LGBTQ – Self­Objectification and the Benefits of Mirror Meditation

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Q: What is mirror meditation?

It’s a meditation technique that involves silently gazing at your reflection in the mirror for a prolonged period with the only goal of being present with yourself. Our research shows that it can reduce stress and increase self­-compassion. People have reported profound changes in their self-perception from conducting this practice.

Q: How might mirror meditation be especially relevant to those in the LGBTQ community?

The mirror can be a valuable tool to help people track their attention. We use our attention to take one of three basic perspectives. An inner perspective involves focusing on ourselves and the related emotions and body sensations. By taking an outer perspective, we shift the focus from ourselves onto others – what they are saying, doing, feeling. We also use a third person perspective in which we take the viewpoint of an observer. That is, we imagine how we look to others. Individuals who grew up feeling different from others often have a heightened sense of this third person perspective, especially if their different­ness was considered “wrong” or “bad”. Being able to understand how others perceive them may have helped them avoid reject and ridicule, or worse. As people begin to follow a mirror meditation practice, they start to notice how much of their attention goes to this third person perspective.

Q: That makes sense. It seems like a good thing to be able to take another’s perspective. Is there a downside?

Yes, there is a disadvantage. When we get in the habit of deciding what to say and do based on what it will look like to others, we can lose touch with our true feelings – and the ability to act authentically. Psychologists call this third person perspective self­-objectification and find it’s used most frequently by women and stigmatized groups.

Self-­objectification is associated with body shame, neuroticism, and negative emotions, like depression. It creates a lessened awareness of bodily sensations and emotions too. There is research showing that self-­objectification reduces our ability to be in the present moment –which makes sense – how can we possibly be with ourselves, and the people we love in the current moment if we are imagining that someone else is observing us?

Q: How can Mirror Meditation help?

In Mirror Meditation, as in other forms of meditation, there is an opportunity to slow down and track our attention. The mirror is a particularly useful tool because it helps us see where our attention goes. If you notice your attention wandering to the observer perspective, or to only thinking about what someone else is thinking about you, first have compassion for yourself.

Understand that this isn’t a random habit of thought but a way you’ve learned to function, and may be to protect yourself. This way of thinking has become internalized, and you may not be aware of it until you slow down and silently gaze at yourself.

Then with kindness, use your intention to bring your attention back to your image in the mirror. It is called a practice (rather than a perfect performance!) because it involves noticing your attention wandering and bringing it back again and again – and doing is regularly to experience the benefits. Just keep bringing your attention back to the present. As you do the Mirror Meditation practice, you may find a particular pattern of when your attention shifts an observer person. Who is this person? What were you experiencing before they show up in your awareness?

Q: Is Mirror Meditation safe for people who have experienced trauma?

Individuals who have experienced trauma, rejection, ridicule, persecution, and the like for simply being who they truly are might experience a rebound effect. That is, Mirror Meditation may trigger defenses, worries and concerns about being judged by others so that you are more aware of them than usual. If you do Mirror Meditation in a place where you feel safe, you may come to realize that the habitual concern with observers is based on your experience. Now you are safe.

That being said, it’s important to note that Mirror Meditation is a short­-term therapeutic technique and not a substitute for care from a licensed therapist. Looking at yourself in the mirror may evoke feelings that you may want to process with a licensed therapist. If you find looking at yourself in the mirror to be extremely upsetting, stop doing it and talk with a licensed professional.

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