This article continues on from our last: “Law of Attraction: not just for the good stuff” so if you haven’t read that one already please go back and read it.
In this piece we take a deeper look at the Law Of Attraction by focusing on what we hold in our unconscious mind. This is the past of our experience that we don’t have much control over unless we learn to heal. This may be the stuff that you can’t actively hear in the voice of your thoughts, such as a deep belief around how you will always be poor, unlovable etc.
Anything in our unconscious mind attracts into our lives, whether it be positive or negative. As brilliant and influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
What is in the unconscious mind usually includes unresolved pain and trauma and this is tricky as we will often do anything to avoid looking into our dark places. If you haven’t already it might be a good time to brush up on our article on pain (https://positivefutureself.blog/2019/09/29/bound-to-pain-and-why-thats-a-good-thing/) which offers the helpful outlook that our wounds are where the light gets in.
This is especially true when we consider how our pain affects our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and our world, thereby attracting more negative and painful experiences into our lives. By resolving our pain and trauma we can remove the minting and unhelpful beliefs that the trauma had given us.
Let’s use an example to explore how this works:
Julia (a totally made up person) experienced a neglectful single mother. The neglect was so extreme that Julia came to believe that she was not a person of any worth. She also believed that she was inherently unlovable and that women were untrustworthy. Julia, like most people in the world, had no idea that she believed these things. As a child she coped by becoming highly independent and capable and had a good relationship with her older brother.
All through Julias teen and early adulthood she struggled with relationships. In high school she was ostracised by the girls around her and thus made friends with a quiet boy from her class. Later, as Julia entered the workforce she struggled with her first big position under a female boss. As each incident occurred Julia took the lack of friendship and connection with the women around her as further confirmation of her existing belief that she was unlovable and that women were untrustworthy.
What was really happening is that Julia’s beliefs were causing her to be aloof, disinterested, fearful and anxious around women. She unconsciously assumed that they would not care about her. She overcompensated using independence and high-achieving methods thus further pushing away and kind of support of caring that could have helped develop relationships.
In Julia’s late twenties, after a number of years of unexplained anxiety and depression (coupled with loneliness) she sought therapy. Through some intensive work Julia was able to see the beliefs that stood in the way of closeness with women. Through learning to trust that her beliefs were outdated, unhelpful and untrue, she began to develop the kind of love and friendships that she had long desired.
Julia’s unconscious beliefs were attracting into her life the very thing she most wanted to go away: neglect from women. This is how it is with all of us. We are constantly attracting into our lives what we think and believe.
Victimhood vs responsibility.
When we are victims we ask “why does this keep happening to me?”. We can’t see or don’t want to see that we are attracting these experienced into our lives. When we are in victimhood there is no possibility of healing the past traumas that keep us limited.
When we take responsibility we can ask, what do I want to be different and how can I get what I want? We open ourselves up to doing anything to heal and resolve what is holding us back. We open ourselves up to attracting more good in our lives. Julia took responsibility when she went to therapy. She knew she wanted life to be different and she took action to make it happen.
Talking full responsibility for our lives means we acknowledge that we attract all of it- the good and the bad. If negative experiences occur we ask, how did I bring this in? And, what beliefs and thoughts need examining in order to attract a more desirable experience in the future?
Attracting the bad for resolution
Sometimes we may attract negative or painful experiences so that they can become a lesson, and opportunity to heal and a way to access our peace. This can be difficult to believe in when we experience great tragedy, like the death of a loved on or an abusive experience. However if we look at everything in our lives as an opportunity to heal we can find great peace.
Because we live in ego we forget this truth. As one of my great teachers Ken Wapnick says, “It is compelling and inviting to luxuriate in the ego.” The reality is that when it comes to the unconscious mind, we don’t get to pick and choose our experience. All we can do is heal our wounds as each circumstance arises so that we can go on to attract more peace, contentment and calm into our lives instead of more hurt, anger and suffering.
In this way, the only work there ever is to do is on the self, no one else is out there anyway.
