We all live inside a bubble. You’re in yours, I’m in mine, pretty much everyone you know is in theirs. And the inside of that bubble is a silvery mirror. The world you perceive is actually your own reflection.
This is hardly a new insight, I realize; I learned about the psychological concept of “projection” many long years ago. But until I started coaching, I didn’t truly understand it, nor did I realize what a potent force it could be in somebody’s life.
Everyone you meet is a mirror, and how you react to that person is how you react to the parts of yourself that you see in them (whether or not those parts are even “objectively” there). This is most often pointed out in the case of somebody who really gets up your nose. “Ugh! I can’t stand Rob at the office, he’s so self-absorbed and inconsiderate!” Well maybe he is, but the chances are you wouldn’t notice his self-absorption and lack of consideration, if on some level you didn’t recognize and identify with those less-than-nice traits in yourself.
But the truth cuts both ways– if there’s something you really admire in somebody, well guess what? You identify with that quality too. Love someone’s amazing sense of humor? It would be totally lost on you if you didn’t also have a sense of humor! Touched by someone’s kindness? The only way you can appreciate that is by seeing the kindness in your own heart. As a coach, I’m a kind of “professional mirror,” and seeing the awesomeness in my clients has been fundamental in teaching me to bring the awesome, myself!
I see many people (clients and non-clients both) who are eager to beat themselves up for their perceived flaws and failures. It’s trained into us from childhood, from parents telling us not to be too rambunctious to school systems designed to rank you from A+ to F. And since those flaws and failures are given so damn much attention by the world around us, we sometimes start to think of them as who we are. But when you think of your flaws and failures as who you are, guess what? They’re all you see in the mirror. Living in an environment that is constantly judging you, trains you to start judging everyone around you in return.
But you can break this cycle! You can be happier in yourself, and you can also be kinder with the people around you, which will in turn lead them to be happier and more positive with you. How?
- Be Aware of It. This is the first step on any journey of self-transformation. When you find yourself thinking judgey thoughts (about yourself or others), stop and be aware of it. Is this thought fact, or interpretation? Is it useful? Is it kind? Or is it a script that you heard when you were young and you’re just repeating now out of habit? Is Rob at the office actually self-absorbed and inconsiderate? What if he’s carrying more than he can handle and doing his best? What if he’s spent his whole life being told to “Look out for number one!” and is actually supremely lonely inside?
- Evaluate It. How is this thought serving you? How is it holding you back? What might be a better thought to put in its place? If it’s a judgement about someone else, what quality in yourself are you actually reacting to? We can all be self-absorbed and inconsiderate sometimes.
- Create the New Thought. Say Rob at the office really is self-absorbed and inconsiderate. Some people are! But you’re never going to make him not be self-absorbed and inconsiderate, are you? So you have a choice: you can sit and stew and not be able to stand him, or you can find a new way of being in which his self-absorption isn’t a problem for you any more. Route around him, minimize contact with him, think of ways to get what you need without him.
- Forgive and Let Go. When someone’s behavior isn’t a problem for you any more, let go of any lingering emotional attachment you have to it. They don’t have any more power over you than you give them at this stage. And the great thing about this, is the more you can forgive someone else for a thing that bugs you, the easier it will be to forgive yourself for the same thing. Forgiveness is also a habit and a skill that can be learned!
Being kinder to your friend in the mirror is being kinder to yourself as well. And can’t we all use a little more of that?