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The Mirror Effect: Handling Relationships With Authenticity

We’ve all been there; someone acts in a way that triggers us. Sometimes we catch ourselves before we lash out, internally or externally, and other times we lash out and are left to pick up the pieces. So how can we prepare for the next time we feel the glowing hot red lava bubbling inside?

It doesn’t seem to matter what the presenting challenge is; inevitably, it seems to trace back to our own triggers. It’s the last place we want to look. Why? Because it means peering into that mirror that doesn’t always feel so good to look into.

The thing about the mirror is that the more we start to see what’s really there, the less we feel drawn to look into the distorted ones that others hold up to us. This sort of work ultimately frees and empowers us from the grip of other people’s opinions.

Here’s the nitty gritty reality of relationships: people judge others in an effort to feel less crappy about themselves (Brown, 2013). So in relationship, each of us holds up a funhouse mirror to the other, which reflects the distorted view of their own reality. Their perspective has been shaped by their past experiences and current frame of mind. We can choose to look into that mirror and view it as an accurate reflection of ourselves, or we can remind ourselves to look into our own mirror.

Here’s where it gets really messy. If we haven’t looked into our own mirrors and corrected our distortions, we then create a double distortion. We have our own negative and positive framework, or stories that we have created about ourselves. If you’re holding up your distorted mirror to their distorted mirror, then you really get stuck in the mirror effect!

So next time you feel triggered by someone else, try pausing, doing a reality check, and asking yourself what you would like the outcome to be:

3 Steps To Releasing Your Judgment:

  1. Pause and notice if you are caught in the mirror effect.
  2. Look into your own mirror and see if there is a shared truth. If yes, then you may have some introspective work to do. If not, you can see how their mirror is distorted and adjust your reaction accordingly (for more on figuring out how to manage challenging relationships, see “What Relationships Do You Want To Feed And Which Do You Want To Starve?”
  3. After you have assessed your personal truth, ask yourself what you would like the outcome to be. Depending on how close the relationship is, you may be able to use vulnerable authenticity to help strengthen the relationship. If you don’t want to grow closer with the person, you may feel good just letting it go with compassion by seeing their insecurities and their need to put others down in an attempt to lift themselves up.

In some cases, how one handles conflict can be more challenging to manage than others, due to the nature of the relationship (work, family, shared groups etc.). I’m not a fan of tolerating mean or abusive behavior but sometimes the best we can do is bring authentic compassion to the table and then walk away.

Whatever the situation entails, the cleaner your mirror is, the more comfortable you will feel and the smoother the resolution will unfold.