During psychotherapy many clients have admitted to me that they "feel ugly". What inevitably comes to light, as the work continues, is that feelings of ugliness are really feelings of shame and unlovableness.

Our sense of who we are begins with how our mother looks into our eyes. What we see in our mother's eyes reflects us back to ourselves.

If she looks sweet, gentle, interested, and caring, we feel sweet, gentle, interesting and cared for. When we feel cared for, we develop a feeling of security, self-worth, and the ability to care for others. Because we were a magnet for our mother's love, we naturally feel attractive as we grow up.

But if our mother is overburdened by the responsibility of parenting, she may look in our eyes with hostility--or not look at us at all (which makes us feel as if we don't exist!).

Even as babies, we know much from the way our mother (or primary caretaker) holds us. The tension in her arms and the way she carries us, supports our head (or not) and even the tone of her voice, communicates whether we are valued and cherished, or a burden and unwanted responsibility. We sense whether she is loving and has time for us, or resentful and busy. In turn, we feel valuable and lovable, or resentful and afraid. After all, our physical, emotional and psychological survival depends on our mother's care.

We may cry and demand her attention, and she may give it reluctantly, and with criticism (e.g., "What a stinky baby," "You're so demanding!" "Shut up or I'll give you something to cry about!" etc.). This is the beginning of the emotional wounding that underlies feelings of ugliness.

Please know that mothers do not have to be perfect for us to develop good self-esteem. The British psychologist, D.W. Winnicott taught that all that is necessary to bring up well-adjusted humans is "good enough" parenting. Unfortunately, many parents fall short of "good enough" parenting. It actually takes the first seven years of life for our full character to develop--so our feelings of being lovable and valuable continue to grow into young childhood. I'm focusing on infancy because those are pre-verbal memories that usually remain unaccessible to us, but would explain a lot about why we "feel ugly".

The ugliness we imagine we see in the mirror is really a reflection of how we feel about ourselves inside. No matter what you look like, even if you have a deformity, it is possible to feel beautiful. Watch the documentary "Happy," which you can find on DVD, to see a demonstration of this for yourself. Even if an accident disfigures you later in life, it is the childhood imprinting of whether you are lovable/beautiful or unlovable/ugly that will prevail until you seek help to improve your self-image.

Once we are willing to believe that this feeling of ugliness is based on our self-esteem, a door to healing opens. As we seek help though psychotherapy, support groups, self-help literature, and/or a spiritual path, we allow people to see us through the eyes of love. As we learn to receive love, our self-esteem grows and our feelings of ugliness evaporate, little by little.

One day we look in the mirror and are able to say to ourselves, "You're beautiful and I love you," and really mean it. Louise Hay pioneered this healing mirror exercise and you can read more about it in her classic book, "You Can Heal Your Life".

There is hope for everyone who feels ugly, if you are willing to take steps to loving yourself. You can begin at any age, and become an inspiration to others who suffer from low self-esteem, self-image problems, and even body dysmorphia. Give yourself a chance to know the real truth about yourself: You are beautiful and lovable. You've just been looking in the wrong mirror.

Copyright © 2012 Amy Torres
All rights reserved worldwide

Author's Bio: 

Amy Torres is a Gestalt psychotherapist, interfaith minister, and yoga instructor. She teaches A Course in Miracles, which is the foundation of all her work. She has developed the Language of Love, Harmony & Beauty©, a form of emotionally responsible communication, conflict negotiation, and a way of "undoing" our identification with the ego. To see Amy's videos, sign up for her free newsletter, and receive a free gift, visit www.amytorresacim.com