Episode 26: Mirroring

 In Blog, podcast

Welcome back for another episode today. Happy New Year everyone! 2019 – is a great year. It’s going to be epically amazing! Can you feel it? I have some really big things planned for you all this year and can’t wait to bring them your way. Did you catch the new intro? I’m kind of excited about it. I wanted to broaden it out a bit and speak not only to parents and teens – which is absolutely still very applicable here and lots to learn but also to people that struggle with family relationships in general – and I say family as a wide term because for most people it’s one family member that they’d like help learning how to strengthen, cultivate, forgive, and connect more. So same good stuff here for you all, we’ve just invited a bigger group to the tribe – so welcome and be ready to start creating love at home – whether that’s in your immediate home or with extended family. 

I know for a lot of you out there school is back in session, it’s time to go back to work, and start getting back into the swing of things. I always love this time of year. 

I get super excited for the holidays starting in August. It’s the start of celebration season for me. It’s birthday month, then back to school time -which is a big deal because we homeschool, then I decorate for Fall and Halloween ridiculously early because I love it and before you know it, it’s Christmas. And the house takes one transformational shift to the other, which I love but after Christmas and before New Year’s all the decorations come down, the house gets scoured clean and it just feels amazing. 

My kids complain that the house looks so empty and bare but I love it because it’s clean and neat and decluttered which is perfect because I think that’s how you should go into the new year, clean and decluttered in your mind and in your life and today I want to share a concept that was really helpful for me in learning how to clean up and declutter some drama in my mind that I didn’t even realize was there for so many years. So hopefully today I can help you out with that and you can start this new year off with a new tool to add to your too belt.

This is the concept of Mirroring Emotions. Mirroring is when we subconsciously imitate or believe we take on the gesture, attitude, or emotion of another. Just like looking in a mirror the gestures, expressions will be replicated back to you, we tend to do this a lot in our interactions with others.

Have you ever been merrily going about your day and you run into a family member who is just mad and cranky and they viciously mutter something to you and now you’re mad and cranky and the next person you come across gets a taste of your crankiness and now they’re cranky and before you know it the whole house is cranky?

Mirroring Emotions. 

This holiday season in the midst of Christmas shoppers and overly congested traffic everywhere I took my youngest two kiddos out to run some errands and while we were out they were staving. So I pulled into this shopping center to hit up the nearest drive through, which happens to be my kids favorite, In and Out – which I’ve always found odd because we’re vegan but they’re perfectly happy with their veggies and fries and if you’re familiar with In and Out then you’re probably also familiar with how long the lines are – no matter what season, there’s always a lengthy line. 

Not in any hurry I pulled into the line to wait our turn and I started hearing honking from other cars. I looked around and there was this car honking at another car that hadn’t pulled up far enough or didn’t move fast enough, I wasn’t quite sure but what I did notice was the driver who was honking was visibly agitated and looked angry or annoyed. I also noticed the car he was honking at and the driver at first looked panicked and frazzled, like, “what is going on?!” Then quickly changed their demeanor to agitated  and now they’re either angry or annoyed.

Not knowing what’s really going on in either parties heads I can only imagine that car A is mad because car B isn’t moving up fast enough and they’re hungry and hangry so they complain to whoever is in the passenger’s seat about this car and so they angrily honk their horn.

Car B who is merrily chatting with the passenger in their car jumps at the loud and abrupt horn honking and looks around only to find out that the noise was intended for him. Now feeling panicked and frantically looking around to find out what was wrong he notices the 6 feet of space in front of him and pulls forward. Only now he’s annoyed and complaining to the passenger about the impatient and rude person behind him. “Can you believe he honked at me for this?!”

Now both cars are annoyed, angry, aggitated, and complaining to their passengers. Mirroring.

Have you ever seen anything like this or experienced this? You’re just merrily going on your way and someone starts in at you complaining about whatever and all the sudden you’re annoyed and complaining right back?

