What are you mirroring to others?
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
For years I have wondered why people mentally, emotionally and physically abuse themselves.Is self-hatred at epidemic levels? Are people basically masochistic? Why do people hurt their bodies with toxins, poor nutrition and no exercise? Why do people hurt their minds with mental activities producing anxiety, guilt, resentment and self-condemnation? Why do people treat themselves with disrespect, dislike and self-punishment? Why do people have such negative self-images, and believe they are not only unlovable, but downright despicable? Don’t these people know any better?
In certain philosophical and religious systems, it is believed that if the body were to be tortured or pained enough, the human spirit vwould soar free … liberated from bodily confinement. Most of us are not practicing active self-flagellation in order to free our spirits.
But we often do abuse our bodies with activities that are painful or not good for us and that create great physical suffering. We also seem to be practicing mental self-flagellation, filling our minds with negativity, self-hatred, self-condemnation and self-criticism. Rather than freeing our spirits, we merely create depression and mental anguish.
Using two basic methods, all children learn how to view themselves and how to treat themselves. These methods are: imitation of how others treat themselves; and observing how they themselves are treated. If a child observes parents engaging in self-abusive behavior, they will practice self-abuse. When children are physically, mentally or emotionally abused, they learn to hate themselves … not the abuser. This dynamic is referred to as “mirroring.” Children reflect the image they have of others and the perceptions they learn through personal experience.
As adults, we often continue to serve as mirrors for one another. We look to others to reflect back information about ourselves. We seek to find out if we are lovable by observing the reactions of others. We worry about what others might do, what they might think, and how they might view us. If another rejects us, we believe there is something wrong with us. If someone criticizes or insults us, we feel ashamed. We look to others to discover if we are capable of feeling our own emotions. We become “other-oriented,” dependent on someone else to define who we are, what we should feel and think and how we should behave. When negativity and abuse is reflected back to us, we conclude ourselves to bad and worthy of that abuse.
How are you mirroring to others? Do you reflect others’ innate goodness and lovability? What a powerful skill it is to be able to return to another a reflection of their own loveliness. Mirroring back the beauty of another does not imply ignoring their difficult qualities or unskilled behavior. You can acknowledge another’s problems and weaknesses, but choose to focus on and reflect only the positive. If you focus on the negative, you will naturally feel anger, resentment, anxiety and disappointment. If you focus and mirror back the positive, you will be enabling them to “flower from within.” When you see the goodness and positive qualities in others, they grow in self-esteem and reflect that back to you, improving your self-image as well.
The ability to mirror to others their lovability, their goodness, their “okness,” their positive qualities, their strengths, in short … their loveliness, is the greatest gift we can offer another.
By mirroring, we teach to another, perhaps for the first time, their positive characteristics.
Positive mirroring is one of the greatest attributes of love. The power of love allows us to view people (including ourselves) with
affirming force. It affirms the correctness of their wish to be happy. It affirms our essential oneness with them. Moreover, it reflects both to ourselves and others the unlimited possibilities available to all of us as human beings.
We have a choice. We can mirror abusive negativity. Or we can mirror positive love. We can demonstrate self-hate and self-condemnation. Or we can show self-care and self-affirmation. Which image do you wish to mirror? Which do you wish to teach your children? Which do you wish to show your friends? If we choose to mirror self-loving kindness, perhaps we will provide the antidote for all the self-inflicted pain we observe.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach from Wellington, Colo. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies.