I am a strong believer that the behavior and language we use towards others is a window into the way we treat our inner selves. In fact, I think this is exactly what people mean when they say someone’s bad actions “say more about them than the other person.”
To be honest, I never quite understood this until recently. In the past I'd put the “this says more about you than me” phrase into what I call the “high road” sayings. You know, the kind of sayings that are supposed to make you feel like a better person because you didn’t stoop to the same low level as the person who assaulted you but it still doesn’t really make you feel good. It’s like ‘yeah, they punched you in the face… but it says more about them than you."
Now that I’m older, I have a new saying and it goes like this...
Everyone is talking to a mirror.
I say this quite a bit these days because I believe it with all my heart. As a person who used to say some pretty messed up things to myself, some of my biggest regrets in life have been the times I’ve said terrible things to other people. And those regrettable mishaps tended to happen during the lowest points in my life. In other words, I talked so badly to myself that I slipped up and used some of the same abusive language that’d been swirling around in the inner workings of my sub conscious toward people in the outside world. I regretted these moments most for two reasons...
1. I was deeply embarrassed because I knew that I’d just revealed to this person what was going on in the deep recesses of my mind. Should this person decide NOT to receive whatever negative things I might’ve said or done to them, they would look at me - the source of the negativity - and understand that I was deeply troubled, that I was not to be trusted and that I maybe needed some help that - at the time - I was probably too ashamed to get.
2. The person might internalize the negativity I’d dished out to them.
The second reason listed is the worst of all. I knew (and know) that how other people choose to process the world around them is not my responsibility but still, no one wants to plant seeds of abuse into another person. While being embarrassed and exposing myself as someone who has some issues to work out is pretty bad, passing on the disease of negativity and self hate was - for me - unforgivable.
Regardless, after a bit of time to work on and forgive myself (it’s an ongoing process) I’ve had a chance to revisit so many moments in life. And so many of those moments involve identifying the times where I thought I was talking to someone else but was really just “talking into a mirror.” I’ve also revisited times when I’d been burnt by the hurtful words of someone only to realize that they were really just talking to themselves as well.
I’ll give you an example:
I worked on an indie film project a few years ago with a lead producer who’s not exactly well-known but has established a name for themselves in indie film circles. The project was EXTREMELY low budget. The kind of low budget where everyone is calling in favors and trying to make it work in any way possible. I’d personally done everything I could to save money and come in under budget, including things that were wayyyyyyyyy out of my job description as a producer. I’d taken a huge pay cut to do this job and, along with the physical and mental labor I underwent every single day for three weeks, I’d proven my commitment to the project over and over and over again. And then something went wrong. Something that I didn’t see coming. Something that wasn’t the worst thing to happen (and could’ve happened to anyone) but considering the high levels of stress we were all under, it was NOT a good thing. And so the lead producer and I had to have a conversation. In this conversation, the producer expressed his disappointment in my leadership and said a number of hurtful things about my overall performance. I remembered him using a particular phrase that I thought was really odd and thankfully, this phrase stood out enough to make me start to question everything else he had to say. He'd said that he was “over-promised” on me.
I was hurt hearing these words… for like 3 seconds.
And then suddenly a quick mental review of all the work I’d put into the project, the hours I’d sacrificed for practically nothing, the literal sweat that poured from my body as I moved equipment, painted walls and went above and beyond as a producer - flashed before my eyes. It was at this moment that I decided to reject his assessment. I decided that I was the best thing that could’ve happened to that project. I couldn’t think of anyone else with my level of experience and education who would’ve put in the kind of work that I’d put in. I started to wonder what would make him decide to use the phrase “over-promised” to describe me. How could anyone be “over-promised” on me when no one on the project knew who I was? I wasn’t some well-known, up-and-coming producer with big credits to my name. I was a "wild card” crew member, brought on last minute to help out as a favor to the director. It was then that it hit me that he was expressing his biggest criticisms… about himself. At that moment, I felt relieved. I also felt a little embarrassed for him. That experience gave me an outside perspective of what it looks like when we attempt to project our feelings of inadequacies onto others. And y’all… it’s not a good look. At all.
Now that I talk to myself a lot gentler, I don’t slip up and say mean things to people like I used to. I am also highly self aware and recognize when I’m in a low place because the last thing I need to do is take other people to that level with me. Self-care has been a big factor for me in this regard. When I hear the negative self-talk creeping in, I take a moment to stop and quiet the mind, soothing myself. I pay attention to the kind of words I use toward myself. I focus on my inner good and therefore, I can’t help but to see the good in others. Essentially, I meditate.
When you are gentle toward yourself, you are gentle toward others. Your inner-self likes you more, because you’re not going around abusing it. And because of this, your outer-self is quicker to be gentle with others. And people tend to like you more because you’re not going around abusing them.
So think of it this way. Clean your mental house up. Be kind and know yourself. Get your mind so comfortable with hearing gentle truthful words, from YOU, that when someone else tries to infiltrate with negativity that has nothing to do with who you really are - flaws and all - you can reject it outright. You can see clearly and quickly that the person is speaking to a mirror. And you can see when you are doing the same.