I can speak about two kinds of mirrors when it comes to judgments: the mirrors we look into every morning and the mirrors that occur when we see a part of ourselves in others. Both mirrors can be used intentionally to free us from judgments.
Let’s begin with the actual mirror in the bathroom. When you look in the bathroom mirror, what do you see? What are the first thoughts that come into your mind? Do you look at what is right or do you judge what is wrong?
Most people use mirrors to feed their self-judgment. They pick themselves apart for every blemish, every hair out of place, the size and shape of their body parts, and how they look compared to others. This is learned behavior and programming. As young children, we didn’t use mirrors for knocking ourselves down. Instead, we were fascinated to see our own reflection mirroring our every move and expression.
I am sure some of you have seen the little girl with blonde curly hair named Jessica on YouTube doing positive affirmations in the mirror. A clip of her video was used in a Maxwell House commercial. As she looks at herself in the mirror, Jessica enthusiastically proclaims all that she likes in her life. It is inspiring and at the same time quite the opposite of how most people greet themself in the mirror.
Growing up my own self-talk was full of extreme judgment and hatred toward myself. I suffered from anorexia and bulimia for years and every time I looked in the mirror, it was like looking at a funhouse mirror with the distorted image. Even though I was only ninety-two pounds soaking wet, I still saw a young girl who needed to lose more weight. I based my distorted perspective on all my self-judgment and my desire to be anyone else but me. My self-hatred was extreme and deeply painful.
My relationship with mirrors has changed dramatically over the years. I began to pay attention to the thoughts that arose when I looked in the mirror. I started to see the judging thoughts as friends who were pointing to where I still needed to unwind and heal my mind. I would forgive the thoughts as I realized I had the power to choose another way of seeing myself in the mirror. It has become easier and the judgments are few and far between. At times when I am feeling low energy or when life bumps up against my leftovers, I still need to make a conscious effort to break the habit of picking myself apart in front of the mirror.
Sometimes, I look in the mirror and say, “I commit to love you, no matter what happens today.” I also love using my adaptation of a quote by Macrina Wiederkehr:
“I am willing to see the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.”
I look deeply into my own eyes with the intention of connecting to my true self. I feel a sense of wholeness and oneness with my soul, heart, mind, and body. It has been a challenging process, but it works. I know if I can make the shift and change my habitual judgments, anyone can.
What if, the next time you find yourself in front of a mirror, you started to encourage yourself, give yourself a compliment, offer a pep talk, and be your own cheerleader? How would that feel? Probably extremely uncomfortable at first, but with some practice, it can become more of a positive habit.
Now, let’s look at the mirrors out in the world that come in the form of people and/or situations that trigger us and cause judgment to arise in our minds.
Imagine that the world is full of mirrors reflecting back to us what we need to see, know, and feel in order to heal. Every person, interaction, situation, and the experience becomes an opportunity to look within. When we project our judgments out into the world, we can’t heal or change them. They are out of our reach and in our blind spot. We can’t change what we can’t see.
When we use our life as a classroom and keep our minds wide open, we can build awareness around our triggers and judgments. In the light of awareness, we can make change happen.
In a conversation about judging and projection, my dearest friend and soul sister, Reverend Lisa Windsor, said to me, “If you can see it in them, it must be in you.” Those words really landed and became an essential tool for me to start bringing my own judgments back into my awareness to shift them. When I had a judgment about someone I would turn it around and mirror it back onto myself. Let me share an example.
I just woke up from a dream in which I was visiting the veterinary clinic where I used to work as a Veterinary Technician and Hospital Manager. I was in the kennel area and I noticed the back door wasn’t closing properly. Someone had jammed some cardboard pieces into the bottom so it wouldn’t lock properly. I started talking to everyone in the neighborhood to figure out who had done this. I knew their plan was to come back after the clinic closed and steal what they wanted. I could feel anger rising up in me and I was determined to catch the person responsible. I felt very protective of my friends who owned the clinic.
Still dreaming, I finally figured out who it was, so I started searching for that individual. When I went back to the clinic to tell everyone to watch out for him, I found him in the back checking out the door and noticing it was no longer rigged to stay open. I confronted him. He had already started collecting some things to steal.
