I vividly remember looking in the bathroom mirror one evening several years ago and, along with the usual face full of blemishes, seeing the distinct look of disappointment on my face.
I had been told by the internet and the self-help section of Barnes and Noble that in order to be happy I needed to learn how to accept myself, and looking in the mirror was my attempt to do so. I stared at my reflection and tried to will acceptance into my being.
The followers of the “be positive” movement were telling me that magic would happen once I learned how to accept myself as I was – but I just couldn’t do it.
I looked myself in the eyes and tried saying, “I love you,” but that just felt silly. The words came out of my mouth, but they were just sounds that didn’t mean anything.
So asked myself, why? Why was it so hard to look in the mirror and be ok with what I saw? I stared blankly for what felt like an eternity, then with a sigh of exasperation I gave up. I rolled my eyes at the mirror, feeling stupid for having wasted my time.
As I turned to leave, I flicked the bathroom light switch off. And, because life likes to be funny like that sometimes, an idea in the back of my mind flicked on at the same time… The reason I couldn’t accept myself is because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be ok with what I was, because I didn’t like it.
I turned the light back on and went back to the mirror and started to take stock of what I saw.
I saw acne. Blemishes. Blotches on what might otherwise be an attractive face. Flaws. I saw defects and deficiency. Why on earth would I want to accept that? Talk about a hard pill to swallow. To me, “accepting myself” felt like pretending that these things that so obviously bothered me didn’t exist. I could say to myself, “it’s not that big of a deal” a million times – but it still felt like a big deal and I hated the idea of trying to tell myself it wasn’t.
It was then that it dawned on me to really question what exactly it was that I was trying to accept. It wasn’t about the acne. It was what I thought the acne meant. I stared at the mirror again and tried to get really honest with myself. What did I think my acne meant about me? The list that came to mind was bleak.
I thought my acne meant I was unhealthy, that I was eating the wrong things, or not taking care of myself in the right way. It meant I was dirty and using the wrong things on my skin. It meant I looked juvenile and unprofessional and probably wouldn’t be taken seriously. It meant I was unattractive and no one would really want me. At the core of it, my acne meant I was unlovable.
Hot tears streamed down my face as I realized what I had actually been thinking about myself. I was a bully. I tried imagining someone else saying those things to me. What if a friend had said I was unlovable? Would I just accept that? I would hope not! And yet here I was, unknowingly trying to accept that about myself.
So I decided that it was better for me to not accept myself, or at least to not accept the story I had been telling myself. But now what? I still didn't know what I was supposed to say to the mirror.
I looked into my own eyes and waited for the words to come. And they did. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been doing this to you all these years. Somewhere along the way I got the idea that those spots were wrong and bad and that they made you unlovable, and I’ve been punishing you for having them. I’m so sorry.”
That was where I started. Once I understood what I had been unconsciously doing to myself, I began to forgive that part of me, and then to consciously change my behavior. It wasn’t an overnight process, but one day I could look in the mirror and say, “I accept you, and I love you for all you have done and gone through and taught me.” And sincerely mean it.
I say this to you, because I know what I used to see in the mirror is not uncommon. So many of us, women in particular, can only see flaws in our reflection, and then we blame and punish ourselves for having them. Telling yourself to accept those “flaws” without first understanding the deeper meaning you’ve given them probably isn’t going to help you any more than it helped me.
I suggest you get to know the underlying thoughts you have about yourself. Unearth the truth about what you really think when you look in the mirror. Be honest. What "flaws" do you see, and what do you believe they mean about you?
I won’t lie, this process isn’t fun. It’s going to be uncomfortable. You’re going to have to get in touch with your inner bully and find out what she’s been saying about you. But if you don’t start talking to her, she’s going to keep running the show, without you even knowing it. And when she calls the shots, you’re never all that happy.
If you want help in this process, I am whole heartedly here for you. I know it isn’t easy, so if you would like some guidance – send me a message. I will support you in any way that I can.
Sending you much love,