Other people are like a mirror to our unconscious mind. The reactions we have to others tell us a lot about ourselves.
Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “hell is other people”. In some sense however the hell we attribute to others is really our own. When we feel small, ashamed, shut down and like we are not enough in the presence of others, is it really the other person that does this to us or are they simply a mirror to those unhealed parts of ourselves?
While we all seek connection the fundamental situation is one of being alone “trapped” inside our own consciousness. It can be a lonely and somewhat frightening realisation that any time we interact with someone else, that someone we experience is merely a representation of that person inside our own minds. The real person is “out there” somewhere but ultimately remains unknowable. When we become aware of someone else, we experience the constellation of mental objects associated with that person. We experience the shapes and colours that make up their physical form, the smell, the touch, the sound of their voice, the patterns of their mannerisms and their particular way of speaking. All these things are no more the real person that exists “out there” and looks out at us from behind another pair of eyes than any other object that exists in our consciousness. In one sense we are each unknowable to the other except via processes of psychological projection and introjection.
Most of us don’t have particularly unpleasant reactions to the mental objects that comprise a table. However the situation is very different for people. A lifetime of relational traumas sleeping timelessly in the unconscious are resurrected in an instant by the particular mental objects that comprise a person. When viewed this way, we can ask ourselves do all these feelings come from the other person or are we really reacting to a part of ourselves? To a part of our own consciousness?
If you’re hearing this concept for the first time it probably seems pretty strange and out there. It really is worth giving it some thought though because this concept is in fact extremely powerful especially when it comes to healing from narcissistic abuse. Viewing interactions with people in this way can bring transformative changes to your emotional wellbeing.
If we accept this view, could it be that we have more control over our reactions to other people than we thought? If we are reacting to a part of our own consciousness, can we take back our power to stop reacting and running away from ourselves? In short the answer is yes we can. Any change in perspective which helps us to stop bleeding attention outwards into the external world helps to decrease shame and helplessness and facilitates us in becoming more empowered.
By viewing people as a mirror to our own unconscious, it brings the power back to ourselves, and reminds us that, rather than often being a source of pain and suffering, even difficult others can instead offer us a window into the depths of our own souls showing us the parts of ourselves that we need to heal.