What You See in Others – Exists in You?

healthy relationships self-awareness self-learning Mar 21, 2020

The first time I ever presented this concept that ‘what you see in another person, in some way, also exists in you’ to my students in a college course on Positive Psychology, I got lots of blank stares and probably an equal amount of dirty looks. And rightfully so. This concept isn’t for the faint of heart and it’s one that is often difficult for us to accept about ourselves. We also tend to misinterpret what it really means when we first hear it, and are prone to get defensive, professing “I am not an inconsiderate a$$h0le!” or “I would never do that!“


So, when I say “What I see in you is a reflection of me, what I mean is that there is a quality in you that you’ve recognized before in some way and to some degree that it enables you to see it in me. If I asked you to pinpoint to me someone who was feeling lentoperly, would you be able to do it? No, because you’ve never felt lentoperly before. But if you experienced something that made you feel lentoperly and you sat with it for a while, now all of a sudden you would be able to recognize lentoperliness! Lentoperly, by the way, is not a real word nor a real emotion; I just made the word up to illustrate this point. And that is– that when we’ve experienced something within us, we can recognize it outside of us. Before that moment of experiencing it in here, we are blind to it out there. It may be there but we will not see it.


This notion, when truly understood and adopted, can be the difference between you feeling powerless and you being empowered in each moment of your day. To help you try this idea on for yourself, here are three stories gathered from conversations with clients and friends (whose names, of course, have been changed for confidentiality purposes) that helped each to open up to the idea that “hey, maybe what I see in you could, in fact, be a reflection of something in me”. As you read, consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there is a bit of you in one or more of these experiences.




Mindy and her mother have always had a close relationship. While Mindy was in her 20’s, they would talk on the phone a few times a week and would go to dinner every week or two. Ever since Mindy’s brothers got married, her mother has been calling Mindy every single day.


What I see in and/or say about you: I love you but you are being kind of clingy. I need some personal space and your recent attention to me and expectation that we will speak on the phone every day doesn’t allow for it. You expect me to always be available when you need me, you refuse to spend time alone, and it’s too much. All in all, YOU ARE NEEDY.


What’s true about me: Whether for advice, to vent about something, or just to ‘shoot the shit’, I call my brothers every day; just ask them. My brothers haven’t told me that I am being clingy, but if wanting to talk to your loved ones every day is a sign of neediness, then I AM NEEDY TOO.


What’s also true about me: I know that we all have needs and that human connection is a big one for many of us. I love being around and with people, whether they are my friends, family, or neighbors. I also like my alone time, but when it comes down to it, I don’t know what I would do without the people in my life. I don’t know what I would do without my brothers, and I don’t know what I would do without you, mom. So I can relate more than you will ever know (or more than I may ever tell you). I don’t know what it’s like to have children and to want to connect with them in some way every day, but I do know what it’s like to have brothers and parents that you love, and no day feels complete unless I’ve spoken with at least one or two of you. There is a difference between having needs and being ‘needy’ and wanting to connect with your family doesn’t make you needy– it makes you human. And if it ever gets to be too much for me, I know that I can express my needs to you and let you know what works and doesn’t work for me in a calm, respectful way without needing to call you ‘needy’. Together I know that we can find a degree of connection that nourishes us both just the right amount.




Dora shares an unspoken connection with a man she met briefly at the organic supermarket one day last year, who coincidentally recently started frequenting her favorite morning coffee shop. After several months of sharing smiles, hellos, mutual glances of acknowledgment and appreciation, and an occasional chat, he was nowhere to be seen.


What I see in and/or say about you: I see you running away from this unspoken attraction that we share, maybe because it’s too much too soon, maybe because you don’t have the security in how I feel about you, maybe because you’re not ready and/or not looking for a monogamous relationship, maybe because you love being alone and don’t want anything to disrupt that, maybe because of lots of other potential reasons… Regardless of why you do what you do, what I see is that YOU’RE SCARED.


