The Man In The Mirror: Overcoming Our Fears Of Others By Facing Ourselves

We Are Our Most Fearsome Opponent

We hold our greatest fears.  We are quick to pass fear off on to the actions or potential actions of others, but the truth is that we are most afraid of ourselves. We are afraid of our embarrassment, our anxiety, our sadness, our failures.  We are afraid of falling short of social approval, when it comes to looks, our education, our partners, and our children. 

Others have harmed us, but some part of us knows that we are capable of much more harm than anyone else.  We know what really hurts.  We only fear that other people will discover what those things are.  Pema Chodron says that if we can conquer our self-fears by accepting ourselves that we will be free, and confident in ways unimaginable.

Considerable Upside Of Facing Ourselves

Recently, a mixed martial artist did much to provide evidence for Pema Chodron’s claims. When asked how he has the confidence to take on any fighter, at any place, and at any time, he simply responded that he had already faced the man in the mirror.  The human being that has higher standards and a greater ability to hurt him than any other person.  So long as he is able to meet this man’s gaze, he feels confident in taking on any person outside himself.   This makes sense to most of us.  True confidence comes from self-knowledge, which is why it lasts.  Confidence that comes from external sources is contingent upon the criteria and whimsy of others, so it can be threatened easily.

Some people are aware of the extraordinary benefits of being able to face themselves, but do so aggressively.  Of course, these attempts fail because they are robbing you of the resources required to be successful in this venture.  Also, to not be too obvious, you would, in fact, be aggressing yourself, which would defeat the point of pursuing well-being.

How To Face Ourselves

If you truly want to be able to face yourself, you must approach it patiently, and with kindness.  Softening to your experience supercharges your resources, and allows you to have the most stamina in examining your experience.  It also gives you the subtle impression that things will be ok no matter what you find.  We are already aware of this to some extent.  This is why we assume a kind posture and tone, when presenting difficult news to children.  It makes the news more manageable because our nurturing tone gives the children more resources with which to meet their experience.

It is not only the tone that is important in being able to face ourselves, but also having a kind awareness with respect to pace and timing.  Take on manageable amounts of your experience, choosing to focus on awareness when you have a lot of well-being in the tank, and choosing to focus on kindness when you have less.  We oscillate between the two to traverse distance.  Slowly, we get to know our experience, and with kindness, we are able to tolerate it, and process it.

There are many ways to get at this practice.  There are the traditional Self-Compassion meditation and Mindfulness meditation paths, but there are also some unique ways.  I have one patient, who would journal her experience, careful not to leave one word out.  She would re-read this back to herself and sit with it, watching the feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations pass.  Then, she would write down a kind and compassionate way to understand this experience.  If she felt tired, she would say this last part out loud or simply do something kind for herself like Tonglin Breathing Practice (I breathe in compassion, and then I breath it out).  At the end of the week, she would burn up the diary.  Having processed this experience, she no longer needed a copy of it, and could let it go.  The second patient did something similar, except he used his computer and would type out his journal, then delete it at the end of the week.

The magic of this practice is that the more parts of yourself that you accept, the more these parts become protected against the cruel words or intentions of others.  Also, the more you will be able to recognize that cruel words from others invariably come from their own insecurities.  Having faced yourself, you will have the wisdom to let this new information go, and wish them compassion in your thoughts, which will set you at ease.  It is a little known fact that it is actually exhausting to carry the bitter words and thoughts of others.  Who wants that?  We have our own problems, right?

A Ten-Year-Old Self-Accepting Master

I once knew a somewhat overweight ten-year-old boy, who seemed to take what seemed to be very harsh comments about his weight in stride.  When I asked about this later, he said, “When I was five, I felt bad about my weight, so my daddy had a talk with me.”  It turns out that his father was also a little heavy when he was young, and his mother lovingly called him “her little sausage.”  He liked that name, and it allowed him to accept the weight he wished he could lose.

This little boy adored his father, and internalized the loving sausage metaphor.  So, when other kids made fun of him, he only wished they had a dad and grandmother like the ones he had.  At the time, I was self-conscious about my own weight, and this little boy’s words opened up that part of my heart.  My inner critic was no match for his story.

Finding The Courage To Face Ourselves

The hardest things to do in life is to look at ourselves with love and affection, and open up to the parts that cause us fear, self-loathing, and embarrassment.  Of course, the mean voice that judges us for these things will come up, but this voice is really just trying to protect us from external judgment and abandonment. 

This voice is not aware that acceptance is an option.  Notice the voice, recognize its good intentions, and let it pass.  You do not need to do anything with it.  Once your experience has passed, narrate this experience with a compassionate voice, so that you can accept yourself for all that you are.  The truth is we need all of our parts.  Yeast may not be your favorite thing, but try baking a cake without it.

Wishing you the courage to face yourself with kindness, understanding, patience, and love.  Do not feel that you need to change your experience, and remember to bring some passion to this work.  Try the diary exercise.  Celebrate the journal burning or the diary deleting.  Know deep down inside that if you can face yourself that facing other people is going to be so much easier. 

One of my guilty pleasures is responding to unsuspecting boneheads that insult me with one of my favorite lines: “Tell me something I don’t know!”  Sometimes, I switch it up with, “I am not only a fill in the blank (ie: forgetful idiot), I am the master of fill in the blank (ie: I am the master of forgetful idiots).  Don’t think you can just learn it.  It takes lots of practice!”  It always makes me laugh, and people normally cannot help but laugh too.

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion.  Day 104.  In the Books.