From scowling to smiling – an act of self-love

A few months ago I realised I had started smiling at myself in the mirror.

The bigger realisation was that this new smiling thing had replaced scowling and pulling ugly faces at myself. Something I think I had been doing for years, maybe even decades.

Now, I know I am a 49 year-old woman and it may sound odd to hear of an adult deliberately doing that to herself but what was most surprising was that I hadn’t ever consciously STOPPED myself from doing it. And I certainly hadn’t understood the damage I had been inadvertently doing.

I’ve since mentioned it to family and friends and none of them can believe I used to do it either. They saw me as someone with high self-confidence, good (enough) self-esteem and never someone to deliberately sabotage myself or my own self-think (how we privately think about ourselves).

My understanding, since this very personal realisation, is that actually it’s the same for many of us.

We put on our ‘public image’, raise the drawbridge, put up our shields and venture out into the world and social interaction. We hide how we’re really feeling, either behind social media, polite social norms or simply behind our well-practiced mask. The reasons for this can be many, varied and deeply personal but one of the core reasons is that most of us are concerned that revealing hurt feelings might lead others to react negatively. So instead we hide it… stiff upper lip and all that.

You might find you engage with your mirror-self in any one of the ways I’ve listed below – and the ways may change, depending on your mood at the time, I know mine did (and if I’m honest, still do):

  • Give yourself the most cursory glance and move swiftly on
  • Avoid looking in mirrors, particularly those weirdly unflattering ones
  • Take every chance to look in a mirror, and then regret doing it
  • Frown, gurn, scowl and deliberately make yourself look ‘worse’
  • Use the mirror as an opportunity to identify all the things that are ‘wrong’ with you… criticising the shape and size of your features, pinpointing blemishes, sighing over wrinkles, bemoaning a sagging chin

My learning is this. We can all change our self-think. And while I know there are many facets to my own change journey, one step we can all take, straightaway, is surprisingly easy…

Next time you look in the mirror, smile.

Smile like you’re seeing your own best friend.

The person who loves you the most in all the world. The person who has your back, your front and your middle. The person who knows everything about you and loves you entirely, without judgement or criticism. The one who holds you closest and will never let you fall.

If it helps, close your eyes a moment and imagine that person, then softly open your eyes and really see yourself as that person. And smile.

This image of the little girl feels very symbolic to me. She is not afraid of her own reflection, nor of what she sees beyond it.

Shifting from self-loathing to healthy self-love.

When I stopped and thought about what I had done to release myself from old behaviours I began to understand what had helped me make that shift – a combination of nutrition, coaching, self-reflection. That understanding of how much I have changed, and why, is what inspired some of my previous posts. For example, how changing my attitude to nutrition, so I see food as delicious fuel, alongside new practices like journalling and understanding the psychology of self-selection have helped me shift old patterns of unhelpful behaviour.

This post however was inspired by listening to a podcast by Louise Hay and learning of her ‘mirror work / mirror play’.

Louise has spent a lifetime helping people learn to love themselves through a specific programme of mirror work and it’s been fascinating to understand that my accidental discovery is something founded in tried and trusted therapeutic roots.

What I hadn’t realised before is that the scowling was cementing the voice of my inner critic and that smiling is subtly increasing my sense of self-worth.

Mirror work makes so much sense to me because it feels like such a natural place where we connect with ourselves – and yet there’s this stigma to smiling at ourselves – words like pride, narcissism, arrogance can all arise – when in fact it’s all just about self-care.

When we fly we are told to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. Because we won’t be fit to help them if we’re struggling ourselves. I firmly believe that we have to be there for ourselves, practically and metaphorically, before we can really be there for others.

There’s no need to hide

Since my personal ‘smiling discovery’, I have recommended smiling in the mirror to many of my coaching clients.

They report that at first it can be hard, or they feel a bit silly, but once they realise it’s only themselves in the room and quite honestly they can do and be whoever they like in that moment, it gets easier. And then it becomes something close to pleasurable. Until eventually it feels like second nature.

For the first time in my adult life, I genuinely love myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t have self-doubt (I still have it – and continuously work on it!), what it means is that I can look myself in the eye and like the person I see; be glad that I am me; and be grateful for the work I have done to get me to this place.

When we look in the mirror it’s just us looking back. There is no need to hide. We are entirely with ourselves. My invitation to you is to embrace that person. Give them all the love they need.

Let me know how it goes.

Henny x