Have you heard of the term Law of Attraction? It was made popular in the early 2000’s by the film (and book) The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. In addition, manifestation gained widespread hype through the 70’s and 80’s through the likes of Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) and Esther and Jerry Hicks (Law of Attraction, the Vortex). Even before this recent craze, ideas that include manifestation and law of attraction concepts have been around for centuries.
The Law of attraction is known as a pseudoscience, meaning that there is no current scientific proof its effectiveness. Whether it does or does not “work” we will leave for others to fight over. With this article I would simply like to offer you a basic understanding of what the Law of Attraction is so that you can see for yourself. It is my belief that we can reap great benefits from understanding the fundamental nature of manifestation and, most importantly, how we are always manifesting whether we are conscious of it or not.
Since the Secret’s publication, manifestation has become well-known but also widely misunderstood. The most common misconception is that we can use it as some kind of magical power to get the good things we want: like bringing large sums of money into your life, or finding a brand new shiny house or car.
While bringing in a million dollars overnight may or may not work for you, I’d like to offer a far more important understanding of the Law of Attraction that can bring you peace and contentment no matter how much money you have. Let’s being by understanding what the Law of Attraction is and how manifestation works.
What is the Law of Attraction?
The simplest definition is that the Law of Attraction is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on. The Law of Attraction is considered a fundamental law of the universe that cannot be altered and is not dependent on your age, sex, religion or social status. Like all laws, it simply is.
The Law of Attraction takes whatever is in our thoughts and materialises them into reality. This is based upon the law that all thoughts become reality eventually. Both humans and thoughts are made up of energy and when it comes to energy like always attracts like. The results of positive thoughts are always positive consequences. The same holds true for negative thoughts, always leading to bad outcomes.
The Law of Attraction dictates that whatever can be imagined and held in the mind’s eye is achievable. The real power is in believing that what you desire for your life is already true. This is manifestation: we can consciously create something by believing that what we want for our life is already how it is. If you want to be 60kg, then you must believe that you already are, by feeling the joy and positive emotions that are associated with this outcome.
As spectacular as this sounds it only takes one look around the state of our planet to notice that something is amiss here. If we could all create the exact life we want, then why is there so much misery, poverty, violence and disease?
The answer is simple. The world is full of suffering because whether we know it or not, during every second of our existence, we are manifesting. Every moment of our lives we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out. The real problem is that during most of this process we do not know we are doing it and this means we are often attracting negative outcomes.
How often have you driven to the grocery store and as you are pulling into a parking spot you realise you had no idea how you got there? You were not paying attention to the drive. Rather you were up in your head thinking about the past or fantasising about the future.
How often could you actually recall what you were thinking about? If you could recall it, was it negative or positive? Were you believing that great things were possible for yourself and that all is well in your life? Or (far more likely) were you reliving an awful thing that happened to you last week or expecting the worst from an incident you perceive will arrive in the future? Were you thinking wonderful things about your body and health, or were you engaging in self-criticism and hatred?
You see, every second of every moment of every day you are bringing towards your life whatever you are thinking about. Often our thinking is fear/survival based and therefore focusses on the negative. We spend far more time concerned about how little money we do have, and far less thinking about how blessed we are and what is possible for our financial future.
Perhaps we obsess about the state of our romantic life and where our relationships are headed. We may fear the worst out of our innate desire to protect ourselves from hurt so we guard ourselves from being too open or loving. This negatively affects our relationships and pushes those we love, and those we meet, away. This is how like attracts like.
There are many books and teachers out there that will tell you that you can have anything you want (even a million dollars) as long as you believe it is already yours. I’m not here to tell you if you can or you can’t. I’m just suggesting that what you think is truly what you become.
Perhaps you can give some new thoughts and new beliefs a try and see for yourself what happens. Who would you be if you believed you were blessed, wealthy, healthy and happy? Whatever you believe you will find the proof to support. So take a look around at your life and look for new evidence.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you”.
Who would we be without our wounds? What would life be like if all the pain and darkness you had even felt had been removed? These were the questions I was left pondering while recently reading a bookclub inspired novel The Binding, by Bridgett Collins.