Or kids, we see this a lot in kids (and teens) – someone is upset with them so what appears automatically they’re now upset with them back and then you have this all out yelling, fighting episode?

Mirroring. Subconsciously imitating back the other’s gesture or emotion.

We do this more often than we realize and what I didn’t know for a long time was that it’s optional. Whaaat?

You know the phrase, “When Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy?” – it IS indeed possible to be happy or at peace anyway when Mama’s in a mood. We might not choose that. We might not want to be happy but we certainly don’t HAVE to be unhappy.

Let me explain why mirroring emotions is a problem and how to get your freedom back. When we subconsciously mirror emotions we’re running on default or auto-pilot. We’re imitating the other’s persons emotions and it can feel like they “MADE” us feel a certain way. But this is a mistake because if that were the case we’d then we “agents to be acted upon and not “Agents to act and NOT be acted upon” We know that other’s CAN’T MAKE us feel anything. It is a choice – it is always a choice and it’s up to you how you want to feel and to make the deliberate and conscious choice.

You don’t have to automatically mirror the other person’s emotions. They can be mad, annoyed, agitated, etc and you don’t have to be. That car that was honking was agitated and annoyed but the other car didn’t have to take on those emotions. It’s a choice. It’s always a choice. 

Let me give you a few tips that will help you hold your own when you’re tempted to mirror:

First, pause. Pausing brings you into the present moment. It creates distance between you and your initial reaction. You never want to just react to the circumstance. Reacting is operating from default and auto-pilot – which just means that you’re relying on past thoughts, beliefs, patterns, and habits to dictate how you should feel and react. This is a problem because you might not like those past habits and beliefs.

I used to have a go to habit of being frustrated. When my kids didn’t pick up after themselves right away I’d be frustrated. But I didn’t want to always be frustrated. I didn’t like how frustrated felt for me or what I did when I felt frustrated. So operating from those past habits and beliefs was like being on the super highway to frustrated and if I didn’t want to automatically go there then I needed to pause and to deliberately choose a different path. 

I had to respond and not react. Respond is a choice we make. 

Then second, allow Curiosity. When I pause I also allow curiosity to be present. Lots of questions are asked and not being defensive or biased I, myself – no one else knows the questions I’m asking – I ask myself, what’s going on? What’s the problem? Why are they ___________ angry, annoyed, honking the horn, etc? Why is this a problem for me? Or IS this a problem for me at all?

If I were the car that was being honked at I would pause and ask, why am I being honked at? I’d look around and notice that I’d let some distance grow and pull forward. I could ask myself? Was it a problem for me that they honked? No. How else could they communicate with me to let me know? Is it a problem for me if they’re angry at me? If they believe I should have moved sooner? No. I don’t care that much. We’d still be waiting in line.

So here’s the third step: How do I want to feel? If I don’t want to just mirror their emotions. I want to be in charge of how I feel always then I need to ask myself what that is, how do I want to feel in this moment? Maybe I want to feel understanding. There are times that I’m super hungry and probably a bit snippy and I can just tell myself this story that he’s really hungry and hangry, poor guy. I’ll be more vigilant at pulling forward when I can.

Notice, how differently I show up when I choose to deliberately feel understanding instead of automatically angry too. When I’m angry I complain too and now I’m adding negativity to his negativity. But in this case I chose understanding and I WANT to pull forward to help him get through faster.

Which one feels better? Which one helps me show up as my best self? 

So the three steps are: Pause, allow curiosity, and then ask yourself how you want to choose to feel.

It feels a little different when it’s family and with people close to us. When my husband is cranky about his day at work and he comes home snippy and impatient I’m tempted to be snippy back but all I’m doing is mirroring. I’d only be snippy because he’s snippy and all I’m doing is adding more snippiness to the world. 

Pause. Allow curiosity. Decide deliberately how I want to feel.

