You’ve heard that maxim that what you hate in others is what you hate in yourself? Well, I started watching myself to see how true this maxim might be. It’s alarming to discover just how often I turn my dissatisfaction with myself into finding those same faults in others.
For example, I have an altercation with someone and I’m worried that they will go out and speak badly of me to others because of it. Then I realize I’m just itching to find a friend so I can rail about how unreasonably and unjustly that person treated me. Oh.
Or I’m suspicious of someone who I think may be vengefully sabotaging me. I find myself scheming up all sorts of clever and devious ways to undermine them back and… oh. Of course, I won’t carry out my plots because I’m “Nice,” but I’m weltering about in my vindictive fancies like a pig in, um, let’s call it mud.
It’s really true that the people around us act as mirrors, so that we can see ourselves by observing them! But, yuck! I don’t want to see this sort of thing in myself! Why does our interaction with others work this way? Is it possible that this mirroring could open a door to greater happiness? What if seeing our own behavior makes it easier for us to relate to others?
Since this occurred to me, I’ve tried to catch myself in the act of being annoyed by a “difficult person.” I try to ask myself if there’s some way I exhibit that behavior. The answer is invariably, “Yes.”
Sigh. So now what? Thank that person for showing you how you no longer want to be. (Do this internally. It doesn’t go over well if you actually say that to them.)
Once you are aware of what’s going on, you can take several specific actions that will increase your own happiness. First you can stop judging the other person. Judging others brings a sort of relief in that it deflects attention away from your own shortcomings… but it sure doesn’t bring joy. It doesn’t help to judge yourself either, so go ahead and skip that part too. Next, you can work on becoming a better person yourself, by developing a new, preferable habit to replace the old, reactive habit. Finally, you can have greater compassion for yourself and others as you realize how easy it is to fall into that old behavior, and how diligently you have to work to make positive changes in your own life.
Of course, mirrors don’t only reflect the negative, they also reflect the positive. What you admire in others, is also in you! It’s true! And so here is another, more pleasant benefit of the mirror effect — it can show you your own potential for greatness. Don’t forget to see the good in yourself and others!
Finally, this realization that others are mirroring our own internal world to us, hints at how related we all are. We aren’t as separate and different as we might think. We can see parts of ourself in even the most disparate individuals. That gives us an opening to understand each other with a goal of greater communal happiness.