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Steps to Success: Mirror Mirror

I'm often asked where I get my ideas of what to write about each week … They just seem to present themselves. There will be a recurring thought or subject that keeps cropping up, among various clients, and in my own life and even things I read or catch on television will have some relevance. It's all very synchronistic, almost like magic.

I have a wonderful, and slightly eccentric friend who, to keep things interesting, picks a different theme for each week, which she doesn't tell anyone but lets infuse whatever she does. So ‘Indian' week might have her putting a dash or curry powder in all her cooking, donning bright silk scarves for work, blaring Ravi Shankar on the car stereo and signing up for Bollywood dancing keep-fit classes. My weeks' ‘themes' are a little less exotic and not entirely self-elected. They take on the appearance more of life lessons, as if my subconscious is yelling, “here is what you need to work on this week.” And following this column, you'll know the kind of things they include.

It is an interesting phenomenon that many coaches and other helping professionals have reported, that our clients tend to bring to session our own issues. It continues to surprise me the number of times that clients I'm working with will share what could literally have been stories from my own life.

It is kind of ironic, because part of my job as a coach is to act as a mirror for my clients, so that they can better see their behaviour and actions: what's working, what isn't so to make adjustments. Yet simultaneously I often get a reflection of myself.

In one sense this speaks of universality and of the human condition. How, despite differences between us and what others may perceive of us, we share many of the same concerns, fears, hopes, dreams, shames, frustrations, joys and goals, however they may be packaged.

This also reminds me of the beauty of coaching as a medium for helping others. Coaching is not about advice from the coach or judgment, it is instead inquiry and reflection and creating the conditions for the client to generate options and find practical ways forward. So despite anything personal that happens to be drawn to a coach's awareness, that coaching space can remain clear and untinged, for clients to find their solutions, based on their circumstances and what will work for their life. Many people say that everyone we meet is in some way a reflection of ourselves. New Zealand born author and spiritualist, Kirsten Zambucka writes, “Though I might travel afar, I will meet only what I carry within me, for every man is a mirror. We see only ourselves reflected in those around us. Their attitudes and actions are only a reflection of our own. The whole world and its condition has its counter parts within us all. Turn the gaze inward. Correct yourself and your world will change.”

Freud's theories of projection and transference describe this experience in psychoanalytic terms. In very layman terms, ‘projection' is when we have unconsciously rejected or repressed part of ourselves and our attributes, but then we ascribe them to other people or things outside ourselves. For example, someone who accuses another person of ‘being controlling' may be harbouring an unconscious longing to be in control. And ‘transference' is when we redirect feelings and experiences that have occurred in our childhood, particularly with our early caregivers, onto current relationships. A current situation, someone's action or behaviour triggers in us into the emotions and reactions similar to those we felt as a child.

“We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are,” says the Jewish text, the Talmud.

It can be very eye-opening and also a bit scary to think that what we see in others, both the good and the bad, particularly what we react to strongly, are in fact parts of ourselves. The natural reaction to this might be to disbelieve it's possible or true.

What are we to do with these reflections of ourselves that we see?

The Vedic seers, compiling the ancient Hindu scriptures wrote, “The measure of your enlightenment is your level of comfort with your own paradoxes.”

Perhaps if we can make peace with our repressed side, and see our reactions for what they are, our mirror images won't disturb us so greatly. Here are some simple tools to help make use and sense of what we see looking back at us:

Exercise 1: Think of someone who really bothers you, makes you uncomfortable or really irritates you, then quickly write down on one side of a piece of paper what you consider all their worst qualities are, the things that really get under your skin. Now think of somebody you think is good and wonderful. On the other side of the page, list all the things about this person that make them so appealing to you. Looking through both lists, pick the top three characteristics that you found most dislikeable in the first, and most attractive in second. Create a list of these six qualities and characteristics and read them out loud. Sit with the thought that you are all of these things. Can you recognise them in yourself? Could you be willing to love and accept them in yourself?

Exercise 2: The next time you see something or someone who does something that you react strongly too, that makes you angry or uncomfortable, (for example, someone ‘being bossy') try telling yourself, “There I go again, being … (fill in the behaviour that upset you — e.g. ‘trying to make it all my way').” The awareness that this simple acknowledgment can bring includes recognition that all behaviour is ‘human behaviour', and we are part of that clan … and that as mirrors, we should be careful about throwing stones.

Try this exercise with positive reactions, and enjoy seeing your light shining in others.

Exercise 3: When you have a strong negative reaction to someone, stop and consider what that reaction was really to, and where it came from. Write out and fill in this simple template:

I had a negative reaction to (write their name) when (time and place). I experienced you as (write down all your perceptions, judgments and what you took from the interaction). The patterns I went into were (list all the ways you negatively reacted automatically e.g. defensiveness, anger, aggression, self-pity etc)

Which I learned from (here think back to early times in your life where you first learned and adopted this behaviour. Who from your early childhood did you learn this from?).

Finally, acknowledge that you are aware of the negative transference that you have made and accept that your reaction was about you, rather than about them or what they did.

It seems we are all here to learn and grow from each other, if we choose to. If life and the people we live it with are our mirrors, what do we need to put in, in order to get back the reflection we are looking for?

Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner with Benedict Associates Ltd. Telephone (441) 295-2070 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com for further information.

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Published October 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm)

Steps to Success: Mirror Mirror

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