Mirrors and Teachers

There are people I love who are easy to be around, and others I love who are more difficult for me. It’s not that they’re bad people, others get along with them fine, and, actually, so do I. It’s just that I have to work a little bit more to understand what they mean, to not take what they say the wrong way, or use a little more patience around them, because their personalities or styles are quite different from mine. I find it worth the work, because our differences stretch me a bit, and enrich my life and understanding in ways that more similar people don’t. Challenging relationships can be the most rewarding, when I understand they have a purpose. 

Perhaps you have run into people who test your patience at work, with friends, or among extended family. Sometimes people are difficult to handle because they remind us of other people we had problems with in the past, so we’re attracted and frustrated at the same time. Others can be difficult for many people around them. Problems with a familiar type of person may not emerge until you’re already bonded and involved as friends or partners. 

Many valuable gifts come through overcoming negative reactions, and learning to view others as reflections of ourselves—useful mirrors. The following exercise will help you step back and look at others as a source of information about yourself,  view people from a different angle and use the very people who upset you as a reflection of the internal dynamics behind your struggles.

Exercise: mirrors and teachers

1. List problem people: Make a list of people with whom you have had problems in the recent past. You can use the list from the exercise for reviewing your family map in the last chapter, choose the family members who are still presenting problems, and add to it other people who are difficult, but aren’t related.

2. Choose a mirror: Select one of the most difficult people on the list, and think about your interaction with that person. What do you want from him or her? Do you want to be understood? To be respected? To be left alone? To be appreciated? To be cared about?

3. Relate it to yourself: Now consider how to give to yourself what you want from the other person. If you want to be left alone, do you leave yourself alone? If you want to be trusted, do you trust yourself? If you want to be heard, do you listen to your own self? If you want to be important, are you important to you?

4. Change your self-treatment: Practice treating yourself the way you would want to be treated by the person in question. For example, if you are angry because this person doesn’t treat you with respect, consider what it would mean to treat yourself with respect, and change your behavior toward yourself accordingly. If you’re upset because the person doesn’t listen to you, spend some time every day listening to yourself. 

5. Learn new skills: Think about the dynamics between the difficult person and yourself, and what you need to learn that would improve the relationship. Perhaps you need to learn not to take what is said too seriously. Perhaps you need to learn to set boundaries, or to handle other peoples’ anger more effectively. Make a list of new skills you could learn that would improve your ability to deal better with this type of individual. On you list, note where you think you could learn the skills you need. From a friend? With a therapist? From books? Some of the exercises in the rest of this book may give you what you need. 

6. Do your part: Take responsibility for your part of the relationship.  Keeping in mind that no one can struggle with you if you don’t struggle back, consider what you need to do to remove yourself from the relationship problem. Remember, no matter what’s going on, you have control over your own actions – you can choose not to participate in any situation that is destructive or counter-productive.

From It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction © 2004 Tina B. Tessina

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.

"Dr.Romance"

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