I remember one time I had about two years in recovery, and I came to my sponsor with a problem. I don’t remember what the problem was (this was a long time ago), but, like most of my problems, it probably revolved around other people not doing what I thought they should be doing, probably for me and on my schedule. My sponsor chuckled a bit and said, “That sounds like a problem that someone with low self-esteem would have. I want you to get in front of the mirror every day for 30 days, look yourself in the eye, and say ‘Brendon, I like you, I love you, and you’re okay just the way you are.’”1
I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, but what I thought was “Nope. No way I’m going to something that irretrievably stupid.” I said some sort of hesitant-sounding thing, my sponsor responded with something like, “Okay, whatever. You’ll do it when you’re ready,” and we moved on.
A month or so later, I came to him with some problem, and he said, “That sounds like a problem that someone with low self-esteem would have. I want you to get in front of the mirror every day for 30 days, look yourself in the eye, and say ‘Brendon, I like you, I love you, and you’re okay just the way you are.” Once again, I responded with something hesitant and negative, he said that I would do it when I was ready, and we moved on.
For two years we played this game. At least once a month, and probably more like every 2-3 weeks, I would have some problem, talk to my sponsor, he would identify it as a possible low self-esteem problem and suggest the mirror exercise, and I would decline. Finally, I just got so sick of hearing him tell me about it that I decided I would do it just so he would shut the hell up about it.
So, every day when I got out of the shower, I would confirm that my roommate was still asleep (because there was no way I was going to let anyone else catch me doing something so stupid), look myself in the eye in the mirror, and say “Brendon, I like you, I love you, and you’re okay just the way you are.”
For the entire first 30 days, I felt like a complete idiot doing this, and I didn’t believe a word I was saying. I had grown up just knowing that I wasn’t enough—not tall enough, not strong enough, not smart enough, not dedicated enough, not persistent enough, not good-looking enough, not outgoing enough, and on and on—and just saying a few words in the mirror didn’t immediately change that.
After 30 days or so, I had gotten used to the practice, so I no longer felt like a complete idiot doing it, but I still didn’t believe a word I was saying. I don’t remember why I kept going (remember, the original assignment was for 30 days), but I did.
I ended up doing it every day for about 9 months. Every single day, I would get in front of the mirror, look myself in the eye, and say “Brendon, I like you, I love you, and you’re okay just the way you are.” After a while (2-3 months, maybe?) I started to play with the wording just a little bit, but the theme was always the same. Every day, over and over, I would tell myself that I was okay and that I liked myself and loved myself.
By the end of 9 months, I believed it. It was true. I did like myself, I did love myself, and I knew that I was okay just the way I was. (Note particularly the wording here: “okay”. Not “perfect”, not “superb”, but “okay” — as in, “there’s nothing wrong with you.”)
Growing up, my self-talk was pretty horrific. I believed all those “not <blank> enough” things about myself, and believed that that was just the way it was. There was no possibility of changing any of that. So, any time anything happened that could even slightly be taken as evidence to confirm one of those things, I would remind myself that that’s the way it was.
“See, she didn’t respond to you. You’re not good-looking enough.”
“See, you didn’t get an A-plus on the test. You’re not smart enough.”
“See, you didn’t finish that painted city project when you were 10 years old. You’re not persistent enough.” 2
Doing the mirror exercise allowed me to start to break those patterns of self-reinforcing self-talk. I eventually found that what I needed to say to myself in the mirror were those things that I wished my dad could have told me when I was a kid, but that at that time he didn’t know how to say.
This was a life-changing exercise for me. After growing up with the constant gnawing yearning aching, knowing that I just was not enough, I can say that in the almost 30 years since I started doing that exercise, I have not once been plagued with that “I’m not good enough” feeling. To be clear, I was absolutely not struck perfect as a consequence of this exercise. I continue to make mistakes, to do things that I wish I hadn’t, to have regrets, to hurt myself and people around me, to miss opportunities to help myself and others, and just in general to be an imperfect human being. But, today, I know that I am enough. That’s a pretty amazing feeling.
- This was a long time ago, when “self-esteem” was more in vogue. Today we’d probably say low self-confidence or negative self-talk. ↩
- True story! I used that project (plus one other project when I was about 11 that I didn’t finish) as mental evidence that I was a “poor finisher” for at least 15 years after the fact. It wasn’t until I finished my Ph.D. that I allowed myself to believe that maybe, just maybe, I did indeed know how to finish things. ↩
One response to “Mirror Affirmations”
I had similar experiences, and oftentimes still need the mirror.
Sometimes I feel that the depth of my “not enough” can not be reached in this lifetime.
I am on a continuous journey to know and love myself.