Recently, I saw a marquee at a local retail establishment that read: If you want to correct your child's behavior, correct her example—you.
How true, I thought, and how perfectly obvious. It is so easy to believe that we have the power to influence those dear, sweet baby children by our actions and reactions. We, as experienced, mature, all-knowing, all-wise and perfect specimens, easily accept that it is our absolute responsibility to serve as role models for these budding humans.
But what about our other relationships? Coworkers, friends, acquaintances and, of course, the big significant other? I am convinced that our duty to serve as examples in those relationships is just as crucial. But here's the sticky part. To consciously serve as an example in these roles, we have to be willing take a hard and objective look at what we're doing unconsciously now. So, it is not really about "them," it's about "us." And that's what makes it so hard.
There is a term in relationship psychology called "mirroring" that means that the faults we find in others are those that we exhibit ourselves. Ouch. Could the boyfriend or spouse that pays us no attention be reacting to a lack of attention from us? Are our critical and judgmental friends just returning the favor? Is our disappointment in someone reflecting our disappointment in ourselves? Not what we wanted to hear, for sure. But it points to our real job here on planet Earth, which is to know ourselves-—to do our own inner work and not attribute all of our issues to someone else's faults.
Carolyn Myss, new age spirituality maven and author, says in "Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential," that the people who push our buttons the most have come into our lives to help us learn. Myss calls it "the animation factor" and defines animation as a kind of electricity that occurs between two people. It can be positive or negative electricity. Negative relationships provide growth opportunities. Robert M. Alter, in "The Transformative Power of Crisis," calls this "Velcro." He writes, "What is hookable in us, the places inside where we still have negative, aversive and uncomfortable reactions to people…reveal(s) the inner work we still need to do."
Bear in mind that Velcro does not always show up in the beginning of a relationship. If it did, no one would ever get married. Relationships change, not always for the better. So whether it's a new coworker or your long-time mate, chances are good that it's time to do the hook-and-loop search.
Where to begin? Look at situations in your life that cause you to blame someone else for making you unhappy. Only you are responsible for your happiness. But the existence of blame certainly points to disharmony. It may give you an inkling of the lesson. Are they doing the same things to you that you do to them? Does their criticism feed the insecurity within you? Is their perpetual negativity and pessimism fanning the flame of your fear? Only you can figure it out.
Be a helicopter and rise above the situation to get a new perspective. Get out of the drama and trauma. Center yourself. Have the courage to recognize your shadow side and work on that instead of expecting someone else to change. They won't. Change yourself instead. Identify and address your "hooks," and you will improve not only the relationship, but also your life. As Alder writes: "This isn't about your obnoxious new coworker, or your busybody neighbor, or your endlessly procrastinating spouse. This is about you and your powerful negative reaction to the other person's behavior. ... de-Velcro yourself."
"When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate."
— Carl Jung
"As you teach so shall you learn. If you react as if you are persecuted, you are teaching persecution."
— "A Course in Miracles," Chapter 6, I. 6.
"Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye"
— "Matthew," Chapter 7, Verse 5, King James Version.
"Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential," Caroline Myss, Harmony Books, New York.
"The Transformative Power of Crisis: Our Journey to Psychological Healing and Spiritual Awakening," Robert M. Alter with Jane Alter, Regan Books.