Most of us tend to seek validation from the outside, whether it's from family members, peers, love interests, teachers, bosses, authority figures, or society in general. We're naturally conditioned to do so. Social media magnifies the problem since we can now measure our likability with hard numbers and instantly compare ourselves to other people's stats. The pressure's on to share your best self and prove you're a success, and now it's easier to do—and to fake—than ever.
Meanwhile, cliched quotes on loving yourself are also littering our feeds, as if self-acceptance is simply a matter of turning on a switch. Girls are developing eating disorders younger than ever, and beautiful, accomplished women are wasting time worrying about thigh gaps. How do you love yourself when you're constantly surrounded by messages telling you you're unworthy?
There are naturally confident people who grew up with parents—or even one parent—who instilled positive beliefs in them early on and showered them with love. Unfortunately, in many cultures, including mine, there's a focus on pointing out the negative in children and withdrawing love as a method for them to better themselves. I grew up in China, where I was constantly measured against my peers: my cousins, neighbours, and classmates. It can feel great when you're perceived to be superior at something and the parents have bragging rights. If not, the adults will bluntly tell you how you've failed. Nothing personal, just the facts.
The pressure to be the best is a matter of survival too. You must get the best marks to get into the best schools, because those in the best schools will get the best jobs, and those with the best jobs will make the most money and marry the best, and so on. While this is a little more lax in Western culture, the mentality is not too different.
Let's say you do succeed and you are at the top for everything—the best looking, the smartest, and richest—those labels are still formed under the society's values, and if you subscribe to society's labels, one day, somebody better might come along who's better at one or more of these categories you're used to excelling in. You get pushed to second place, and suddenly you're not such a hotshot. You might even feel worthless.
This is what happens when you put your self-worth in other people's hands and think love is something you have to earn. I know grown men whose motivation to succeed is to get their fathers' approval.
With Louise Hay's Mirror Work, you can start giving yourself that love and validation, immediately.
The process is simple. Go in front of a mirror, look into your eyes and say out loud, "I love you." Say your name, too: "I love you, ___, I really, really love you." Repeat this five times.
How does this make you feel? Cheesy? Uncomfortable? Resistant?
I know the first few times I said it, I felt fake. I didn't really mean it, and my delivery was robotic. I also found it hard to keep looking into my eyes because I was busy focusing on my skin's little flaws.
But I kept going, and a few days in, I had a breakthrough. I really meant it this time, and as I looked into my eyes, I felt warm and connected to myself. Throughout the week, I kept doing the mirror work, and it started to feel more natural.
Louise Hay had taught others to do mirror work as long as she had taught affirmations. (Sadly, she passed away at the end of last summer at the age of 90.) She believed looking deeply into your eyes and repeating affirmations was the most effective method to loving yourself and seeing the world as a safe and loving place.
The process is easy, but the challenge, at least for me, is to make time to do it. It's not always fun or comfortable, especially in the beginning. You can repeat the "I love you" affirmations as many times as you want throughout the day every time you're in front of a mirror. Or if you have a pocket mirror or compact, use that.
If you're having trouble getting started, Louis Hay's Mirror Work: 21 Days to Heal Your Life book can help ease you into the process. Since I kept forgetting to do this, the daily prompts in the book helped me form a habit. I didn't do writing exercises or the meditations on consecutive days. I started in October and finished in December.
So can loving yourself really be as easy as doing mirror work? I certainly think it's a good place to start, and you really have nothing to lose by trying it.
Around the same time I was doing mirror work, I started weekly sessions with a ThetaHealer. That was a huge game changer for me. The sessions surfaced all sorts of self-limiting beliefs my subconscious mind was storing that I didn't even know I had.
The key to all this is reprogramming the subconscious mind with positive beliefs. There are different ways of doing it. Affirmations can help, although it might take longer. Some beliefs might not take because there might be something deep inside that's resistant to a new belief. You might be walking around with beliefs from others people, such as your parents, or society (group consciousness), or even your ancestors and from past lives. (2021 update: I am now a certified intuitive healer helping people heal limiting beliefs.)
I still do mirror work when I remember. After all the work I've done on myself in the past six months, when I look into the mirror now, I love what I see. Is it strange to hear a woman say that? It's a new reality for me, and I hope you join me in making it yours too.