Anyone who leaves an impression on us, good or bad, is a reflection of ourselves. If we’re open to learning from these encounters by looking deep within us, we can evolve into better versions of ourselves. (Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes)
“The outer world, and everyone in it, is just a mirror of our inner world.”— Dan Brule
Have you ever noticed what dogs do when they look into a mirror? They bark, growl, and run around. They do this because they believe that what they see in the mirror is another dog and not their reflection.
We have a similar reaction whenever we attempt to see our reflection in other people. In our own way, we bark, growl, and run around the truth of what we see.
When I first came across the idea that people are our mirrors, it was difficult to stomach. I thought of the types of people who irritated me and revolted at the suggestion that their annoying qualities were lurking deep in my own psyche.
I imagine most people would react in the same way. No one wants to hold themselves accountable for their judgements about those who challenge them. We’d rather disassociate and point fingers. Seldom do we realize that when one finger is pointing at another person, the other three are pointing back at us.
The internet and social media have given us a bigger platform to amplify our criticisms. Nasty and hurtful comments flood Twitter feeds and Facebook comment sections. Chances are that very few of those who write those words will ever realize that they’re essentially criticizing a part of themselves.
For example, if someone hates a particular race, it’s because they are insecure about their own identity and harbor deep, hidden resentments. German Poet, Hermann Hesse said, “if you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
Our inability to see ourselves in others is because of an unconscious inner process called ‘projection’. The term was first popularized by Sigmund Freud, who considered projection to be a defense mechanism used to avoid the anxiety of having to face our own weaknesses and faults.
Carl Jung had similar thoughts on projection. He believed that it occurred whenever we attributed an element of our personality that resides in our subconscious mind to another person or group. He called it “one of the most common psychic phenomena”.
Yet this doesn’t mean that we should feel guilty every time we see something we don’t like in others. Instead, we should use these incidences as opportunities to look deeper into ourselves. Every person who enters our lives can be a great teacher, especially if they make us uncomfortable. The reflection that we see in them is a call to heal.
This internal process is an essential component of our psychological and spiritual development. Whenever we recognize that we’re projecting our flaws onto others, we have a chance to shed light on the dark aspects of our persona and prevent it from running our lives.
However, not every opinion that we have about others is a result of projection. You can recognize a projection when you feel triggered.
The late author Debbie Ford says:
“I like to think of it in terms of energy. Imagine having a hundred different electrical outlets on your chest. Each outlet represents a different quality. The qualities we acknowledge and embrace have cover plates over them. They are safe; no electricity runs through them. But the qualities that are not okay with us, which we have not yet owned, do have a charge. So when others come along who act out one of these qualities they plug right into us.”
It’s also important to pay attention to the times when we see something that we admire in another person. If you feel excited and motivated, there’s something in them that resonates with you. This spark could be indicative of a seed of potential that’s waiting to sprout.
The next time you find yourself experiencing a charge when you encounter someone, ask yourself these questions to understand the purpose behind it and how it can help you evolve and grow.
- What is it about this person that I strongly like or dislike?
- Do I have any of those traits in my personality (or the propensity to display those traits)?
- Have I ever done anything in my past that’s similar to how they are showing up now?
- Am I repressing any of those same qualities within myself? What can I do to bring them to the surface and work through them?
- What is this person teaching me that I need to learn to become more whole?
When we remain curious and open, we’ll see that every encounter that we have is orchestrated by a universal force that wants us to grow and evolve into the best version of ourselves.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: Is there anyone in your life who you think is mirroring some of your qualities back to you? What can you learn from them?
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