It is common, and commendable, to be curious about how others see you in general, or in specific situations. The more insight you have in this area, the less time you are apt to lie awake at night, wondering. And even when you may have acted differently in a specific situation, upon review, this insight generally provides the best answer for moving forward.
It is quite possible to see yourself exactly as other people see you; however, this takes courage, and the development of some insight. So, if you dare, have a peek in the mirror…
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
1. Understand that other people are your mirror.
A simple concept, yet one that many people are either unwilling, or unable, to grasp.Summed up, it is simply that other people reflect you. Your emotions, your traits, and your feelings are reflected back at you from other people either through in-kind responses or through predictable reactions to the emotions or feelings that you’re issuing.
Perhaps even more surprising is the reality that the reflection is perfect, even if the “reflector” is almost invariably not. For example, you might feel condescension, irritability, or dismissiveness toward another person, which lowers your estimation of them and causes you to treat them less seriously; yet in doing so, you ignore the fact that they reflect your negative appraisal of them.
- Intellectually challenged people can provide the highest quality reflections for others’ behavior, while being personally oblivious that a “mirror” exists; this has to do with their lack of inhibition and their inability to dissemble. Such people more innately reflect the signals and body language you are sending them.
- “Normal” people usually reflect, also, until they have learned to mask (these go on to wonder why they can’t feel anything, have no passion); so you are looking for a more subtle signal. Usually (at least in the U.S.) they are clearly sending it, and you have just seen it for so long (every time a certain situation arises, and you respond that certain way), that you either are (unconsciously) ignoring the correct interpretation, and/or have most likely developed your own, not-wholly-correct one.
- It is quite easy to go through your entire life, in many Western cultures at least, and never develop the innate skill of spotting yourself being reflected in other people; any development in this area will improve your self-insight and your relations with others.
This mirror-gazing skill is more developed of necessity in people of diminished means who need to learn quickly how to read people well in order to survive; however, just because you have never been hungry, left alone, or impoverished, does not mean you have to be clueless about yourself.
See that a big part of seeing yourself is recognizing that some little behavior of someone else, witnessed by you, is in fact exactly what you look like when exhibiting that same behavior, and that your rationalization of it as “different from yourself” is what is incorrect about your interpretation.
2. Recognize that people say things to you, or about you, for a reason.
While it can be easy (in fact it’s human nature) to dismiss anything not felt to be relevant, or not seen to be complimentary, and to see it rather as a reflection of the person saying or commenting about things you’re not comfortable with (to an extent it’s about them but that’s not the whole story), for the most part it probably has a grain of truth in it for you. Even if it is painful and your ego tempts you to reject it out of hand, be alert to this probability. It is less important that you identify with what may have been actually said here; rather, what matters is connecting it with the times that you say the same thing to another. It is perilously easy to con yourself into believing that “those times were different.” They invariably aren’t, or weren’t.
- Given enough development in identifying the source of comments about you, you will begin to see when someone is sniping at you simply because they are envious, or jealous and you can then react accordingly, instead of adopting the normal knee-jerk reaction you had most likely planned (and they, quite possibly, hoped to incite, to show you up).
3. Recognize that this person-to-person mirror is a two-way mirror.
Just as people say things to or about you for various, possibly obscure but knowable reasons, recognize when you do the same thing. Examine why you may have said a certain thing; usually, this self-examination will occur after the fact.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone you trust to help you work through the reasoning; for example, if your best friend heard you, they almost surely already know why you said something and what personal motivations, quirks, and needs lie behind it. Asking your friend with open honesty and a willingness to reflect together can take a friendship to a whole new level. Asking another how our words and demeanor come across to another is not something we stop and do much, but it can get you started in more effective self examination.
- People who are unwilling to reflect on how their words and actions appear to others can end up not caring about how they are viewed and in turn, this shows up as not caring about others either. This can make them seem selfish, aloof, and perhaps even vacant and after an initial enthusiastic encounter with such a character, you may have initially felt they were attractive, or interesting, only to quickly realize that they are blinded to their effect on others and have little to share because they hide within themselves.
- Contrast this, narcissism, with a healthy respect and consideration of others and your place in things, how you fit, while still being willing to go your own way.
4. Consider that a person whom you detest is invariably your perfect mirror – they are just like you.
While this may seem strange or even offensive to you, experience often bears it out. The reason is that we invariably overlook behaviors in ourselves that we can’t tolerate in another. By allowing the other person to carry the burden of our own disliked inner quirks or weaknesses, we shield ourselves from having to meet our less likable aspects head on and choose instead to view the unlikable traits as the fault of the other person. Often we see this as insurmountable because we choose to believe that the other person is the one generating the unwanted behavior. However, this blinds us to realizing that we’re just locking horns with traits we haven’t yet learned to deal with well inside of ourselves.
- It is generally not even necessary to get as far as the “observation of behaviors” stage; people who are very much alike often detest each other on sight, because behavior patterns are ingrained, and similar, if not universal – meaning that behavioral twins can sense each other in the merest gesture.
- Most of us have experienced the trip home, with a friend or relative, from some gathering, with the friend or relative sniping about someone they just met who has essentially exhibited no untoward behaviors; when pressed, the friend or relative is hard-pressed to explain exactly what they mean; in this case, it’s most probable that they have just encountered a perfect mirror.
