When people find out I teach mirror meditation, they often say, “I hate to look at myself in the mirror!” Followed by The Trifecta of Self-Cruelty: “I’m fat, I’m old, I’m ugly.” This Trifecta, as I’ve come to call it, has infinite combinations and variations on the three themes, but all of them are terribly unkind ways to regard oneself. Research finds that when asked 80% or more of people say they are not content with their appearance.

For some people, criticizing their appearance becomes almost an obsession. And the mirror usually plays a prominent role in triggering that obsession. For instance, Clare was habitually transfixed by the mirror, noticing all her flaws and imperfections. She spent a fortune on all the latest cosmetics and hair products to make her appearance as appealing as possible. To everyone else, she looked like a bright and beautiful woman – and she received a lot of compliments. Yet, she was never satisfied with the way she looked. As she gazed at herself, her glossy lip curled in disgust, turning her head to scrutinize herself from every possible angle.

I suggested that she simply observe her thoughts about herself with an open awareness and without trying to fix anything. Once she became more aware of her habitual thoughts, I invited her to shift her focus from seeing your supposed imperfections, to seeing herself as the recipient of her own harsh judgments. It wasn’t easy for her to break the habit of looking through critical eyes. Eventually, she realized that she was creating her own suffering because she could see it on her face.

For Clare, the mirror meditation wasn’t about saying affirmations that she was beautiful to override her habitual criticisms. Rather, it was a practice that helped her realize how downright cruel she was to herself. She felt sad when she first realized the full impact that her own criticisms were having on her well-being, and that allowed her to choose to treat herself more kindly. Her new attitude toward herself led her to treat others with more kindness too. She also discovered that she had much more time to pursue her passions and things that mattered most in her life now that she spent less time focused on her appearance.

As you look at yourself in the mirror, see yourself as the recipient of your criticisms instead of the object of them.

Next week: How the mirror helped Katrina replace social “likes” with authentic relationships.