Every next day in lockdown, I realize yet another aspect of reality that’s gone. One of them is the face-to-face contact with other people.
Studies found that eye-contact is critical for our emotional development. It also increases emotional awareness. That’s because the faces we look into reflect our feelings back on us.
The human brain is wired to read emotions from facial expressions. We may be better at this than trying to recognize what we feel by “looking inwards.”
But what are you to do when so much of human interaction is simply not safe — and, in many cases, banned? How can you feed your innate need for face-to-face contact?
Well, here’s the trick: you still have your own eyes and face at your disposal. If you also have a mirror — then you’re set. You can look into your own eyes and meet this “other human” there.
And the fact that it’s you on both sides of the mirror? It doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference.
Becoming Your Own Best Friend
Many of us go about our days without any real awareness of how we’re feeling. I know I often lack it — unless I make an intentional move to awaken it.
There’s only so much I want to show others about how I’m feeling. In many relationships, I learned to be the helper — not the one asking for help. As the helper, I try to always be smiling. I don’t want to burden other people with my problems.
For years, I didn’t see how this was backfiring on me. Because I was hiding my emotions from others, I also started hiding them from myself. I learned to disguise sadness as tiredness, and anger as laziness.
All of that in the effort to protect my identity as a helper.
This identity dictated that I shouldn’t complain and always be available for others. This steered me further away from my true feelings.
If you’re anything like me, the mirror can be super helpful. That’s because, when you look at your reflection, it’s much harder to hide your real emotions from yourself. As I said, we’re naturally skilled in reading emotions from facial expressions. This includes reading your face, too.
Once you start acknowledging your emotions, self-compassion arises more naturally. You can’t help but see a vulnerable person in front of you. The natural reflex is to take care of them.
Why Are You So Harsh On Yourself?
The big reason it’s hard to elicit self-compassion is the harsh inner critic. Have you noticed that it’s harder to be compassionate to yourself than to others? This is due to a few reasons:
- Negativity bias — the human brain evolved to spot dangers. This used to protect us when physical survival depended on it. Today, the negativity bias means that, by default, we’re wired to see the glass half-empty rather than half-full. We instinctively look for the room for improvement. This includes seeing ourselves as less than perfect. (read: not good enough)
- Our cultural background — currently, Western culture teaches us to base our worth on external achievements. Our sense of self-worth is therefore conditional. When we’re children, it depends on the approval of our parents, teachers and peers. When we grow up, we may tie our self-esteem to how we’re doing at work or in the dating arena. This is a perfect ground for the inner critic to thrive because it can always find an aspect of life where we’re “falling behind.”
- Interacting through social media — social media isn’t inherently “bad.” It’s just a communication tool. But when we enter important, emotional interactions via digital channels, we may fail to find compassion for the person on the other side of the screen. Not seeing their face limits our ability to perceive their emotions. And because compassion to ourselves is closely related to those for others, we may struggle to be kind to ourselves, too.
There are probably more reasons why, as a society, we struggle with self-compassion. I won’t enlist them all in here — but that’s not the point anyway.
The point is to help you discover that, whenever you struggle with the inner critic, looking at your reflection may help.
So, grab a mirror and look yourself in the eye. Below, you’ll find a summary of the tips that I included in a much bigger article about mirror meditation. I wrote it based on an interview with Tara Well, PhD — a mirror-gazing expert.
How To Work With The Mirror To Compensate For The Lack of Face-To-Face Contact
Seeing yourself in the mirror helps with self-compassion because, as Tara Well put it, it helps “externalize the inner critic.” You’re no longer just an author of the harsh criticism — you’re also its victim.
Because of that (and seeing your emotions on your face), you can easily grasp what effects your inner critic has on you. In other words, you may understand that you’re causing much of your own suffering by perpetuating negative self-talk.
Here’s a handful of suggestions to help you work with the mirror. These are based on my own experience and Tara Well’s tips.
Note: Tara Well doesn’t include spoken affirmations in her work — the affirmations below come from my practice.
- Before you start looking at your reflection, close your eyes and reconnect with your breath. You want to make sure you’re present with your emotions right now.
- Make an intention for the practice. Decide to be accepting of your image in the mirror, as well as of all the thoughts and feelings that may arise in the process.
- Open your eyes and look at your reflection. You may notice some initial reactions, like looking for imperfections in your face or trying to turn your better profile towards the mirror. It’s okay to have those impulses — but remember, you don’t have to act on them.
- Keep following your breath as an anchor to the present moment. Become aware of the thoughts and feelings that come. If there’s self-criticism, don’t despise it — welcome it as an opportunity. This is your chance to become aware of how hard you can be on yourself.
- See if you can look at your reflection as if you were looking at a friend. Compassion may arise naturally at this point. However, no need to force it if it doesn’t.
- If it feels right, you can quietly say some affirmations or reassuring sentences to yourself. Think about what you’d like to hear from your best friend. The sentences I often use include “I love you,” “I’m here for you, no matter what,” “You’re beautiful, wise and strong,” “You’ll be fine, no matter what.”
- After you say (or not) the affirmations, you can still spend a few quiet moments just being with yourself. When you feel like you want to finish, thank yourself for the practice and put the mirror away.
When You Can’t See Others, Take Time To See Yourself
In our lives, we’re often so focused on other people that we don’t take the time to look at ourselves. When our days are full of interactions, we may lose touch with how we feel and what we think.
Although being in lockdown isn’t easy, it can be an opportunity to discover something new. One of the discoveries can be to see yourself fully. You may now take time to notice your emotions, thoughts and problems that you’ve been hiding away from.
I believe that if you’re intentional about this time, you can come out on the other side stronger. More aware. More honest. This is what I’m trying to do, anyway.
Even though I can’t see my friends, I have a mirror in my room. It’s reminding me of the one friend I almost forgot I had.