Mirror, mirror

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. – Carl Gustav Jung

Life is like a laboratory for our learning and other people are the raw materials with which we work. There are no absolutes, however, because everything is based on perception. Human perception is infinitely variable. Everyone has his or her own unique perspective that can change over the course of a lifetime or in a single moment of insight.

The problem is that the human ego believes that its perception is reality. Of course, this means that any other perception must be wrong. It is a little like two people having an argument; one is on the fifth floor of a high rise while the other is on the twentieth. They are arguing over their cell phones about whether the tenth floor is up or down. Each insists he is right and, according to his perspective, he is! Each uses his perspective as his basis for being right. The battle can go on endlessly unless they stop and take the time to understand the perspective of the other.

It is no wonder human communication can be difficult. Not only can we have differing perspectives about situations, but we may also project our own perceptions about a person on to that person and assume that is the reality of who they are. So I can insist that I know you better than you know yourself and that my perceptions about your intentions are more accurate than your own statements of intention. This becomes crazy making, because, as in our example above, we can argue endlessly about whose perception is correct.

What is the way out of this hall of mirrors-like maze? It is to keep our focus on ourselves and maintain the highest level of integrity we can regardless of what others are doing. Most of us have enough work to do fixing ourselves without worrying about fixing others.

One way to begin to break the habit of criticizing and judging others is to think of others as mirrors of ourselves. If we see something we do not like in another or which irritates us, consider the possibility we are being shown this behaviour because we also possess it, perhaps without realizing it.

In fact, in my work with couples, I very often see one partner being so upset at things the other does or says, when that individual behaves in exactly the same ways. She wants him to be sweet and romantic, but she is harsh and demeaning towards him. He does not want to be criticized by her, but he has an itemized list of everything that is wrong with her.

Think of the things that irritate you the most about someone in your life or, better still, make a list of all the things that irritate you. Then look over the list and see how many of those traits also apply to you. Get to work on changing those in yourself.

What if something really bothers you about another and you absolutely do not have that quality in yourself? In that case, the situation may be showing you your own tendency to be intolerant, judgmental and even “holier than thou.”

Remember when you were in grade school and one side of the report card was for academics and the other related to personal development? One of those categories was “gets along well with others.” How well do we get along with others? If we often find ourselves in conflict with others or ranting about their shortcomings, it may be time to take a look in the mirror. We might ask the image staring back at us exactly what it is that gives us the right to be so judgmental of others, exactly what that behaviour accomplishes and how exactly we would feel if others treated us this way.

Gandhi advised, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is quite amazing to see how when we start being how we wish others would be our world begins to change.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practise and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For more articles, permission to reprint and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.

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