I am facilitating a guided self-reflection session. My client is sitting in front of the mirror in a comfortable meditation posture. She is still, gazing into her own eyes. And, she feels nothing. She doesn’t like her hair and she makes a few other, dare I say, cruel comments about her appearance, but… She. Feels. Nothing. Why?
She has spent a lifetime cultivating an appealing image for others to see. In doing so, she has pushed the undesirable aspects of herself away. The ugly emotions of fear and anger never cross her face. She done such a good job of hiding her negative emotions that she can’t feel them and is no longer even aware of them. Over a lifetime of trying to just focus on looking good and controlling her emotions, eventually she has become numbed even her positive emotions. She stopped being able to feel herself. She still looks great by societal standards but she feels nothing.
I feel. Sad. And I know I can help her.
But, first let’s consider how this might have happened.
Parents can have a strong desire to see their children in a certain way — usually beautiful, smart, and happy. They can even inadvertently teach their children to show these qualities and train them to hide any part of themselves that does not meet their image of the perfect child. So children grow up hiding parts of themselves that are ugly, dumb and sad. These qualities are part of being human but we have been taught that they are somehow not acceptable and should be hidden, or at least apologized for. The media further reinforces our ideas about what is acceptable to show and what should be hidden away.
Most people use the mirror to do social grooming rituals and check their appearance before they go out in public. In this way, they treat themselves as objects adjusting this and that and “fixing” their face, body and clothing to appear “presentable” to others. Psychologists call it objectification; the idea is that we take the perspective of another person and how they will view our appearance. Most of us are very skilled at doing this because of the media images we grew up with. When we habitually look in the mirror to check and adjust our appearance, we can also get in the habit of ignoring how we are actually feeling. So next time you check your appearance out in the mirror, check out how you are feeling too!
In the meantime, I am going to use my client’s interest in her appearance to guide her deeper and beyond the positive, albeit numb, image she has created. As we work together, I will show her how to penetrate her own image by building tolerance and acceptance for the parts of herself that are hiding underneath that positive image. We will explore her most unpleasant or rejected aspects with openness, curiosity, and exquisite loving attention. Who knows what might be there? Ugliness, confusion, arrogance, rage, fear, or whatever it is – it’s waiting to be seen.
Letting your less desired or unflattering aspects be seen releases the energy that you have been using to hold them back. This can be a very enlivening process.