The Binding takes place in an alternate reality where books are different to how we know them here. In their world books are for all those things that people feel destroyed by and cannot live with in their lives. They are filled with actual peoples memories, their secrets, grief, and pain. The books are hand crafted and once the bad memories have been carefully bound inside the book they are erased for good.
Our local bookclub meets to discuss the books we are ingesting. During our meetup for The Binding the discussion went deep as we explored what it would mean to have our deepest troubles, our abuses and the most painful events of our lives removed. Would we be happier? Would life be bliss? Or would we lose the very substance that makes us who we are?
I was adamant that our pain is our greatest treasure and should be kept. I believe the wounds I have inside of me are the very reason I have been able to experience healing, feel compassion, develop wisdom and grow strong. I know I am the woman I am today because of all of the suffering I have endured in my life. I cherish the alchemy of pain to growth.
As I drove home from bookclub that evening I recalled the beautiful quote by Rumi, “The wound is there the light enters you”. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic who has become one of the most famous poets of all time. He believed in the use of poetry, dance and music as a way to find union with the beloved, or with God.
The quote comes from a larger piece that I will share with you now:
“I said: what about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.
I said: What about my passion?
He said: Keep it burning.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
This longer version gives us understanding that the short quote cannot. You see, it would be easy to misunderstand that our pain alone can transform us. But this is not the whole picture. Transformation occurs only if we are willing to stay with it. This is a key distinction when you consider that every single one of us has experienced pain, but not all of us have grown from it.
The light enters us because we find a way to be brave enough to stay with our wounds.
What does it mean to stay? It means that we surround ourselves with the resources we need to fully feel the pain we carry within us. Every single careless word, physical assault, rejection, abuse or neglect is inside of us whether we choose to feel it or not.
Sometimes it is smart that we haven’t felt it yet. Perhaps because we weren’t resourced, like when we were children and didn’t have the capacity to handle what we were experiencing. In this case we closed off and simply chose to cope.
Or perhaps something we experienced was so overwhelming (the death of a partner or child, a sexual assault or violent abuse) and our heart knew it was too big for us to feel right now. So it closed, created walls and protected itself.
This ability to protect is a beautiful quality that we possess as humans. The consequence however is that we feel less of everything when there are walls around the heart. We can’t access the same kind of joy either, or love or compassion or release. In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “Your joy can fill you only as deeply as your sorrow has carved you.”
At some point, we may want to open to the fullness of life again. Perhaps we are tired of numbness and of the half-life we are living. When we have the resources around us we can begin to open to the pain, let the light flood in and crack the walls around our heart.
Many of us may wish that we could give away our pain to a leather bound book as in The Binding. But if we remove our wounds we would be losing this place of transformation, alchemy and light. How can we stay with something if we won’t acknowledge that it is there? How can we let it mould us into the divine, holy, compassionate being that we all are deep inside?
I say leave the pain where it is. Be proud of your hurts. Find a way, however you can, to really feel what has troubled you the most. Find the wound, open it up and let the light enter you.
The subject of domestic violence (DV) is mostly left in silence, yet abuse thrives behind closed doors. Our continued silence is what allows abuse to develop and continue and it leads to many victims not knowing they are the subject of DV. The intention behind this article is to deepen our knowledge of DV and empower those inside or near an abusive relationship to leave.
For ease of this article we will refer to all forms of domestic violence, abuse and control as DV, though it is important to understand that DV is not about violence, it is about control. Physical violence is not always present, and once it does occur it has passed through many gates to get there. These gates tend to be around subtle forms of escalating control, such as deciding what the victim can or can’t wear, when they should come home, taking control of the finances and/or slowly isolating the victim from friends, family and even familiar places.
Also for ease we will refer to the victim as “she” and the perpetrator as “he” when necessary. Though DV can be found inside a same sex relationship or can take place from woman to man, the overwhelming majority of DV cases is from man to woman inside a long term committed relationship.
