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The Concept of The Blame Mirror & Our Culture of Blame
By Kingsley J. Wimbush
In the Western world we live in a culture that promotes the belief that others cause us most of our problems. We don’t even think about it because it is so much part of the culture, it’s called the blame mirror. But this cultural belief is very destructive to our well being.
Have you ever had any of these happen to you?
- Been cut off in traffic.
- Someone is late for their appointment with you.
- Someone doesn’t show for an appointment and doesn’t call.
- Someone breaks an agreement with you.
- Someone doesn’t pay back a loan to you.
- A spouse did something you didn’t like.
- Someone betrays your trust.
If you have had these things happen, you were probably pretty upset by them.
If you find you get upset by the above events you are normal. If you get overly upset by any of the above events then you may be causing yourself more harm than good. It is also true that holding grudges or trying to get revenge are also harmful to yourself. Not telling the truth to yourself about what is really going on is what is harmful. For example, if you loan money to a friend who has a poor credit history then that friend doesn’t make payments as agreed, then you have some right to be upset. You should be upset at yourself for lending money to someone who is unlikely to pay it back. Seeing the cause of some incidents is not as easy to see as that one. What is not easy to accept are the upsets we cause ourselves that we are sure are done to us.
The real harm we can do to ourselves is wanting to feel upset by what someone has done to us. Yes I agree that people can be pretty mean at times. They can be thoughtless and even purposely offensive. But we do play a big role in the upsets we think are caused by others. The harm comes in lying to ourselves about the truth of who played what role in the upsets.
I know that when people let us down, betray us, break agreements and are just plain offensive to us it is easy to get upset with them. It is hard not to think those people did these things on purpose. Yet many people don’t see or don’t want to see what puts them in positions to be upset by others. The purpose of this chapter is recognizing the truths of how we put ourselves in these positions.
This chapter covers the best way to discover those truths, reduce stress and realize how to prevent such events from happening again.
One of the most successful self-improvement ideas I have ever come across in my 40-year search for self-improvement is the concept of the mirror. When I go over this subject with my clients, it is not more than a few weeks before they are telling me about some significant successes. I learned about the mirror doing workshops but at the time of this writing it is not well known or well applied in the world. I have added my contributions to the concept to improve its application and success.
The mirror is a concept of looking at oneself when one is looking at another. When one is sure another is causing the problem, it is actually being caused by oneself. For example, getting really upset over a coworker for breaking their agreement yet the truth is that one also breaks agreements. This is an example of doing exactly what the other person is doing. Thus the term mirror.
There are other examples where it can also be the opposite of a mirror. For example, the other person breaks agreements while oneself compulsively won’t break an agreement under any circumstance. To be more specific, one could be setting an appointment and being so compulsive on keeping the agreement that emergency situations are put off. In this compulsive example one would receive benefit from realizing that being upset by those who break agreements is coming from one’s own inability to be flexible about agreements.
The mirror is a way to see the actual truth about a possible blame and/or denial situation. I know this concept appears outrageously untrue but it is another of those ideas where truth is stranger than fiction.
Others Can’t Really Affect Us
Many years ago I remember going to a week long communications workshop in Hawaii. One of the first things the trainer told us was that there is no one out there, only ourselves. My first thought, maybe just like yours was, “What is this guy talking about?” He went on to say other people are merely out there to let us know about ourselves. Without other people we would not know how we are coming across. If the people around us seem to like us, then we must be putting out what is considered good. On the opposite side if they are complaining about us we must be putting out what is not acceptable. From the reactions of others we can tell about ourselves.
The major point of his comments was that someone else couldn’t really affect us. We can only be affected if we choose to be effected. For example, if someone is driving erratically and we are emotionally upset by it, then it is us who are upsetting ourselves. Sure the crazy driver is driving erratically but may be several car lengths away so how could he be possibly affecting us? Only we can affect ourselves.
The Mirror Concept is an Unusual Way of Thinking
This mirror concept is very different way of thinking from the way most people emotionally think. In the erratic driving example you may say, yes but I would be concerned that this driver may cause an accident with another person. That concern would be appropriate and not be a mirror type example. It is more being mad and upset beyond a reasonable level that is the clue. It is the clue that we are actually looking in a mirror not willing to acknowledge a truth about ourselves.
