How do you see yourself?
When you look in the mirror, can you hold your gaze without wincing in embarrassment?
I remember chatting to a friend years ago, when we were very young, and he would talk about being embarrassed by himself when no one else was around.
He would find himself doing something, maybe singing to himself or tidying his room or whatever, and he would think: God, I am so awkward. Everything I do is awkward.
That always stuck with me. How could we possibly be embarrassed in front of ourselves?
Sartre talks about shame as proof of the existence of others, since it is the innate, visceral awareness of being seen in our vulnerability.
But this seemed something beyond that. Even when there is no possibility of social judgement, we continue to judge ourselves.
In one sense, clearly we are extrapolating an idea of how others see us onto how we see ourselves. We take a perceived social judgement and apply it to ourselves on a more permanent, identity-level basis.
But I think there is something deeper going on, which is even implied by the question - How do you see yourself?
Because what this presupposes is a split, a looking in on oneself.
Now, this is all well and good in a certain sense. All spiritual traditions and psychotherapeutic traditions require a certain self-awareness.
But my guess is that if you are reading this post, if you are curious about how others see themselves, then your self-reflection bears within it something innately critical. You have turned against yourself, examining yourself for every little flaw and blemish.
Here’s the thing though: if you look for flaws, that is all you will find. Because the flaws exist in fact in the gaze, and not the reflection. Because when you look for flaws, you look with judgement.
And the judging mind will always find something to judge, because no one is even approaching perfect. The judging mind will always find something to judge because there is no good or bad but thinking makes it so, and judgement has already come down on the side of the bad.
So when you look in the mirror, don’t worry so much about what you see. Rather, become aware that the eyes with which you are looking have become habituated to seeing with judgement, because this is the default mode of the world, this is our conditioning.
And instead, begin the slow process of softening that gaze, of looking upon yourself with love. Practise bringing more and more of yourself into loving awareness. Hold the wounded parts of your psyche in your mind like a mother trussing her child. Gently repeat affirmations to yourself: Mmay you be happy, may you be safe. I love you. I love you. I love you.’
Beauty, remember, is in the eye of the beholder. Remind yourself once again how to see it.
Ronan is a writer, musician and coach, committed to seeking truth, beauty and deepening human connection and community. His mission is to help people come alive to realise their deepest gifts.