Many victims do not fully understand that they are being abused. This happens because DV is insidious (meaning that it creeps up slowly and unobtrusively) and because physical violence (the most obvious form of abuse) does not occur at the beginning and sometimes is not present at all.
More frequently DV is characterised by the perpetrator limiting the victims behaviour to suit his beliefs and expectations, which are often impossibly high of her. When she doesn’t or can’t meet those expectations he creates consequences. Thus she begins to feel like she is the one falling short or causing the tension.
He often acts poorly around the victims friends and family in a way that leads to conflict or embarrassment. Eventually alienation and distance result from his behaviour. He will usually insist that this is the family/friend’s fault, that they don’t understand or “get him”. In this way he will make himself the victim and she will feel like she needs to defend him. She will usually feel like she is put in the middle and is forced to defend her partner. Over a time a wedge is placed between the romantic relationship and the family until she feels she must choose him over everyone else she loves.
It is important to note that no human should ever be put in a position to choose between those she loves. Anyone who asks her to do so should raise a huge red flag as an DV perpetrator.
Signs that YOU are living inside a DV
The most glaring red flag is if you feel any kind of fear (at any time) in regards to your partner.
This may mean that you are scared to say what you think, to bring up certain topics, or to say no to sex because doing so may have negative consequences. No matter the reason, fear has no place in a healthy relationship.
Other signs of domestic control and abuse include
Blames you for the criticism or abuse
Tells you what to wear and how you should look
Tells you that you can’t live without him, would be nothing without him
Throws things or punches walls when angry
Yells at you and makes you feel small
Keeps cash and credit cards from you
Limits or controls your employment
Keeps close tabs on where you go and whom you go with
Makes you ask to see friends and family
Keeps tabs on your messages, emails and call history
Embarrasses you in front of others, makes you want to avoid people
Alienates you from friends and family
Tells you that your loved ones don’t understand him/her
Blames your friends and family for the aliention
Makes you feel you must choose between him/her and your friends/family
Makes you feel like you owe them sex
Gets angry when you say no to sex
Forces you to have sex
Keeps you from eating, sleeping, or getting medical care
Threatens to kill you or people you love
Abandons you in a place you don’t know
Attacks you with weapons
Locks you in or out of your house
Punches, pushes, kicks, bites, pulls hair
The Three Phases of Abuse
Although DV is often in the dark, its progression has been well studied by experts and is thus is predictable. DV doesn’t being with the obvious big event. Instead it escalates through 3 phases, which are cyclical.
The honeymoon (including remorse)
Tension Building: During this phase the abuser may become increasingly moody or begin to withdraw affection. They may engage in higher control, put-downs and criticisms. The victim may feel like they are “walking on eggshells” around the abuser. This phase can last for a few hours, months, or anything in between. The longer the phase drags on the more inevitable the blow-up will feel, even if the victim can’t be sure exactly when or how it will blow up.
Acute Explosion: The tension finally breaks with an abusive incident. This can take place in a variety of ways. If the DV relationship includes physical violence this is usually when the abuser lashes out at the victim through punching, hitting, throwing or even raping the victim. In a DV relationship where the abuse is primarily psychological the abuser may scream, yell, threaten violence or call the victim humiliating names (usually around the victim being worthless, nothing without them etc).
Honeymoon: This phase usually begins with remorse. The abuser is sorry, promising not to do this again. They may be extra affectionate, including buying gifts or engaging in helpful behaviours around the house to “make up” for the abuse. Many will promise to change, promise to stop abusing, or promise that it will never happen again. This phase can feel so lovely to the victim that they will often accept the abuser’s reasoning that it was their fault. They may try to adjust their own behaviour as the next tension building phase begins, believing themselves responsible for the prevention of the next “explosion”.
Not all abusive relationships have a honeymoon phase. Those that do usually see it slowly diminish over time as the cycle continues to go around and around. Generally, each explosive phase is worse than the one before it.
So, Why Doesn’t she just leave?