What’s true about me: When I am not fully present and aware of my mental and emotional experience, I am kind of running away too. My physiology sometimes say “hell yesss” and I move towards you and other times my physiology says “whoaaa this is too uncertain, we don’t know if this is safe” and I run away (or I engage some less action-oriented version of running away– I ignore you, pretend I don’t see you, and so on... when all I really want to do is say “hey, let’s go grab a drink and have a conversation. No expectations. It just seems that we’d be pretty cool people for each other to get to know”. So what’s true about me is that I’M SCARED TOO— of getting too close too soon, of staying too distant and missing an opportunity for connection, and of– go figure– letting my fear get the best of me.


What’s also true about me: When I am attuned to and aligned with myself, I have so much compassion for the fact that you run away, that I run away, and that people in general run away. I wish we didn’t do that, and at the same time, I totally understand why we do. Hey, it's often easier to run away and/or keep someone at a distance than to face the possibility that they may one day leave, right? Or that they may impede your freedom in some way? I have the same trepidations coursing through me. So here’s another truth: I wholeheartedly understand why you do what you do and have zero judgment of you. I certainly don’t blame you for doing what you so instinctually do. I know that, like me, you are doing the best you can given your desires, habits, fears, and preferences.




Natalie is finding it difficult to work with a colleague of hers. When she asks for something that she feels is simple and necessary to their mutual success, she feels that her colleague deflects the request and makes a big deal of it.


What I see in and/or say about you: When I asked you for a one-on-one meeting to discuss a few things pertaining to our project roles, you proceeded to invite “everyone and their mother” to the meeting. I saw this action as cowardly— you gathering your ‘posse’ to keep you safe from what you perceived to be an attack on your capabilities and character. All I wanted was for us to chat and move forward with greater clarity and intention. But you made a big deal of it. And then we had to wait 3-4 weeks to have the meeting because “that was the earliest common availability we all had”. I think it's safe to say that YOU ARE A COWARD.


What’s true about me: If I get truly honest with myself, I see that I reign in all of my protection any time I feel that I need it too. Maybe it doesn’t often come in the form of human capital like it does for you, but it does come in the form of eating when I’d rather not feel something, smiling when I’d rather not let anyone know how sad I really feel, and rampant of all— intellectualizing and rationalizing away my hurtful experiences. So, you see, the food in my fridge, the smile on my face, and the justifications in my mind are my armor. And these actions happen just as instinctually as your “gathering of your tribe”. So if doing these things and using these means makes me a coward, well then I AM CERTAINLY A COWARD TOO.


What’s also true about me: I know how important it is for us to feel safe in this world, and as someone with a never-ending passion for exploring myself and others in the context of life, I certainly understand all the reasons why we may not feel that we are. So when you call in all of your protection, I get it. And when I let my egoic defense down, I know that it’s not really about me. It hurts to be regarded in this way, but I have lots of compassion for you in this situation. Don’t get me wrong– this compassion will not supercede any form of disrespect or lack of consideration on your part. If that were to ever happen, you would see another truth about me, and that is— when I do take my armor off and no longer lead with my protective mechanisms, I lead with the wisdom of my heart. And that heart is bold, brave, and expects kindness and respect and nothing less.




I know that you benefit lots from reading about the self-exploration and journey of self-revelation of other people alongside your own (that’s why I write these articles!), but let’s be real— there’s nothing quite like diving in deep yourself. So what are you waiting for?


What I see in and/or say about you: Here, jot down something you are currently judging someone else for… something less-than-great that you catch your mind saying about someone else… something about someone else that irks you, angers you, and/or frustrates you.


What’s true about me: Okay, now you’re ready to turn the tables and see what about this perception of the other person may also be true about you. Remember that this isn’t always black and white. In fact, it usually isn’t. Just because you see them as X, it doesn’t automatically mean that you are also X. But are there instances in which you are? Are there times when you have the capacity to be X, maybe not exactly in the same way as them but in some similar or related way? Is there some time in the past when you were X and perhaps didn’t want to see it?


What’s also true about me: Now, see how you can “build a bridge” between what you see and know about them and what you now see and know about you. Whether about your past experiences, relationships with yourself and others, and/or your beliefs, what conclusion does this self-exploration help you come to? What do you now see that you didn’t see before? What is a more balanced perspective to maintain of them and of yourself? And how can this guide your intentions and help you to relate to your life experience in a healthier way in the future?


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