What we see in the mirror may be one of the most powerful forces in how we live our lives. That view shapes our aspirations and expectations – sometimes for good, sometimes not. The power of self-image is pretty hard to overestimate. That’s what makes it especially important to address the fact that a negative view of oneself is, unfortunately, terribly common.
As I’ve been reminded lately, the challenge of appreciating who you see in the mirror and thinking positively about yourself – for just about everyone from teenage kids to seniors – is very real. A major study recently released in China, where honoring the elderly has been woven into the culture for thousands of years, shows that more than 40% of elderly people in Taiwan consider themselves a burden to their family or society, and more than 60% consider themselves unhealthy, just because they’re older!
Interestingly, significantly fewer young people hold negative stereotypes of the elderly than that group holds of themselves. Clearly, the self-reflection you see in the mirror is a toughie – and not only for the aging.
The challenge of appreciating who you see in the mirror and thinking positively about yourself is very real.
According to this article about teenage girls (yes, I have two teen daughters, and one in her 20s), maintaining positive self-image is at least as challenging for this group as it is for the elderly. Like their Taiwanese counterparts of a certain age, many teenage girls reportedly see themselves in a far less positive light than those who love them typically do. And that, I think, is the key.
While who we see in the mirror at any age is dynamic, and certainly related to how others see us, it’s fundamentally about loving ourselves. No matter what fashion magazines, gyms or diet programs say, we don’t love ourselves because we are fans of who and what we see in the mirror. Instead, we like who and what we see in the mirror because we love ourselves. That’s the most important message I try to share with my own kids, and with pretty much everybody else (including myself) as often as I can.
One thing of which I’m certain is that no matter what you see when you look in the mirror, there’s good reason to believe that what others are seeing is better than what you see. And if you could just hold that thought as you walk through life, then the places you could go, and the things you could achieve, might really surprise you.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.