Lesley Morgan Steiner is a survivor of domestic violence and author of “Crazy Love” In an excellent TED talk about why domestic abuse victims don’t leave, she helps us to understand the complex answer to the frequently asked question, why doesn’t she leave?
She says, “Why did I stay? The answer is easy. I didn’t know he was abusing me. Even though he held loaded guns to my head, pushed me down stairs, threatened to kill our dog, pulled the key out of the car ignition as I drove down the highway, poured coffee grinds on my head as I dressed for a job interview, I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on earth who could help Connor face his demons.”
In this TED talk, Lesley is letting us know that DV is a complex situation that involves great care and love for the abuser. It is not simple to leave. In addition, there may be children that need to be taken care of and the concern of negatively affecting their life. The victim has been alienated from friends and family (and may believe in the alienation being the family/friend’s fault) so seeking support is difficult.
In addition, leaving the perpetrator may be extremely dangerous. As Lesley says later in the talk, “Over 70 percent of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship, after she’s gotten out, because then the abuser has nothing left to lose”. Even with the threat of danger, most victims who leave go on to live fulfilling lives and have healthy relationships.
There are some basic things you can do to prepare for leaving, even if you are not ready yet:
Tell someone you love about what is happening to you.
Hide a set of car keys.
Make a copy of financial information: bank accounts, password etc
Pack and then hide a bag with keys, extra clothes, important papers, money, and medicines. You could keep it at a trusted friend or family members house.
Have a plan for calling the police in an emergency. Know where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.
To ensure safety after you have left, it is a good idea to be in contact with your local support organisation, and to change any regular appointment times, sporting events or activities. You can also change your usual travel routes (to work, school etc), and have a friend or family member that you can frequently check in with.
How can you help someone you love?
Are you worried about someone you love? Here are signs that indicate a potential DV relationship:
They have gradually become quiet/withdrawn
They are reserved and distant
Have dropped out of activities they would usually enjoy
Cancel appointments or meetings with you at the last minute
Often late to work or other appointments
Exhibits excessive privacy concerning their personal life or the person with whom they’re in a relationship
Isolating themselves by cutting off contacts with friends and family members
Feel like they must choose between you and your partner
Checks in unnecessarily with the partner
Seems unnecessarily anxious to please partner
Have children who seem timid, frightened, or extremely well-behaved when the partner is around
If you find the above signs are true for your friend or family member, it might be time to ask them about it. Let them know you have no judgements about their situation and love and support them unconditionally. The absolute best thing to do is to keep a strong tie with the victim, even when the perpetrator is working toward isolation and alienation. This may mean not taking your friends withdrawn behaviour personally and not letting yourself be angry at the abuser (which can be difficult). Support your friend in whatever way they need and let them know you are there for them, and will always be there for them, even if you do not agree with the relationship. Make sure they know you will always stand by them, no matter what. Offer to be the person they come to should they ever need it.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND INFORMATION
Almost every town has a local support group for DV that will take in the victim and children of a DV relationship. For more information check out the White Ribbon Campaign https://www.whiteribbon.org.au where you can find your local support group.
Lesley Steiner’s incredible talk on why she doesn’t leave: https://www.ted.com/talks/leslie_morgan_steiner_why_domestic_violence_victims_don_t_leave?language=en
Amazing article by Huff Post that explains the cycle of brainwashing as studied by Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton but as it specifically pertains to domestic abuse: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/crystal-sanchez/8-steps-that-explain-why-_b_9143360.html
In relationships, conflict is a given. As much as we would like to pretend it isn’t so, there is no way around this truth. For many of us the unconscious question we are always asking ourselves is, “How do I avoid conflict?”. Yet poorly managed conflict (or even worse, avoided conflict) will rapidly disintegrate a relationship over time.
For a relationship to thrive there is a better question we need to ask, “How can I do conflict well?“ In this article I will share with you some of the ways I have learned to do conflict well.
Having a common goal
As we all know, prevention is better than cure. Having a common goal that both parties understand is one of the best ways to prevent huge difficult-to-resolve conflicts. This is because when we understand what we are striving for everything we do revolves around this agreement.