Using the mirror in that example one would look at what the crazy driver is doing that is so upsetting. Then one would look to see if one does the exact same thing or the exact opposite thing. By exact same thing I don’t mean to the same degree necessarily. For example, let’s say the other person is cutting in front of others. Looking in the mirror so as to speak, people may be able to see that every now and then that they cut in front of others, not just on the road but at the mall or other places. The actual truth of the matter is how we are upsetting ourselves, not how the other person is upsetting us even though logically it looks like the other person. If the person feeling the upset is able to see the actual truth of it, the person will immediately feel better and no longer feel upset by the crazy driver. This is easier said than done. Sometimes it is very difficult to spot the similarity or the opposite due to blame, denial or for other emotional reasons.
I remember going to work recently and a guy pulled up right behind me and started tailgating me. He flashed his lights signaling me to move over. I couldn’t move over as an 18-wheeler was right next to me, there was a car in front of me at a safe distance and I was doing the speed limit. This went on for about a mile. I imagine the driver was getting upset with me calling me all the names under the sun. If he was upset and had he looked in the “mirror” he may have seen my apparent carefulness as the opposite to his dangerousness. If he couldn’t look in the “mirror” he is unlikely to change until he causes an accident, loses his drivers license or receives some other reality adjustment. Then there are those who never get the message about their offensive behavior. As they feel victimized by the consequences of their actions they continue to get worse and worse.
The benefit of the mirror process is to learn about ourselves and make improvements in our own lives. A client who I had been working with on the mirror concept told me about several successes he had with the mirror. He had a tendency to get very angry at people. After applying the mirror concept he was gradually able to see it was not about other people upsetting him but realizing he was upsetting himself. One day a friend of his called him about how she was really mad because her 4-year-old son had broken a valuable dish. She was planning on severely punishing him for it. Apparently she had left the dish within the reach of the 4year old. My client was able to get her to see it was not about her son but about her leaving the dish within his reach. She immediately calmed down and took responsibility for the mishap. The actual truth for someone seldom lies in another person’s actions.
The Mirror Concept Only Works When One is Upset
In order to use the mirror one must be effected by what the other person is doing. One must feel upset, frustrated, anxious, annoyed or some other feeling that seems to be caused by another. For example, someone is tailgating you on the freeway, which you are aware of, but not having any overreaction. In such a case you may be taking a defensive role of keeping a greater distance between yourself and the car in front of you or moving over for safety reasons. If you were doing anything revengeful, you would certainly be experiencing emotions. The purpose of the mirror is not to eliminate your emotions but to give you a way to see more actual truth and improve your life.
When I was first learning about the mirror, I remember getting upset with people who would cut in front of me on the freeway. I paid more attention to my driving habits and I found out some interesting things about myself. I would cut in front of other drivers if I suddenly decided to get off a freeway. The more I saw this the less cutting in front of people I did and the less it seems to effect me today when someone cuts in front of me. I feel less stress from driving because of it.
What I am communicating in this chapter is not easy to accept by most people. First of all the truth sounds more like fiction than truth and second of all it is much easier to blame others than look at oneself. When our egos get involved it gets even harder to see that other people’s offensive behavior could have anything to do with us. Most of us have been brought up believing that if other people are offensive then it is natural to be upset with them. In some rare instances getting upset is appropriate and the mirror can’t really be applied but most of the time it can. The more willing you are to look at yourself, the more valuable the mirror concept will be to you.
The Mirror and Children
Now that I am a parent with a teenage son I can understand better what other parents go through. When children turn into teenagers it seems they want to be independent. This is very fertile ground for a parent to blame their teenager for what they are guilty of themselves. I remember a fairly typical incident where the teenager came home about an hour later than the agreed upon time. One of the parents got very upset and abusive. Because of the emotion I knew there was a mirror situation. The teenager broke an agreement but the parent also had a pattern of breaking agreements with others. I am not indicating it is OK for the teenager to break agreements but more to deal with the teenager appropriately, in a cool, calm and collected manner. How many teenagers have felt more distant from their parents over examples like this? When the parent can admit to himself, his own similar offensive behavior, he will then become appropriate about handling the situation. Obviously it is tough to admit to what I am writing about but very beneficial when you do it.
