Taking responsibility vs. taking things too personally

When you look into a mirror, do you blame the mirror if you don’t like what you see?

When you look at a person, do you blame them for how you feel?

It’s easy to point a finger to someone else when your reality doesn’t please you. But is it them? Did they cause how you’re feeling? Or were they merely a trigger to something much bigger, something totally unrelated to this moment and this person?

It’s an amazing trait to be able to take responsibility for one’s own feelings. To own the traumas and pain that is being touched in the current moment. To even be thankful for the person connecting you to this again and for being a mirror in which you can clearly see yourself.

But there’s a pitfall.

We can take too much responsibility. We can take responsibility for both our own and the other person’s feelings. The other extreme of the side of blaming the mirror for what you see, is believing the crack in the mirror is your fault, even if you didn’t touch or ever saw the mirror before.

Where’s that delicate line between not taking responsibility for yourself, and taking things too personally?

The mirror being mirrored

People who are willing to grow consciously often forget this crucial thing: people around you are a mirror to your actions. But at the same time you are being a mirror for them. This means that they will see things through your response, and they will respond to that response. If we forget that we are being a mirror, we can mistake that response as a direct reflection.

You are both being mirrored and being a mirror. When you are not aware of that fact, there is a chance you end up with what I call the fitting room effect: mirrors reflect each other an infinite number of times to a point where you can’t see reality clearly anymore. Who’s the mirror, who’s being mirrored and where is the other person?

Taking responsibility

Yes, it’s a good thing to take responsibility for what you feel (i.e. what is happening in you), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to feel responsible for what you think the other person is feeling or what the other person is acting out (i.e. what is happening in front of you).

But isn’t everything connected, and each response an effect to the center of your reality – you?

Yes and no.

Of course you can see everything happening around you as a result of who you are and how you act. I believe this would be true if we exclude other people’s autonomy and history. But the people around you have their own past, their own experiences, their own family where they grew up, their own culture where they were raised. Each one of them has a different past. Because of this, no one will respond exactly in the same way to you. All their mirrors will give a different reflection of who you are – and your mirror will give each of them a different mirror of who they are. Think of it. Maybe you have a certain trait. Like being shy or bold. Some people will show you a reflection that loves this trait, while others have no idea how to deal with you, and yet other people judge you for it.

Especially in (longterm) relationships there is a huge challenge. When you look into a mirror for a long time you can start to forget that you are looking into a mirror. You can mistake the reflection for reality, and glue that version of reality onto the person behind it. You no longer see your partner for who he or she is; rather you will see your projection instead. Especially when both of you are stuck with a projection on the other, it is a difficult situation in which there will be very little vulnerability and understanding in the relationship.

Taking things too personally

Theoretically it’s pretty simple: you are responsible for what you feel, and the other person is responsible for what they feel. Practically it’s too easy to take things too personally, especially when you are quite empathic and it’s easy for you to feel into what the other person is feeling.

What happens when the reaction of the person in front of you is anger and frustration? Do you believe it’s your fault that they are angry, or can you see that they respond in an angry way to what they see in the mirror that you hold in front of them? There might be a reason for their reaction, and the cause for that reason might be your responsibility (you might have broken their favorite vase for example), but their reaction is not. I believe each situation has a neutral charge to it; only when we choose to give it a certain flavor, that’s how we perceive it. We all have a choice in each moment how we respond to a situation, and that choice is ours alone.

Their anger is not your fault – and it never was.

As a small child we were not able to distinguish between what we caused and what we didn’t cause. We depended on our parents for survival and loving care. Just for that sake, small kids cannot see that parents have flaws – parents are unconditionally loved. If we didn’t do that, we would die. And so, as a kid, we believe that if love and care are taken away from us by our parents, it’s our fault. We change our behavior for the sake of feeling loved and safe.

But we have grown up, and it’s time to also emotionally grow up. It’s time to let go of feeling responsible for other hurting inner children around us.

It’s time to love ourselves to pieces – including all the reflections in the mirrors around us, and lovingly reflect back without taking the responsibility of what others will see.

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