ritualize mirror work on some days, you can also be more casual about it when you're short on time—or see yourself in the mirror at a random time. Simply offering a quick, "You're doing great," or, "I love you," to yourself when you see yourself in the mirror as you get ready in the morning can go a long way, D'Simone says.
The bottom line.
Self-love doesn't always come easy, but with the right practices and a few solid affirmations, you can slowly begin to chip away at the insecurities and conditioning that are holding you back. Odds are, you see yourself in the mirror every day, so the next time you do, say something kind to yourself.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.