Photo of Ariana Grande, courtesy of snapchat

Photo of Ariana Grande, courtesy of snapchat

Mirror work is something I first tried about 30 years’ ago. I went to a workshop in West Hollywood where author/teacher Louise Hay encouraged people to talk to themselves in the mirror. I thought it was pretty weird and resisted it, at first. But today I frequently use it in my counseling practice and in my personal life.

For many of us, looking at ourselves in the mirror isn’t easy. We often start – automatically – to criticize ourselves: “Oh, I look bad today”, “My hair looks awful” or “Boy, I sure am fat, aren’t I?”

This is the kind of stuff that encourages us NOT to look in a mirror: who wants to criticize themselves over-and-over again? (Only masochists, and I hope that doesn’t describe you).

Why would you look in the mirror and talk to yourself? Because it’s one of the best ways I know to help yourself through a bad time and to “be your own therapist”. There is something about looking in your own eyes that is very powerful. Perhaps, it’s because when we gaze (not stare) at ourselves in the mirror, we cannot avoid dealing with whatever it is that’s bothering us.

I’ve had clients who start crying when they begin to do what I call “mirror work”. Many of us are afraid to take a good look at ourselves: we try to avoid it. We’re afraid we’re going to see some really awful, ugly person meeting our gaze. As a result, we can get very out-of-touch with what we feel and want.

Then we wonder why we’re so unhappy.

Mirror work isn’t a miracle panacea; but it CAN be very helpful if we’re feeling stuck or unhappy and want to get out of it and feel better.

Mirror work helps us not only to SEE ourselves, but to LISTEN to ourselves. Many of us avoid listening to ourselves, thinking that we’ll be happier if we don’t. It doesn’t work. Ignoring how we feel is very unwise. Sure, we don’t need to pay attention to every little thing, but, ignoring stuff that continues to bother us just insures that we stay stuck in it.

When should I do “mirror work”? you may ask. Well, it can be really helpful in situations like this:

When things are bad, you could gently make eye contact with yourself in the mirror and say:

“How can I help you feel better today?”

“What can I do today to enjoy my life more?”

“What can I do about (name your problem)?”

When times are good, you can go to the mirror and say:

“Thank you for this great life/job/car/partner.”

“I am really happy about ———–. Thank you.”

“I am so grateful for my health/house/friends.”

When you’re having a hard time talking to someone: talk to them in the mirror, as practice:

“I would like us to have sex more often.” (said to your girlfriend/boyfriend/whomever).

“I deserve a raise because ————.” (said to your boss)

“Mom, I need you to stop calling/texting me so much.”

Mirror work doesn’t take long. If you have a minute, that’s enough. If you have more time and find yourself crying or angry, give yourself as much time as you need to get to the bottom of your emotions. If you’re crying, ask the man/woman in the mirror: “Why are you so sad?” and then listen for the answer. You’ll get one, and it may not be what you expect.

Mirror work “works” because it forces us to really look at and listen to ourselves. It’s often hard because what we see and hear is painful. The potential benefits of this kind of work are great: we have a chance to slow down and pay attention to ourselves at a level that we rarely do in this rush-rush, crazy deadline world.

That’s why I do it myself and use it with many of my clients.

(I’d like to thank Louise Hay for starting me on this path way back in 1988. She is a VERY wise woman and I have learned a lot from her in the last twenty-eight years. She currently lives in Bankers Hill, and is one of the happiest 89-year-old people I know.)