For example, I often send my clients away to work on their common goal by answering questions like these together:
When conflict arises you’ll have a better sense of how to resolve it while honouring this plan. When you know who you want to be and what is expected of you it is easier to reflect upon the actions, mistakes, and requests that arise from the both of you.
Taking personal responsibility
It is absolutely essential for a healthy relationship that each party understands that the only thing they are responsible for is their own behaviour (the exception for this being domestic violence or abuse). Likewise the only thing we can contemplate, improve and change is ourselves. It is fruitless to spend your life complaining about and trying to change others.
A tactic for conflict that I love is from Jordan Petersons book, 12 Rules for Life, The Antidote to Chaos. He says that he and his wife manage conflict by moving away from one another for a period of twenty minutes to contemplate what they each individually could have done differently. Note that means you are contemplating only what YOU could have done different, not what your partner could have done. I challenge you to try this for just one week and see how your relationship flourishes and grows.
Hearing the music
Remember that terrifying and escalating music in the movie Jaws? How as it played the tension went up and up and up? A friend of mine uses the Jaws music as a great analogy: that you have to learn to hear it right at the start, before the tension gets too high. Often we are in a conflict and deep down we know exactly where it is going to end up, but we don’t stop to listen to the music. If we paid attention we would hear the music loud and clear and we would recognise that we are headed nowhere good.
With this analogy we train ourselves to hear the music and get out of the water. My friend recommends using a phrase or word that you say to one another before the argument escalates out of control. That word may signal that it is time to self-regulate or spend a little while apart before coming back to discuss.
The nervous system in conflict
Conflict results in immediate sympathetic nervous system (or SNS) stimulation, otherwise known as the fight or flight response or the stress response. In fact there are three parts to this: fight (we may argue, yell, get angry or threaten), flight (withdraw and run away) or freeze (shut down, become immobile).
When we feel threatened by a conflict we tend to default to one of these three choices. Likewise, we all have a history of how loved ones have responded to us in the past when they feel threatened. Both of these affect the way we engage (or try not to engage) in conflict now.
For example when I was a child I experienced aggression from the close men in my life. I learned to cope by withdrawing (which is a flight response). On the other hand my husband has a history of experiencing female withdrawal (flight). The close women in his life tended to retreat away from him which usually felt like rejection.
As conflict begins between us this creates a complex dynamic. If I perceive aggression from him (which happens easily due to my past experiences) I will respond by withdrawing. As he perceives withdrawal and rejection from me (which happens easily due to his past experiences) he responds by moving in closer, which I then perceive as more aggression. Can you see how an unhelpful cycle begins here?
By understanding one another’s history and SNS responses we can put into place a plan of action for when conflict arises. In our case, we created a plan where I ask my husband for ten minutes away from him so that I can regulate and soothe myself. I am in a flight or fight response and I need to calm myself down. My husband knows that he must agree and I know that I must keep my word to return in no more than ten minutes. This way he will feel safe too.
The opposite of your SNS or stress response is your PNS (or parasympathetic nervous system) which can also be called the relaxation response. You can stimulate this through deep breathing, consciously relaxing your muscles or using mindfulness of the body or breath. When I leave the room I am doing something really important: I am soothing my own nervous system. I use a series of learned tools to exit my flight/fight/freeze responses and come into relaxation.
Sometimes we need to physically release the energy of an SNS response. Ways to do this are by running, stomping, dancing, punching or throwing pillows, sighing loudly, singing, dancing, laying under a blanket or having a damn good cry. These actions work the best when you can completely avoid any stories that may be going through your head. Just move for the sake of moving, to release energy and feel your body.
It is important to note that during a stress response we can’t think critically. We are honed in on survival or protection. It is only once we are calmed down and relaxed that we can breathe deeply and think widely. Conflict is resolved much more peacefully when we are not supercharged and triggered. It is a great skill to learn to come back to the discussion once relaxed and with your common goal in mind.
