Children and mirroring
Human beings are capable of wonderful, deep, sophisticated emotions, inspiring and passionate love and joy. However, it is often difficult to stay in touch with these emotions for extended periods of time.
Small children experience reflections of themselves and their behavior only through feedback from their families. Emotional feedback from other people enables them to get in touch with their own emotions. If people around a child cannot see, recognize and appreciate that child’s true being, that child has no foundation to do it alone. Thus, little by little, they will lose contact with their true selves, even if they experience no obvious or serious trauma. Similarly, as muscles atrophy if not used, our sense of self can also “atrophy”. This is not the best expression though – who we are cannot truly atrophy – but if we lose our ability to be aware of and express our honest emotions, the consequences can appear this way.
When working with clients, we often explore which parts of themselves they have lost contact with. Usually, those are the gentlest, warmest aspects of the self, those parts that are most trusting to the world and to ourselves.
If you examine what hurts most when you feel belittled and criticized, you will probably feel that your true being is ignored and not taken into account, while some unimportant parts of your behavior are interpreted in all sorts of arbitrary ways.
All of us seem to have childish personality parts, which, based on prior experiences, might make us feel rejected and unappreciated even in situations when this is not realistic: for example when somebody else is praised; or when we are asked to do something that we do not feel comfortable about; or when we hear an opinion which is different from our own. Even such benign situations can trigger childish emotions. It feels worse when somebody acts with outright arrogance and disrespect. In such moments, it can be very difficult to stay adult and not to respond in a similar manner – that is, to lose sight of the other’s true being.
A specific trigger is not always needed to stimulate feelings of rejection. An environment lacking emotional awareness can be enough. Just being in contact with people who cannot truly see and appreciate themselves and others can weaken self-awareness in a small child and encourage them to grow up into a similar kind of person.
When you walk through a city, you can repeatedly revive that unpleasant experience and atmosphere. You meet people, even children, whose empty, cold or even scornful faces can motivate you to close up. In subtle ways, each of those encounters, even if you do not notice them individually, is a confirmation of your early experiences. If unexpressed, our true nature and deepest feelings can be forgotten.
Appreciation and compassion
We all have our life battles and sometimes we can feel that nobody sees or appreciates them. Sometimes it will be true. On the other hand, how often do we notice and appreciate the efforts of others? Very rarely. To expect that from ourselves and others is not realistic in this society, since few people learn how to do it.
Imagine living among people who truly see and accept you even if you are not perfect. How would you feel if you were able to accept other people in the same way?
It is unrealistic to expect that we or others could do so based on our rational minds only. We may like to think that others should take many things into consideration, but this is not so easy. It takes time for us and others to heal.
We cannot see and appreciate others if we reject parts of ourselves. I notice that sometimes when I strive to understand others, parts of me ask: “And what about me?” Sometimes I feel an irrational fear that if I truly respect others, I have to reject myself or accept inappropriate behavior. Such infantile fears are not in line with reality – but we should not ignore them either. We should acknowledge that they exist and work with them through kindness.
Sometimes you might want to act more mature than other people, so that you can feel superior. This does not resolve problems, it only covers them up.
Even when we feel that somebody really sees or accepts our deepest feelings, we can doubt their sincerity, or whether we deserve such acceptance. We might even suspect manipulation, if we have often experienced being emotionally manipulated or exploited.
A common obstacle in personal development is that this kind of dissociation is so normal that we hardly notice it. Sometimes, for a moment, we may become aware of this problem, yet when the crisis is over we easily fall back to an “it-could-be-worse” attitude. Why not “it could be better“?
No matter how much I would like that, I don’t believe that it is possible to change your personality working on the rational level only. We need to focus within and heal through deep emotional experience. After that, we can practice awareness and action from the center of our being. It takes time to learn to act like this in everyday life – if for decades our true being had no contact with outer reality. Still, it is possible. Maybe you cannot even imagine how much beauty you can find in yourself once you start to search.