I was angry and I slapped him in the face. “How dare you? Why can’t you just make an honest living like everyone else? Why do you have to steal?” I was trying to get the attention of the other staff but no one could hear me, so I threw him into one of the dog cages. I felt disgust, resentment, and anger. He deserved to be punished but I knew that because he hadn’t actually broken in he wouldn’t be charged and he would get away with his potential crime.
I woke up feeling angry, annoyed, and resentful. I stayed with these feelings for a while, but they wouldn’t budge. While I felt the emotional discord in my own body, I had projected it out onto the alleged crook in my dream. I started to journal about how I was feeling.
Then I started by listing the judgments I had toward him.
I judged him for not making an honest living and for stealing from others.
It was clear I judged him as guilty and needing to be punished.
Then I practiced the mirror technique. If I could see it in him, it must be in me. I turned all my judgments back onto myself.
I judge myself for not making an honest living, for stealing from others.
Then I judged myself as guilty and needing to be punished.
I felt a wave of guilt rise up. At first, my mind pointed the guilt outward and I felt bad for slapping him. Where was my compassion? I could see I was projecting again to avoid what I was really feeling, so I turned the guilt back onto myself once more and looked a little more deeply.
Suddenly I had a memory of stealing from a store when I was young. I started stealing candy with a friend from the local convenience store. No one caught us. When we got away with it a few more times, I started trying to steal bigger things. It didn’t take long before I was caught stealing. I felt so guilty and a deep shame filled my heart.
The clerk made me call my mom to tell her what I had done, but I just stayed quiet when she answered. I couldn’t bring myself to speak the words. The guilt and shame were eating me up inside. I felt so heavy because I would disappoint my mom. I had tried so hard to uphold the image of being the good little girl.
That image came crashing down as the guilty verdict came flooding into my mind. “Judge Judy”, my ego was fully awake in my mind and ready to kick some butt. In the end, the clerk called my mom and she grounded me for two weeks. That didn’t really feel like punishment enough, so my “Judge Judy” gave me a life sentence of feeling guilty: I would need to spend my life making up for my crime. I continued to punish myself and lived with the guilt for decades.
Almost twenty years later, I saw the store clerk at a friend’s house gathering. Immediately I felt the shame rise up again. He recognized me and tried to talk to me, but I pretended not to know him and left. I avoided feeling that awful judgment of guilt, and once again buried it deep.
Tonight as I was journaling, I could feel another layer of guilt and shame washing up for healing. It had been years since I really reflected on that experience as a child, so I brought myself back to the memory and focused on how I felt. My body tensed up even more. As I sat, feeling into my heart and solar plexus, I could feel a dense heaviness in my heart. I softened around it and invited the energy to move. As I brought the intention of forgiving myself, everything began to soften and the energy shifted. Not all of it moved but most of it shifted.
I went back to my journal and explored the leftovers. In just a few words, I knew I was meant to expose this shame-filled childhood story in this book. I can’t keep it hidden any longer. Exposing it by sharing it frees me and hopefully will inspire others to forgive their past as well. At this moment, I feel a sense of relief and compassion for the little girl who learned from her mistake. I released the last layer. I was willing to use a dream as a mirror for my own healing.
The mirror exercise is a powerful tool to shift our habit of judging others and use it to heal ourselves. When we take ownership of our judgments and are willing to look within and clear our own leftovers, we free ourselves and, at the same time, we open our hearts to see others through a lens of love and compassion.
So the next time you have a judgment about someone else, turn it back onto yourself. If you see it in them, it must be in you.
If your judgment is “They are such a bully,” ask yourself, “How am I a bully?”
You may be surprised by what you uncover. It may not be easy to take an honest look within, but I promise you it will be well worth it.
Stay tuned next week for chapter 7 ~ Is There a Healthy Expression of Anger?
***This is an excerpt from Sue Dumais’ book “Stand UP Stand OUT Stand STRONG ~ A 30 Day Guide to Navigate Life When the SHIFT Hits the Fan” (Published 2018)
Published on atfortyfive.com with permission from © Sue Dumais