Did you know that every single quality you see in another is what you already hold in your own consciousness? In other words what you experience with them are simply parts of yourself reflected back to you. The qualities that you most admire in people are ones that you already possess. Isn’t that beautiful?
Though you may not like it (or want to believe it) the same goes for those qualities that you dislike. If you can see this clearly then your relationships become an opportunity to see yourself honestly and to grow. As we learn to see everyone as a mirror we can gain a fundamental and life changing truth: if you want to improve your relationships you need to be the change you want to see.
My clients experience
As a therapist I frequently have clients come to me and talk about their partners. They may say something like, “He or she is just not listening to me. I don’t feel heard or respected. It’s like they don’t understand me and have no time to hear what I have to say”.
In response I would ask them, “What specifically do you see in their behaviour?”. And they might say, “Well they shout at me a lot, and they keep saying the same things over and over again”.
I can see clearly what they can not: that the other person also feels unheard, otherwise why would they be shouting and repeating themselves? The two are mirroring each others experience and they are seeing themselves (and their own actions and qualities) in each other.
So, how do we wake up to what we are seeing? How do we take responsibility for our own actions and qualities and realise that the other is simply showing us what we need to know about ourselves?
To help my clients do this I ask a series of powerful questions. First, “What would you like them to do to help you feel seen and heard?” Or, “What can they do to solve this situation?” They will usually tell me something like, “I would like them to stop what they are doing when I come home and listen to me. I would like them to just hear me without talking or fixing anything”.
People are almost always very clear about what they want the other to do. They are usually very clear about what the other persons faulty actions and qualities are. However, as you likely know, it is next to impossible and completely exhausting to devote yourself to changing another. Blame, frustration, nagging and disappointment are the usual ways we experience this external criticism. Yet when we can turn toward ourselves and see that what we are experiencing in the other is our own experience we have so much power to change.
With this is mind I ask the next powerful question, “How can YOU do that very thing in your relationship to break the cycle?”. In other words, using our example, I am asking them how they can stop what they are doing and just listen to their partner, without fixing anything. I am asking them how they can be the change they wish to see.
My personal experience
I see the mirroring experience most when I am relating to my children. I sometimes get frustrated and wonder why they aren’t they doing what I want them to do. Why aren’t they listening to what I say, why are they ignoring me and playing around? And then I realise, I am not doing what they want me to do. They want me to play with them and listen to what they have to say about their day.
I need to be the change I want to see. So I stop. I listen to them, give them a little of my time. I might say to them, “So you want to tell me about what you’ve done today and play some lego?”. Everything seems to stop there as they relax and feel loved. I am now free to express some of my needs too and they have become willing to listen and meet them. I ask, “Ok, how about once I have done that we’ll clean up the room and then go to dinner, ok?”. We’ve met each others needs and as such the world settles around us perfectly.
We are often so stuck in our own experience (they’re not listening to me) that we forget that this is their experience too (we’re not listening to them). We forget that they are just a mirror to us, and us to them.
Looking into the mirror
If you want to be the best you that you can be, start looking deeply into the mirror. Really look at what you see in others and know that it is YOU that you see. It is important to be crystal clear that the only reason someones qualities are annoying you is because they are also yours. As long as you do not acknowledge them as your own they will continue to frustrate you, while owning up to them provides you with the chance to grow.
If you find yourself being treated with disrespect, look within yourself and see who you treat with disrespect, whether it be a friend or yourself. If your partner criticises you, you will find that you are critical of yourself and most probably of others. If you never seem to fall in love, perhaps you don’t believe in love? If no one believes in your dreams perhaps you’re the one who doesn’t think you’ll ever amount to anything. It is only you who holds you down. It is only you who can lift you up.
And remember that this is true of others, that they are seeing themselves in you too. So it is likely that when you are head to head in battle with a lover, a child or a friend that they are having a mirrored experience. It is likely that you both feel distant, or unheard or unloved. Trying to get them to change the experience is fruitless. Instead look clearly into the mirror and ask, how can I be the change I wish to see?* It works, I promise.