If he’s snippy and impatient I can ask myself questions and ask him questions. Is everything okay? And if he’s still impatient and making remarks I love choosing generous as my deliberate feeling. Generous in allowing him to have his own expereince. He’s going to have it anyway but it feels better for me to step back and let him have his moment. We get defensive because we believe that they’re wrong about you and you want them to not be wrong about you so you defend yourself and your position but what if you decided to just let them be wrong about you. No defense needed. You can be generous in letting them be wrong about you.

I tell this to my kids all the time because they really want their sibling to understand that they’re right but the other sibling believes they’re right so we have this friction because both parties won’t back down because they’re both right and no one is showing up how they really want to be so I teach them to be generous. Let them be wrong about you. You can still be right. There isn’t a winner and a loser or a if you’re right then I’m wrong – you can both be right and you can both let the other person be wrong about you. 

Try it. The next time someone is mad at you and you feel it’s unwarranted instead of getting mad and defensive back pause, allow curiosity, and choose generosity on purpose. Let them be wrong about you – be generous in letting them think and feel whatever they choose to because you know the real deal. They can just be wrong about you and it’s okay.

It feels so good to feel generous in letting someone be wrong about you. It’s not defeating. It’s not a win lose situation. It’s a higher path and it feels really good.

I’ve talked a lot about anger, agitation, and frustration but what about other emotions like sadness or hurt.

When my kids are sad and hurt I don’t have to mirror those emotions but sometimes I deliberately choose to be sad with them. This is the power of empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and choosing to mourn with those that mourn. When my kids are sad I don’t want to choose to be happy. I want to be sad that they’re sad. It’s not mirroring in this case but choosing sad on purpose.

One of my favorite scriptural accounts of the Savior is when he’s about to heal Lazarus. Mary and Martha have sent word to him and they’re upset and sad that the Savior didn’t make it in time to heal him. There’s actually a beautiful song from the musical production of Women at the well by Kenneth Cope called, If thou had been here”

In the song the sisters sing, “If thou had been here he whom thou loves would not have died.” Then in the scriptures it says that he wept. I was always so intrigued by this that he wept with them. He could have come in there rolling his eyes and scolding them, oh ye of little faith. Or even if not that He knew what He was about to do, why He was there – He could have given them a sad understanding look but deep down knowing that in just a few moments all their pain and suffering would be over but He didn’t. He wept with them. 

He mourned with them that mourn. He deliberately chose to feel sad, to empathize with them. Sometimes we might choose to do this. We don’t have to be sad but we choose to on purpose. Pause, Allow curiosity, decide deliberately how you want to feel.

Being able to be more in tuned with others and empathize with them and how they’re feeling is a beautiful thing and a divine spiritual gift. I do believe that to some they are more hyper-aware and sensitive to what other’s are feeling and going through. However, as some believe it is involuntary I disagree there only because it would take away our freedom to be our own agent and I firmly believe that we are agents to act and not to be acted upon. So while it is easier for some to access this empathy and they’ve practiced it for so long that it might seem to happen instantaneously, it is still a choice to choose to mirror their emotions or not.

You always have your power to choose. It is one of Heavenly Father’s greatest gifts to use. We choose our thoughts, feelings, and actions each day of our lives. 

I’ve talked a lot about mirroring negative emotions but we can and love to mirror other’s positive and emotions too. We want to be happy and feel good which is why you can just see a group of people or even just one person who is just beaming with happiness and you smile. We appreciate happy people and it feels so good in our bodies to smile, to create positive emotions so we choose to smile, to laugh, to generate happy.

It feels contagious because for most of us, it’s what we always want, to be happy, to feel that light. Smile at others for no reason and see if they don’t smile back. But also know that it was a choice. Their act of smiling came from their thinking. A lot of times we don’t need a long explanation to create happy. We’re naturally happy creatures. We can see someone smiling and think a simple thought like, “They’re happy. I like that.” And now you’ve generated happy within you and as a response to that feeling, you smile.

Do you see the model working even in this simple example?

C: That person is smiling

T: They’re happy. I like that.

