I have heard the saying, “as within so without,” for a long time, but only recently have I come to truly understand its meaning. What I now know is that whatever I see in someone else that really bothers me is really just an issue in my own life. This concept has been referred to as “the mirror,” and I truly believe in it. In my coaching, when I first bring up this concept, people tend to be very skeptical. They find it very hard to believe that when you heal your money issues, for example, you will no longer be bothered by the money issues of others — you probably won’t even notice them anymore.
I have been working with the mirror concept for a few years now and I know it works. I first practiced on myself as I identified the behaviours in others that really, really bothered me. One such behaviour was responsibility. I was bothered by anyone who acted “irresponsibly.” As I began to study behaviour from the “mirroring perspective” I came to learn that all behaviours have a polar opposite. I learned a lot from the late Debbie Ford whose “shadow work” is used to examine the shadow or darker behaviours that we all have within us. Her book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers” is an excellent way to begin to understand our shadow characteristics and how they work. Ford claimed that many of us are so afraid of our shadow side that we totally deny it and bury it deep within ourselves, hoping it will never surface. She also contended that by doing so, we set ourselves up for the occasional extreme “blow up” as those shadow behaviours explode to the surface after being suppressed for so long.
As I mentioned, I believe each of our behaviours has a polar opposite. In essence, all behaviour exists as a continuum — spanning from what we often refer to as the “positive” aspect of that behaviour all the way down to what we consider its “negative” aspect. So, if you follow this logic, responsible and irresponsible are the same behaviours, but differ only in a matter of degrees.
The best example I have heard which explains this is hot and cold. It is said they are both the same and only differ in matter of degrees (pardon the pun). At what point does hot become cold? I guess it depends on the person and how they are feeling in the circumstance. I don’t think you will find a universal definition of what is cold to all people. This morning I was out riding my bike and it was one degree Celsius. I was dressed in a sweatshirt, jacket and gloves. I saw people wearing shorts and t-shirts. I was cold and they were hot, and yet the temperature was the same for both of us. So hot or cold is not about temperature, but whether someone feels hot or cold. That differs depending on the person and the circumstances. This is the same for responsible and irresponsible. Being one or the other depends on your perspective and the circumstances. The same is true for all behaviours. One person’s definition of honesty and dishonesty can be quite different than others’.
The first step in practicing “mirror work” is identifying the behaviour(s) in others that really disturbs you and then finding it’s polar opposite. You will most likely find that that the opposite is something you can identify with. Not only that, but you will probably find you are the extreme of that polar opposite behaviour. As in my example, not only did irresponsible people bother me but I also spent most of my time trying to behave as I thought “Mr. Responsible” should.
Now comes the fascinating part of what I discovered. Interestingly enough, I believe that when we are bothered by a characteristic in someone else it is really its mirror behaviour that we are truly uncomfortable with. In other words, the issue is ours, not the other person’s. What I have come to discover is that in my case I was afraid of becoming irresponsible and that drove me to be more responsible than I was truly comfortable being. It turned out that I became super responsible in order to get recognition and appreciation from my family. I took responsibility to the highest level on the continuum (to a level I really didn’t feel comfortable with) and somehow became a responsibility snob. My inner desire to use responsibility to gain recognition and love made me far more responsible than I really wanted to be. As Debbie Ford would say, I was afraid of my shadow side that was irresponsible because if I acted irresponsibly, I thought, others would not respect me. Hence, anytime I would see someone else acting irresponsibly I would get very upset.
So what can you do about this? Your life begins to change as you make peace within yourself and heal the characteristic of yourself that you are not comfortable with. I did just that. I let go of trying to be ultra responsible and became more comfortable with the fact that I didn’t always have to be the responsible one. I moved to a more comfortable place on the responsibility continuum. What is interesting is that I am still pretty responsible, but now I feel more comfortable with my sense of responsibility. And guess what? Irresponsible people don’t bother me very much anymore.
This doesn’t mean that the behaviour that really bothers you in others, disappears completely, it just means you don’t notice it as much anymore and when you do witness it in others, you are far less disturbed. I have tried this with many of the behaviours that bothered me in others, and each time when I healed within me the opposite behaviour that was bothering me; I no longer was bothered by the other person’s behaviour. What I suggest you do, when you feel bothered by someone else, is isolate the behaviour that is really bothering you by removing the name and face of the person from the behaviour. This will help you to realize that it is not the person who is bothering you, but their behaviour. Then proceed with finding the opposite behaviour and figure out why you are not comfortable with that within yourself.
I’m sure you will discover, as I have, that life is truly a reflection of what is within us. When we heal all our hurts, we will find our life feels a lot different. And, other people will not only not bother us as much, but we will become more tolerant, understanding and compassionate towards friends, family and even strangers. I guess this means that if we want to make the world a better place the first thing to do is begin working on ourselves!