Mirroring: Learning About Ourselves from the (Difficult) People in Our Lives

December 26, 2008

CB046973My sister and I are different as night and day (or day and night).

Astrologically, our charts are a series of tight squares that even some nice trines and sextiles don’t seem to be able to soften.  We are different people with radically different interests and values; worse, we both have big personalities that can be hard-edged and obstinate.  Had we not grown up in the same house, and did we not share genes and decades of common experiences, I doubt we’d ever have become friends.  We can get under each other’s skin in a way only close family members can.

Of course, everyone has someone like this in their family, or certainly in their circle of acquaintances.  You each come at life so differently, you just can’t seem to communicate with each other, or provide support that the other person recognizes and values — even when you really try.CB103408

In musing about some recent drek between us, and feeling frustrated that she never wants to hear anything I have to say (even when I’m trying to warn her about situations I can see will cause her pain), I started down one of those virtual conversation rabbit holes — you know, the kind you’d have if the other person were sitting across from you, bound and gagged, and HAD to listen to what you were determined to say?

In my “fantasy conversation” with my sister, I was playing pop-psychologist and telling her that part of the problem between her and I is that I am a mirror for her own behavior that she hasn’t yet acknowledged or accepted.

Her story about me is that I’m (the older bossy sister) always trying to judge her and tell her what to do.  My story about her is that she surrounds herself with sycophants who stroke her ego and won’t tell her when the Empress is wearing no clothes.

I explained that part of the reason she has such a hard time hearing me and accepting advice (from one who has made her own share of painful mistakes) is that she behaves the same way with her own friends. She tends to get overly involved in their problems and then becomes very hurt when she is rebuffed while trying to “fix” their problems for them.  In my own way, I’m doing the same thing of course…although I justify it on the grounds that she has just spent hours telling me all her problems, so she must want my help and advice, right?

CB019074While I was having my imaginary conversation, another part of my brain that was sitting back observing this asked me a rather pointed question:  What unacknowledged aspect of yourself is your sister’s behavior mirroring back to you?

That threw me for a bit of a loop, as my imaginary conversations don’t usually turn on me…  But I temporarily halted my bombast and started thinking about how she was just as much a mirror for me as I was for her — it always works that way.  What did I learn?

  • She says I’m judging her; I say I’m offering advice. If she doesn’t want to hear my point of view (and has stated so on multiple occasions), am I judging her by trying to force her to listen to something she doesn’t want to hear? Am I unconsciously treating her as if she is incapable of running her own life, and that subconscious judgment is spilling out even when I’m not aware of it?
  • Is it all about her unwillingness to hear a different opinion, or is it also my unwillingness to adjust my manner of speaking to communicate in a way she is willing and able to hear?  (After all, I’m the professional communicator.)
  • Am I unsupportive and insensitive to her feelings, or just guilty of not setting better boundaries and letting her know when I’ve had enough of the one-way conversation?
  • I say I’m one of the few people in her life willing to tell her the truth; she says I’m being hurtful.  Is it more my delivery than what I am actually saying?  And is it really a matter of her hearing all of our past conversations and fights, which speak much louder in her ears than my current, more gentle delivery can?
  • I see her as involving herself in other people’s affairs uninvited; she accuses me of the same thing in hers.  Is it really impossible for me to offer her the kind of support she needs — which seems to be to sit back and just listen to her vent — rather than the kind I’m used to giving (and would prefer myself)?
  • Is my own pattern of trying to rescue people at work here?  Do I really need to be her personal teacher anyway?
  • If I know she will do the OPPOSITE of what I suggest, am I really trying to save her from pain or prove that I’m RIGHT and subconsciously fulfill my own personal Cassandra Complex?

42-16586763Time will tell how these new insights affect my relationship with my sister and whether they help me learn to communicate more consciously and carefully with her.  Whatever is going on between us, clearly I need to take more ownership of the behaviors, beliefs, and expectations that I bring in to our mutual challenges.  Today’s virtual conversation, and self-examination before the mirror that is my sister have certainly provided food for thought.    For that, I bless her soul for teaching me.  By helping me bring my own unacknowledged and unloved aspects of self to the surface, she has given me the opportunity to examine, accept, and incorporate them in my life, which in turn helps me become a little more healthy and a little more whole.  That, in turn, reminds me of a really powerful lesson my teachers have offered.

In the second round of the sweat lodge in the tradition taught by Sun Bear, we first pray for those who loved us and taught us through kindness and acceptance.  Then we pray for those who really loved us by volunteering to teach us through pain and unkindness how to love ourselves.CB106185

God bless all the difficult people in my life for they offer me such an opportunity for growth and acceptance of the more prickly and difficult aspects of myself.

(c) 2008 PeggyMalnati  All rights reserved

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