One way most of us become aware of behaviors we don’t want for ourselves is by recognizing them in others. It’s a natural thing to do and we can learn a lot from the process. There comes a point, however, where we have to realize that it’s really just a way to see what we need to about ourselves.
Yes, if you find yourself criticizing, blaming and looking for how others are doing you wrong, you can rest assured—it’s about you. It may be reflecting something you feel is true about yourself but can’t yet face, it could be a habit or some other issue. Whatever the case, consider it a flashing neon sign that’s signaling you to shift your focus to the person who really needs your wise and helpful attention—you.
I once knew a woman who seemed to be really happy; she laughed and joked all the time. She was also solicitously nice to everyone and seemingly considerate and caring. In some ways, those things were true—she did do nice things for people— but it didn’t take long to figure out that she had a reason for it. She wanted people obligated to her. She expected that because she had done something nice for someone, that person owed her, and she would say so, always in a joking way, of course. As I began to pay attention to what she was really saying, I realized that most of her joking comments were either delivering a criticism or soliciting one.
After I got to know her better, I began to understand that she was an unhappy, insecure woman who used manipulative tactics to force people to be her “friend.” And, when she commented that someone was too fat to be wearing a particular shirt, she was really thinking of her own weight. When she criticized someone’s hair, she was reflecting deep criticisms of her own. She didn’t feel good about herself, so how could she see anything good in anyone else?
Now, to be fair, here’s an example of my own, adapted from The Hardline Self Help Handbook, on a topic we can all relate to—road rage.
There was a period of time in my life when I was really unhappy and angry. I hated my life, but I wasn’t strong enough to do what I knew I needed to. I felt trapped, and I think that’s what made me the angriest—that I’d set my own trap, methodically stacking the deck against myself to ensure that it would be virtually impossible to leave my marriage.
So, I found ways to express my anger that had nothing to do with the actual source of my problem. Just about anything could trigger me, but the most reliable and frequent source was found on the roadways.
I could be driving along, minding my own business, and out of nowhere, a car would appear on my bumper. Being a vigilant, conscientious and thoughtful driver, I, of course, had to slam on my brakes to kindly alert them to the fact that they were following at a very unsafe distance.
Of course, tailgating wasn’t the only issue. Merging into one lane in construction zones and during rush hour was a veritable wonderland of vein-popping opportunities—stupid selfish people were everywhere, cutting in and zooming around on the shoulder to force their way in farther up the line. It infuriated me and I did whatever I could to keep them from it. Nobody was going treat me like that!
It isn’t a pretty picture, is it? So, what was really going on with me back then?
If you’d asked me at the time, I would have told you that I hated where I’d been forced to live and that it was full of inconsiderate, selfish people who didn’t care about anybody but themselves. I would have told you that what I wanted had never mattered, and I would have gone on with my sad tale of victimization as long as you would have listened.
With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that I would view the world on the road as I did. The big Suburban I drove gave me a way to level the playing field. Behind the wheel, I might be invisible, but the vehicle wasn’t—it couldn’t be ignored. For a few precious moments, I had a small measure of control in my life. I could make someone do the right thing—I could force respect.
My road warrior experiences perfectly mirrored what was going on at home. I couldn’t face the truth about my personal situation, so I found ways to address it externally. They certainly weren’t good ways, but they kept me focused on that as the “problem,” so that I didn’t have to deal with the real issue or make any changes in my life.
If you keep finding yourself in similar unpleasant situations—seeing and experiencing similar things that really bother you—you need to stop and ask yourself why.
Is it because people are just bad and there’s nothing you can do about it? Is it because the world is full of stupid people who are out to get you? Or, are these wonderful people providing you with an important and invaluable opportunity to see something about yourself that you really need to?
Yes, it’s about you. And you will continue to have similar experiences until you deal with the underlying problem and beliefs associated with it. Once you do, you’ll find yourself having fewer and fewer “encounters with idiots.” Not because everyone else has changed, but because you have, and you no longer need that old message delivered.
Remember, people who feel good about themselves, who respect and love themselves, are too busy leading their own full and joyful lives to waste time finding and dissecting the flaws of others. They also don’t look at someone tailgating or pulling out in front of them as a personal affront that requires honking, hand gestures and blood pressure medication. They know that their lives and happiness are their own responsibility.
Yes, it is about you—your life is about you. Own it and live your joy!
Paula Renaye is a certified professional life coach, motivational speaker and trainer, regression hypnosis practitioner, award-winning author and consultant. Her latest book, The Hardline Self Help Handbook, has been called “a tough-love Chicken Soup for the Soul with a do-it-yourself roadmap for getting unstuck.” Visit www.hardlineselfhelp.com for more practical tips on living healthy and happy in all areas of life. The book is also available at http://www.amazon.com and on Kindle.