F: Happy

A: Smile

R: Now, I’m smiling and happy

I’m breaking this down only to show you that what you feel is always a choice. Whether that’s to feel positive emotions or negative emotions. These feelings cannot be forced upon you without your consent.

You can go into an environment where people are negative and you don’t have to absorb their energy – you can still choose peace and joy. Your kids can be angry and mad at you and you don’t have to feel angry back. Your husband, family member, whomever can have a rough day and feel negative and you don’t have to join them.

You can if you want to. Sometimes I do. But I recognize always, always that it’s a choice. This week I want to encourage you to start noticing your thoughts when you’re around others. Remember the three steps: Pause

There was this one lady I knew that was always complaining. Just about every time I saw her she’d be going off about someone or something that ticked her off and she just had this negative vibe around her.

It would bother me that she was always complaining so you know what I did? Complained to others about her actions. I didn’t like her negativity so I mirrored her emotions and negatively complained to others about her. See how easy that is to do?

So next time, when you notice that one person who is always negative complaining again – pause – before you react and complain about them – mirroring their emotions – just pause.

Allow for curiosity. I wonder why they’re complaining. I wonder what that would feel like to default to that emotion all the time? Then deliberately, consciously, using your gift of agency, decide how you want to feel – Did I want to feel the same negativity? Do I want to choose to feel something else? Maybe instead of negativity, I want to choose compassion and love. 

Just remember, whether positive or negative emotions – the choice IS yours. Others can feel how they choose to and you don’t have to mirror their emotions unless you want to.

It is possible for others to feel negative and you to feel at peace. It is possible that when my husband has a bad day and comes home impatient that I don’t have to mirror that and get impatient back. I can recognize that he’s human experiencing the full spectrum of emotions and I can just love him. I can choose patience, love, compassion, and generosity.

I can allow him to feel and experience what he needs to without having to be happy all the time.

This is a huge gift we can give to others, just allow them to feel and experience what they need and want to without adding on expectations that they need to be happy and pleasant all the time. Others can have a bad day. It doesn’t mean that you have to have one too. 

Side note with this one: Letting them have a bad day doesn’t mean to put yourself in a dangerous space either physically or emotionally. You always need to protect you. If someone were yelling and I didn’t like the words said I don’t have to just take it and think, “They can have their bad day.” – Absolutely not. You still have your agency. You can make requests of them – not needs of them – but requests. Then I am protecting myself.

When I need them to be cheerful and happy so that I can feel good I’m giving them my power. When I need them to stop yelling or whatever it is they’re doing so I can feel peace, I’ve given them my power.

I can request that they drop the negativity, the complaining but if they don’t want to then I accept that it’s their choice. I take care of me always so I might say, if you continue to do/say…whatever…then I’m going to leave.

It’s not infringing on their agency. They can still choose to experience whatever it is they need/want to but you’re taking care of you.

Okay, this week – pause – don’t react – pause. Allow curiosity – which invites compassion and empathy – then deliberately and consciously choose how you WANT to feel.

When I deliberately choose compassion instead of mirroring with negativity I show up in a very different space. My actions are very different than had I mirrored. Which is going to give me very different results.

Everyone is here to experience their own lives, their own journey, their own emotions. Their journey is not your journey and their emotions are different from yours. You don’t have to feel what they’re feeling. You have the power to choose. 

Decide what feeling is going to help you show up as your best self – for you – and for them.

As always, I’d love to hear how you’re doing with this concept. Thanks again for the kind emails this week. I have so much love for all of you! 

If you’re struggling with this concept and need some help, set up a mini session with me while they’re still available and let me hook you up. It’s free and transformative. You won’t regret it. Just head over to www.thecatalystcoaching.com and set that up under the free coaching tab.

Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes for this podcast. I’d so appreciate it. It’s fast and easy to do and makes a huge difference for the show. So please head over and leave a review if you haven’t done that yet. You guys are awesome! Have a great week! 

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LDS Life Coach Hannah Coles
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