Have you ever noticed something unappealing in another person’s behavior and then realized, “Holy crap. I act like that, too.”
It happens infrequently, but when it does I may have a level 9 or 10 reaction of anger or fear. And it’s ALWAYS because I’m looking into a mirror, judging myself harshly via that other person.
Psychologists call it transference, though I’ve heard others label it as projection. Whatever it is called, it sure is uncomfortable!
When I see my character defects (like bullying or arrogance) in another person, I don’t recognize it immediately as me I’m hating on. Instead, I want to shove him or her off a bridge (metaphorically, of course). What’s really happening, though, is that I’ve found in those situations a convenient way to reinforce a negative opinion about myself. I think I’m hating them, but I am really doubting my own worth. Psychologically speaking, it is me who I want to throw off a bridge, but that would be too hard to bear, so I turn it on another person.
This has happened with family members, close friends, teammates, fraternity brothers, and especially with fellow artists. Sometimes, it even happens with positive traits like another artist’s ability to play, sing or wow a crowd.
If I’m in an insecure state of mind, there’s nothing that rattles me more than another talented person who has some (or more) of the same skills as me. When I see a part of me in another, I can perceive them as competition.
Yup. When this occurs, I go through some unappealing, adolescent feelings I’m not proud of. I may feel less-than or angry. But mostly, I think, I just feel out of balance and in pain.
For some, this is a situation where we act like one of our parents. My dad could be a bully when he felt scared, angry or insecure. In those situations, he tried to forcibly control me or others. That pretty well describes me at my worst, too.
When I’m able to calm down, I remember my more recent training and think: life is not like a pie where we are competing for our share of love and attention. In reality, there is no limit to the number of people who can succeed. It’s not a zero sum game and every performer, every person, can receive the love they long for (see below). No one has to lose for us to win. It’s not a race.
We can choose to spend our lives playing an adult version of King of the Mountain. That’s a game where everyone tries to knock the person on top of a hill off his perch. It’s Darwinian and it sure ain’t pretty. But it’s common.
The alternative is to choose our heart-based selves, the loving side of us. Perhaps, we get down our knees and pray. Others might try a Metta Prayer (loving kindness)…
May I be happy . May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.
May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful.
May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be peaceful.
After intoning this prayer, I feel the tight rope around my middle begin to loosen. I sense that I am no longer competing with anyone or unconsciously following my father’s example.
Every being is entitled to be loved, but the first step is always to care for ourselves. If that doesn’t feel right, you can love God’s light inside of you. The real trick, though, is to avoid comparison and to remember we all carry around a hurt inner child. And we all deserve to feel equal, free and loved. That may sound rhapsodic or idealistic, but most simple truths are.
I hope that the next time I look in the mirror or in another person’s eyes, I can see beauty. I pray that the next time I see my less appealing character traits in another, I recall that many of us unconsciously inherited these behaviors as children. And may I choose in those moments to not feel competitive but reach out and realize we’re all on the same team.
That’s the mirror I want to hold.