Mirror, Mirror

People come into our lives for a reason. The reason may be for the long term, such as in the case of familial bonds, or it may be only for a season. When the season is over, the relationship ends. I always appreciate Wayne Dyer’s satirical remark, “Friends are God’s way of apologizing for our family.” Underscoring his humor is the fact that many of us have family members who challenge us, even if they often mean well in their own rights. Our human selves didn’t get to choose the family into which we were born, but we can choose our friends, partners and colleagues. Being gifted with such great freedom of choice, we should be floating on the Cloud 9 of Relational Bliss. Yet, many of us wrestled—or still wrestle—with challenging friendships and partnerships. Assuming we want happiness, how do we make sense of such dissonance in our lives? Are we really just glutton for punishment?

I’ll give you something to forgive

Neale Donald Walsch gets into the heart of why we experience challenging human relationships in the children’s book, The Little Soul and the Sun.

In this enchanting parable, the Little Soul, wants to know what it’d feel like to be “special.” After all, in the spirit world, where all is Perfect, filled with Infinite Light and Pure Love, he doesn’t get to experience special. When God asks him what part of special he wants to experience, he says, “forgiving.” In order to experience being forgiving, he needs someone to forgive. To that, the Friendly Soul offers to incarnate with him to give him a reason to be The One Who Forgives. When the Little Soul asks what he can do for her, she says, “In the moment that I strike you and smite you, in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could possibly imagine—in that moment… Remember Who I Really Am.”

I absolutely love this story because it puts challenging relationships into perspective. I can imagine all the souls with whom mine had made agreements in this life so that I can experience Forgiveness, Compassion, Understanding and Empathy. Without their “sacrifices” in being the ones inflicting suffering in my life, I can’t experience these derivatives of Pure Love. Instead of seeing the faces of oppressors and heart-breakers, I can imagine them being Who They Really Are. By the same token, I can forgive myself for all the ways I’ve hurt others or let them down over the years—and will undoubtedly do in the future by virtue of being human. That’s part of our pact to give each other opportunities to be the different parts of “special” we took on our respective human body suits to experience in this life.

What you spot, you’ve got

Aside from the above spiritual perspective, I’ve also learned that we are mirrors for each other. As I once heard, “What you spot, you’ve got.” What we appreciate in others are qualities within ourselves—even if they may appear somewhat different on the outside—seeking to be developed and expressed. That’s why we notice these specific venerable traits in others, not because we ourselves lack these qualities. For instance, as a card-carrying introvert, I’ve always been like a moth to a flame when it comes to extraverts who exude unshakable social confidence, that, of course, they’d be the head honcho in any situation. I admire their effortless public presence, because it resonates with my desire to inspire and serve, which calls me to come out of my shell. Even though the day I’d want to seek out the spotlight would be the day when pigs fly, I’ve been a public speaker for many years with reportedly a very natural and genuine way of connecting with the audience.

Similarly, being wired to value harmony and to avoid conflict at all costs, I admire the imperturbable, cool-headed thinkers, especially in my younger and less self-aware days. In reality, their ability to be a commanding presence of calm in chaotic situations or under great duress simply sets off an innate response within me to be grace under fire in my own quietly sensitive way. What I admire in others reflects back to me what I have within myself that awaits my recognition and ownership—and my belief that I can be that, all with my own authentic signature. The same goes for you and the qualities you appreciate in others.

By  the same mirroring principle, if we’re willing to be honest with ourselves, what irritates us or even hurts us deeply about others actually reveals shadows within ourselves we don’t want to own. I’ll always remember a review of the movie, Bridget Jones’ Diary 2, from years ago. The film critic asked why the viewers should care about Bridget Jones, when the character as portrayed clearly cared so little about herself. Similarly, we can’t expect anyone to love and appreciate us in ways we don’t ourselves. If we find ourselves with a string of partners who don’t treat us the way we want to be treated, there’s a good chance that, deep down, we don’t believe we’re worthy of the treatment we desire. It took me many years of learning it the hard way to get this, to have the courage and awareness to look within and face the feelings of unworthiness I didn’t want to own, before they could be released.

Personal relationships aside, this mirroring principle applies to other areas of life as well, including wealth, health and career. For instance, in the many years I slaved away in Corporate America, it was so much easier for me to play victim to being over-worked, under-paid and under-appreciated. By being able to point a finger at heartless or sorry excuses of the bosses I had, I could wash my hands of any responsibility for the poor quality of life I had voluntarily accepted or the professional misery I was too afraid to change. As long as I could chalk it all off to someone else’s evil doing, I could absolve myself of any self-accountability. At the same time, however, nothing changed until I finally saw how my work life mirrored my own forgotten beliefs, which were cultivated over a lifetime of feeling inferior and unworthy as a girl, that I’d always need to work extra hard and accept being treated sub-par in order to earn the right to a decent life.

I won’t mince words. It doesn’t come naturally to look at people who have hurt us as ultimately doing us a favor. It isn’t easy either to look within to unearth the hidden magnets that attract the hardship we’d so like to continue to pin on the awful others harming us. However, until we take a deep breath (perhaps more than one), look within, gut and replace those buried magnets, our outer life won’t improve. Sorry for the tough love, but the good news is that we do have the power to change what we don’t like in what’s reflected back to us in our mirrors. Also, it does get easier with practice to get reflections we’d love.

For your contemplation:

  1. Which parts of “special” have you experienced because of the Friendly Souls in your life?
  2. What qualities do you admire and abhor in others? What do they tell you about magnets to polish and replace within you?


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In the Release chapter of my book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, there are more contemplation exercises designed to help you uncover and release old beliefs that keep you from living your dreams.

About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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Scott Mabry
Scott Mabry

To change our paradigm, our filter, to this way of seeing the world is certainly walking the narrow way. In the end though it is a more loving and healthy way of being. It can hurt to see our own pain, our own difficulties in others and allow those experiences to teach us. It can hurt to let go. Yet letting go and embracing what each experience, each person, has to teach us may be the only path to real growth. Otherwise, we get stuck reliving the same experience until we receive the lesson it has for us. Thank you for your wonderful teaching and for challenging us to reach beyond what is comfortable for something extraordinary.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you for your insightful words, Scott! You nailed it when you said, "Otherwise, we get stuck reliving the same experience until we receive the lesson it has for us." That's why, if we really want to be happy, truly happy, we need to gut the roots of disempowering patterns, while appreciating the beauty in the painful experiences as healing takes place.


  1. […] beginning of her awakening to her True Self, which unfolded through a series of relationships that mirrored back to her the pain and anger trapped inside her that surfaced layer by layer as the years went […]

  2. […] believe that life is a mirror reflecting back to us our beliefs, whether or not we’re conscious of them. There’s nothing […]

  3. […] the past, I had written about relationships serving as mirrors for us. This is a phenomenon the sociologist, Charles Cooley, coined “The Looking Glass Self.” […]

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