*The caveat to this is abuse behaviour and relationship. The mirror in this instance is in relation to trust and self worth, and if you are in an abusive relationship please seek help from a licensed professional.
There are so many things in this world that we don’t know. As humans, instead of leaving the unknown as a blank page we tend to make things up. In other words, we are constantly making assumptions.
For example you are in a bar and a man looks over. You make eye contact and he smiles at you. You don’t know anything about this man or what his interest about you could be. You only know a couple of facts: two people looked eye to eye and the corners of his mouth turned up.
The rest, the parts you don’t know you fill in based on your perception of the world. You might assume, “that man is creepy”, or “ooh this one really likes me”, neither of which are founded in any kind of reality.
We walk around all day long filling in the parts of the world we don’t know with our projections. But what is a projection, and how does this process work?
As we talked about in our blog on Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, there are two billion bits of info coming at us per moment in chunks of data. Yet we only process seven (plus or minus two) at a time. This means that in order to take in our experience we are constantly in a process of deleting, distorting and generalising the real experience. (If you’d like to know more about this you can read our NLP Blog or even better: join us for our 4 day INLPTA training this July 26-29)
We usually take in the data that already fits in with our current beliefs about the world, and we are always filtering data dependant on our current state (ie if you are sad, you look for depressing data. If you are angry you look for infuriating data etc).
After we have filtered out everything that doesn’t fit we are left with our projection. This is how two different women may sit in the same bar while the same facts happen and have two different experiences. One sees the man smile and feels, “oh, creepy” while the other feels “ooh he likes me”.
Also, our projections are constantly creating our experiences and another word for this is manifestation. What we think about the world is then how we take action and create the next steps of our existence. We are always manifesting whether we are conscious of it or not. We can manifest great things in our lives by focusing consciously on what we want and by being grateful and positive, or we can manifest more pain and suffering by staying in our limited and negative perceptions and assumptions of the world.
The problem with assumption
It is normal to try to fill in the gaps. Making assumptions is a survival trait: just as we discussed in our article about negative emotions, these parts of ourselves exist because they got us right here where are through a long line of ancestors.
Throughout time, we used assumptions because we needed to know about the world and people so we could understand what is safe and what is not. The problem is not that we fill in the gaps with guesswork, the problem is in assuming that it is the truth.
Your assumptions about the world and about people are not real. While at times they could be accurate they are far more often inaccurate. Then we begin to base our words and actions on conclusions that are not real and often harmful. This is most prevalent within relationships where both parties are living separate realities but assuming they know and understand the other.
It is important to understand that the only way to find out the truth of something is to ask: everything else you believe is simply a projection. And when I say ask: I mean ask and then really listen. Clarify what you have heard. Be like a great investigator that will not stop until they have arrived at the truth. There are many tools you can learn to do this; modalities that teach communication or getting yourself in front of a therapist who will guide you to talk with your loved ones.
Asking for clarification may look something like this:
Person 1: “Two, it looks like you are angry at me but I am not sure, can you tell me what you are felling right now?”
Person 2: “Yes I am angry, but not at you. I had a challenging day at work and I have a huge headache and I was hoping for an hour to myself tonight”.
Without gaining clarification Person 2 may have spent hours in ruminating thoughts about how awful Person 1 was being to them and creating all kinds of stories in their head that aren’t actually true. Much damage can be done to relationships in this way.
It can be very scary to ask for clarification as most of us are terrified of conflict or of being hurt or rejected by the truth. This fear often keeps us tied to our assumptions. We therefore live in a world full of projection: seeing the world only from our own perspective.
A fun (but challenging) exercise
An exercise that I love to give my clients is to take a whole week and try not to make any meaning. Look only at the facts. As much as you can see a smile for simply what it is, a smile. See anger for what it is, simply anger. Look around you and take out all the stories, assumptions and projections. Just be with what is. If you get caught anywhere and if you’re feeling brave, ask for clarification. Try to remember that just because you think it, it doesn’t mean its true.
Good luck, I’d love to hear how it goes.