What is it Like to See Yourself for the First Time?


As we begin our session, I tell her “Wiggle your toes, feel your feet solidly on the floor, and your butt firmly in the chair.” We are preparing for a wild ride – not in an all-terrain vehicle or a rollercoaster. We’re beginning a 50-minute session of intense mirror gazing. No Smartphone checking, no music, no distractions… NO looking away.

“So, it’s just you here with yourself,” I say. She is breathing fast, her eyes darting everywhere possible but at her own image in the mirror. “Just take a look,” I say encouragingly. As her eyes finally settle on her reflection, they are cold and harsh, then a lip curls and her nose wrinkles in a disgusted grimace. “I am starting to look so much like my mother! I tried to take such good care of myself! I don’t understand how this could happen…” As she talks, she jerks her eyes to the wall – dismissing herself. Her attention bounces to me; her complaining becomes a plea. I know what she wants. She wants me to reassure her that she looks just great for her age, maybe give her advice on a cosmetic or a procedure. But I won’t do it. I won’t let her look to me for what she needs. I want her to look to HERSELF. “So go back to looking at yourself in the mirror. Can you let go of the commentary? Just put it on a shelf. You can have it back after our session. Let’s just see what’s there when you let go of the story.”

It often takes several minutes of firm, yet gentle persuading. She finally looks into her own eyes again and takes in her own reflection. Her body softens – her shoulders drop, her jaw relaxes. I notice that we are both breathing deeply and slowly in synchrony. Her face appears wistful, and then her eyes penetrate her own reflection and a ripple of sadness passes momentarily across her face. Quickly, her eyes become vague and harsh again as a critical thought erupts into her awareness. I say gently, “Just let that go.” As her attention again deepens, tears begin forming in the corners of her eyes. This is the moment when she begins to see herself with compassion – for the first time in a long time – maybe ever.

In a remarkably short period of time—twenty or so more minutes—magic happens and it’s clear that she’s not thinking or trying to feel anything. No. She just falls into feeling within her bones. She is giving herself the loving attention she craves so much from others. She is seeing her goodness and she looks absolutely radiant. Her own vibrant beauty now eclipses her story of aging in this moment, and by her compassion and loving acceptance of herself. As the session ends, we both feel euphoric, loving and soft. I might not know any of the stories of disappointment, abandonment, and rejection that have taken place over the course of her life. That’s okay. Together we have gone deeper – with the healing power of self-reflection.