Another client of mine who has a very successful relationship with is his teenager uses the mirror concept well. When his teenager tells him about some borderline activity my client thinks back to when he was a teenager and realizes he did worse. This causes him to calm down and talk appropriately, yet not with agreement, with the teenager. The appropriateness builds a positive relationship.
There is an old saying going around, “I know you are but what am I?” This is merely a come back to an attack with some truth to it. I did not find it successful with young kids, as they are sure that it is the other person at fault. What I did find successful with my own son was teaching him this mirror concept. It was even more important I taught him the concept when things were going well. After I knew he understood the concept I was then able to assist him to see that his upsets were mirror situations. He now sees more actual truth and is much more humble about his own situations. He very recently told me that the concept has been very helpful to him.
I know of an incident that happened between a teenager and her parents. The mum and the daughter were getting very upset with each other in a restaurant. It got to the point that the mum got upset with the dad and her daughter and said she was going home right away. The dad understood the mirror concept as did the mum and daughter. He noticed they were being very critical of each other and he had an intuitive hit that they were both very unappreciative of each other. He pointed out this as a mirror example and they both immediately calmed down. Within a few hours they were openly saying appreciative things to each other, which continued for the next few days. The report I got back was the relationships were better than ever since that moment. This may be a very good mirror example but I wouldn’t recommend it until you and those you want to involve in it have success with the concept.
It definitely helps to communicate to another who understands the concept to help point out what the similarities or opposites are in a positive way.
The Mirror in Business
The mirror concept can be well used in the work place. How many times have we thought that management or the boss were crazy and stupid? Well how many of those times were just reflections of one’s own craziness? It becomes difficult to do the success idea when you think the customer or boss is crazy. I would recommend looking in the mirror on all those crazy things management does and see how many of them are actually your issues as well. This may help you increase compassion putting you in a better position to apply the success idea.
I have always thought that a messed up management, to some degree, is a great opportunity for me to be a success. I can always be seen as the one who helped straighten things out. It is just a matter of viewpoint.
By far the biggest challenge is putting one’s ego aside and locating the similar or opposite. The bigger the ego people have the less likely they are to believe that they cause bad things to happen to themselves. People with big egos are also likely to be upset about others with big egos because of the mirror principle but be completely unaware of the truth of their upsets.
Difficulty Finding The Cause
A typical challenge may come up when the similar or opposite is hard to find. The symptom may show as being upset with an important person in your life. The first thing to do is establish exactly what you think you are upset about. What is the trait in the other person that upsets you? For example, it may be that the person gives excuses, which seems upsetting. The upset person looks in the mirror and sees that he or she gives excuses especially for being late all the time. So the similarity is excuses. Sometimes the denial or blame is so strong it looks like the mirror technique isn’t working. The person is unwilling to admit the similar or opposite to themselves at that moment. The good news is that it will cause one to start thinking about the actual truth.
I remember someone complaining about his building contractor doing a poor job. The contractor was on a time and material basis so he could have been fired at any time. When the complaining first came up I pointed out that he also must want a poor job, as he wasn’t firing the contractor. Four months later the same complaints were happening. I just kept interrupting him and pointing out the similarity of the poor job, and his desire to have a poor job, until he eventually understood and fired the contractor. Sure he had his reasons but after four months you know it was more unconsciously deliberate. In other words he was in blame and denial. You may wonder why he would do this. Well first of all most people are unconsciously, deliberately doing many destructive things to themselves like smoking, over drinking, being neglectful and so on. This is another example where truth is stranger than fiction.
This building owner and I have a lot of mutual respect for each other so I was able to be very direct with him. In many cases bringing up that much truth is like being shot for bringing a truthful message. The funny thing is it’s the truthful messages that cause one to get shot not the false political ones. The mirror technique is a powerful tool that can usually only be done by oneself for oneself. If you try to hit someone over the head with it, by saying, “Why don’t you look in the mirror?” you are likely to receive some unwanted response. You are far better off talking about the concept to those in your life, how it has helped you and hope that at a later time they will use it themselves.
