One morning, as I was walking around the neighborhood, I saw a Magpie-lark (the bird on the left) fluttering next to a parked caravan. It flew away from the caravan and then sped towards one of the windows, flapping its wings aggressively.
“What a strange thing to do”, I thought, but then I moved closer and realized the bird was seeing its reflection in the window and, perceiving it as a threat, was probably defending its territory from the “other bird”.
This got me thinking (and not for the first time) about how we humans view our own world and how we become aggressive towards certain things, while being completely OK with others.
It reminded me of a friend of ours who came to visit us on her own and complained about one of her kids. She said, “I get along just fine with my oldest boy, even though he likes different things to me, and the little one is just cute, no matter what she does, but my middle daughter Ruby drives me crazy sometimes”.
Then she sighed and added, “You know, Ruby reminds me a lot of how I used to be as a girl. She’s stubborn and strong willed just like I was. Oh, maybe that’s why we argue so much, because we’re the same…”
That made sense. One thing our life coaching instructors kept pointing out as a strong element of our emotional life is Projection. Essentially, we see ourselves in the world around us. We are attracted to the things we like in ourselves and repelled by the things we do not. Our relationships with other people are a reflection of our perception of ourselves.
Of course, the next step from that was to check if this was also true for me. I knew this would be unpleasant, but the benefits should outweigh the pain. What I needed to do was find the sore spots in my life – typical conflicts with other people – and then figure out what projection was involved in them. I needed to be able to see the “caravan window” for what it was.
I quickly realized that one of my main complaints about others is that they do not listen to what I have to say. I felt I was often interrupted at a stage when my thoughts were not clear enough yet and the other person was not giving me a chance to express myself. I find this behavior unfair and counter-productive in a conversation and I become frustrated with the other person for being impatient and closed-minded.
I would love to say it was not, but the more I considered it, the more conversations I reviewed in my mind, the more I discovered that just before the other person became impatient with me, I had done something very similar. In fact, as I was trying to finish my argument, the other person sometimes tried to tell me I was headed the wrong way, but I was too busy laying out my own thoughts to listen,
Embarrassingly, I sometimes realized I should have paid more attention to the other person’s words and emotions only after I was finished talking, by which time I had made matters worse.
I still consider myself open-minded and patient in general, but it seems I improve a little bit and the other people were actually not as annoying as I used to believe.
I admit I am still working on catching myself at the right moment, but I believe I am making progress, which is the most important thing. One day, I will be so patient and open-minded and sensitive, I will have to shave my head, wear all white and live in a cave on a mountain top. Or not. Either way, my life will be a lot better and nobody else will have to change anything for it to happen.
So if you find yourself in a good emotional spot, why not try doing the same.
How to stop fighting your own reflection
- Search your life for sore spots – common disagreements, bad feelings you feel often and/or very strongly or recurring failures
- Pick one to work on. Initially, you may want to choose something you can conquer successfully to encourage yourself to keep going. If your first attempt is too painful, you may give up and gain nothing, so pick something you can handle
- List all the things that cause that negative situation – the way another person behaves, the economy, the weather and any other circumstances
- [Pain alert: this part may hurt] Go over the list of causes and ask yourself, “How does this reflect my own mindset?” Maybe you behave the same way as the other person, maybe you believe the economy is bad and maybe you believe you can only do what you want when it is sunny. What is your expectation of other people and/or circumstances that is not being fulfilled here?
- Rephrase the causes for your discomfort in responsible terms – as “I” statements. Spell out how you are causing the unpleasant situation through your beliefs, interpretations, words and actions
- Decide to change
- Work your decision day by day and keep track of your progress. Every little change is good and can be compounded to greatness over time, so just keep going and chipping away until your feeling changes
- Pick the next sore spot
As a parent, one thing that may help you find things to change, make it easier for you to interpret them and provide you some extra motivation is … your kids. Because kids are little monkey-parrot-type-creatures, check if there are any dysfunctional recurrences in their life. Then, consider if they are behaving like you.
On a number of occasions, Ronit and I have recognized expressions, postures and intonations used by one or more of our kids as our own. When these are strong and their results are unpleasant, it can be distressing to think your kids are mimicking you and reliving the things that do not work for you.
On the other hand, finding a solution for your kids while not being emotionally involved allows you to apply the same solution to your own life more easily. Also, if changing your behavior means you will be a good role model for your kids, this will give you a motivational boost.
If you like, follow the list of steps above as a parent by considering one of your kids who is most like you. Once you have figured things out for your kid, you know what to do.