This morning while getting ready for the day I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Now I consider mirror images and seeing our weight on weight scales as two of the best opportunities to work on judgment. Do we like what we see? If we don’t how do we respond? If it’s with judgment or anger, we have the opportunity to change our response and be more forgiving or loving of ourselves but that’s another story.
As I caught this glimpse of myself, my thoughts drifted back to memories from adolescence. To memories of staring into the mirror and not liking what I saw. It wasn’t your basic oh geez I don’t like the way I look today or, I have lousy hair, or I can’t stand another day of looking at these pimples. No, it was a deeper experience. As I stared at myself and looked deep into my eyes, I began to see my image change. I can’t quite describe it, but it was like looking at another me. I’d begun to look scary, mean, disturbed. My face looked anxious and it was staring back at me as if it was staring right into my soul. I got scared and had to look away. At the time it seemed like an episode from the Twilight Zone but today my belief is that I was looking at what we call shadow parts of ourselves. Parts of us that for many reasons, usually because we received messages from the world around us that there were parts of us that we should hide and not let others see, had been locked away to be forgotten.
So not knowing, I had my first conscious experience of a shadow side of me. Over time I was able to look into my mirror image longer. Eventually that face stopped showing up in the mirror.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about our shadow sides and how what I see in the eyes of others (and what I saw in the mirror) was what I projected onto them, my own judgements of myself. But here’s the kicker. Instead of judging ourselves we learn to push aside the parts of us that we don’t like and begin to project our dismissed or disowned parts on to others.
For example, as a teen, I hated the kids in my school that seemed to have it all, looks, sociability, friends, athletic skills….However, in reality I was finding the opposite of what was so painful to me (feeling insecure, being overweight, having limited social skills) in these others rather than coming to grips with the pain that I felt inside of me.
I had gone from judging what I saw in the mirror to letting what I saw in others be my mirror but rather than feeling my own anger or judgments I judged others. Over time I learned that in order for me to let go of my external judgments of others I had to embrace my shadows and develop a different kind of a relationship with them. I found that those disowned parts possessed gifts that help me to reframe how i saw the world, others and myself.
So, the next time you look in the mirror or get frustrated or angry over someone else’s behavior see if you can refocus your attention on some old belief or idea about yourself that may need your attention. You may be surprised at what you find there.