If you dislike a particular trait in other people look in the mirror. I know of several people who dislike those who boast about how great they are. One person could not see that she was a big self-promoter but was very annoyed about those who are. This kept coming up in our meetings. Then one day someone who knew her told me how fed up he was about her self-promoting! The next time she brought up how annoyed she was about someone self-promoting I covered the mirror concept in detail. I then proceeded to get her to look for the trait in herself. She finally saw it and felt very embarrassed. This has led to several realizations for her and a change in the way she deals with emotional issues.
Pet peeves are also good mirror material. For example, if people have pet peeves about others not being completely honest with them, I would suggest they look at how they are not honest. As I mentioned above it may not be to the same degree as those whom they are upset with. It may take some looking but don’t be surprised if your big pet peeves are actually your own issues.
Apparent Exceptions to The Rule
As I have mentioned above you can always look for an opposite trait to the one you don’t like. I remember a client who would complain about his wife always being late. He could see he was always on time himself but what he couldn’t see was how offensive that was. He would get into arguments with his wife over when they should arrive at a party and would be the first people there. In some cases his compulsive trait to be on time was worse than her poor trait. Your greatest strengths can be your greatest weaknesses.
Sometimes you can be really upset or angry with someone but cannot see the similar or opposite traits in yourself. Let the incident that caused the anger simmer down a little and look back in hindsight. If you feel you were overreacting then that is inappropriate and there is a reason in yourself for the reaction. This will not work if you are in denial, blame or not being honest with yourself. If you are getting angry and upset with people, once or more a day and think it is appropriate, you need an objective viewpoint. A good coach who understands this principle can make a huge difference in your life and I am not exaggerating.
Sometimes you cannot see the similar or opposite trait or behavior and you know there must be a reason in yourself. This is not uncommon. I remember a client who was upset over the performance of an employee he had hired about a year earlier. He and I couldn’t find a similar or an opposite. What the client eventually realized was that he had hired the person, he didn’t train the person, and he didn’t discipline this person. He then realized that because of these reasons he was completely responsible for this person’s performance. At that moment his upset went away and realized what he needed to do. Another client had hired a person knowing he was trouble but had some great skills that were needed in the business. When the trouble got out of hand and my client was really upset, we couldn’t find any similar or opposite traits or behaviors. The client calmed down when he realized he took a calculated risk that didn’t work out. He ended up taking personal responsibility for what happened in a professional manner.
One thing the mirror principle has taught me is that it is never the other person upsetting oneself. You are the only one who can upset yourself. I am not saying other people aren’t offensive at times. I am saying the reaction you have is all your own doing. The other thing I have learned is that most of the time we are upset with someone else because we are not telling ourselves the truth about our own role in the upset. Just recently I found myself getting upset with my beloved partner when she would remind me to take the next freeway exit. I would be thinking she is back seat driving and other negative thoughts. I finally realized I have a bad habit of driving past my freeway turnoffs when I get too involved in talking. Now I don’t mind her pointing out what exits I need to take as I realize I have a need to be reminded.
A client of mine trying to use the mirror was having difficulty seeing the truth in his negative thoughts about strangers. He would be driving down the road and notice things wrong with people like they were too fat. He was not fat or skinny. What he did realize was that he was putting others down to make himself look better. So you can always ask yourself questions as a last resort when you are not seeing the answer to upsets or negative thoughts about others. A good question is, “What am I really doing here?”
Time to Realize
When you first start using the mirror you may find yourself taking vast amounts of time realizing your offensive behavior. This is common. Only by fully taking responsibility for that offensive behavior will the realizations come quicker until you see it just before it happens so that you can stop it. You will then be able to deliver more positive service to others and less negative service meaning you will get more automatic positives in your life.
Venting is Not Always Good
Venting anger can cause more harm than good. The reason for this is that one can reinforce the lie that it is someone else who is causing the problem or anger. Only by telling oneself the truth will long-term problems ever be resolved.
The Truth About Yourself
If you are a person who feels you only deliver a few negative services a month yet find yourself upset with people all the time then you may be in for a reality adjustment. The more of those upsets with others you can trace back to yourself the better your life will become but it may look very ugly until it gets better.
A regular mirror is useful when you need to check your looks. The mirror concept is useful for seeing deeper into yourself.
Copyright 2000 by Kingsley J. Wimbush. All rights reserved.V1
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