- As humans, even though we tend to assume that two of our very similar friends, unknown to each other, would really like each other, experience will show you that this is very often not the case.
5. Recognize the opportunities in a relationship challenged by your intense dislike of one another.
While you may never learn to like each other, opportunities exist here for personal behavioral modification. Indeed, often the most rewarding of outcomes can result when you push yourself to cope with people whom you find challenge you in this respect because you ultimately learn to manage, if not learn to tolerate, a part of yourself that you didn’t even want to face before.
Experience dictates that even if you initially do not communicate any of your intentions to modify your own behavior to your mirror, being that they invariably feel the same about you as you do about them, they will eventually (usually, pretty quickly) notice that they aren’t able to push your buttons.
If you are using this experience for self-improvement (instead of what you’ve been using it for?), it will be clear that you aren’t taking advantage of opportunities to push theirs. This is going to be noticed (and not just by your mirror), and credited to you as maturity; bonus points for having the courage to come clean with your mirror, and tell them about your insight into this matter, leading to future mutual progression. And even more kudos to you if you do this personal development in the public sphere; as it’s no easy task, it impresses people to see such maturity and rest assured that anyone within earshot will be enthralled.
6. Continue seeing yourself as others see you throughout life.
This isn’t a one-off exercise. It’s something that will benefit you and your relationships for all time, and as such, it’s essential that you continue to remain alert and willing to see yourself reflected in others around you. Once you have refined seeing yourself, exactly as others see you, by witnessing the reflections in and from others, you will find yourself more forgiving of others, more willing to reach out and pull people through awkward moments and difficult times because you see not only your own struggles but theirs too, all intertwined as one. And all this takes is constant self-examination, self-honesty, and a willingness to step outside yourself regularly.
- Seek balance rather than control. Controlling behavior is negative behavior and can lead to perfectionism, unreal expectations, and can easily transfer to wanting to control others to make them stop reflecting the part of ourselves we’re not liking. Instead, try to balance your negative self with your strengths and positive self. We cannot be whole until we embrace the parts of ourselves we don’t always like and we do best when we acknowledge our shortcomings and learn to treat them with humor and openness rather than attempting to stifle them or blame their existence on someone or something else.
- This can be a powerful tool for expression; who among us hasn’t expressed something expecting a certain response, and then got a somewhat different response, maybe only communicated by facial expression, that we tend to just kind of ignore, while plowing ahead–when the facial expression should be telling you that you haven’t communicated your opening idea fully (for instance).
- When being about someone makes you feel negative, this is an indicator that you need to look inside, not at the other person. What about that person’s behavior is especially bothering you? Pinpoint it and then look for it within. It may be obvious or it may be something you’ve repressed; the more you’ve repressed it, the deeper you’re going to have to dig to get to the nub of it.
- You don’t need to assume that you are completely smothered by the negative trait that you dislike in another. It may simply be that your radar is alert because you’ve started allowing yourself to gossip too much lately, or you’ve been giving in to complaining instead of acting, or you’ve started to be lazy instead of thoughtful. The trait that bothers you is likely to be one that is recent, something you know you need to deal with, and is magnified simply because it is the trait or behavior that you need to deal with at this point in time. Over time, the various triggers may change, and that’s as it should be, because we are always growing and changing through life, including awakening new negative aspects of ourselves that need to be dealt with!
- The types of behavior that we don’t like in others that we’re likely to be indulging in just as frequently ourselves includes anger, gossiping, whining and complaining, criticizing, acting like a martyr, etc. Each of these behaviors can easily be one in which we’re complicit and acting out ourselves and when we are especially bothered by seeing these behaviors in others, it’s likely the mirror is telling us that it’s time for us to learn a lesson and put a stop to our own negative behavior.
- If you were instead looking to make a non-reversing mirror (true mirror) to see your physical appearance from others’ perspective, you can put two normal rectangular mirrors at a right angle to each other, then look at the corner where the mirrors meet.
- Much unconscious mirroring is happening all the time; it is more pronounced in our close relationships and we are mirroring others just as they mirror us. Learning to see yourself as others see you is an important way of breaking this unconscious bind and injecting balance into our lives by seeking to give out the best of ourselves and to mirror back the best of others. Learning to balance mirroring takes practice, compassion, and a willingness to keep trying; in that way, not only do you learn from others but you become their positive teacher in turn.
- When you stop spending time with someone because you ceased to get along with them, if you haven’t faced the negative reflections they presented you with, you are most likely to go and find a very similar person to take their place, just so that your negative self continues to be reflected back at you. The only way to stop this pattern is to face up to those negative aspects as belonging to you first and foremost and to stop blaming the other for your reactions.
- Be aware of your own misperceptions. You may have a preconceived notion of what someone or something should look and act like, and this affects your mood and how you look at things. Consider the following story as an example:
A man noticed that his axe was missing. Then he saw the neighbor’s son pass by. The boy looked like a thief, walked like a thief, behaved like a thief. Later that day, the man found his axe where he had left it the day before. The next time he saw his neighbor’s son, the boy looked, walked, and behaved like an honest, ordinary boy.