My psychologist friends tells me that patients often come to therapy and say their problem is someone else.
Their assumption is that, not unlike the famous existentialist saying, hell is other people.
When the reality is, it’s actually them.
Sartre might agree that indeed, the cruelest form of hell is the one we create inside ourselves. It’s simply a continuation of the things that we choose, here and now, inside of our own hearts.
And so, before we start codependently rescuing people to keep the focus off us and onto them, perhaps we might look at our own reflection.
Reminds me of my favorite penetrating question about personal responsibility:
What are you pretending not to know about your role in the problem?
Because it’s never just one person’s fault. It takes two to tango, baby. No matter how good it feels not to take responsibility for our emotional reactions, the onus is still on us.
Michael sang it best:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror, asking him to change his ways, and no message could have been any clearer, if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.
Jackson’s song is the perfect metaphor. Each of us can treat an uncomfortable experience as a mirror. Matter of fact, somebody should invent a smart mirror with facial recognition software that will ask you penetrating questions anytime you feel the need to take a good look at yourself. Next time overwhelming feelings flood your nervous system, you just walk into the bathroom and wait for the mirror to say in a warm, empathetic voice, things like this:
*How have you innately attracted this into your life?
*What might you have done to cause to this discomfort you now feel?
*What is it inside of you that might be contributing to this situation?
*Have you stopped to ask what role you played in this experience?
Therapists could install these smart mirrors in their counseling offices to use as patient exercise for taking personal responsibility for their emotions. After all, other people’s words don’t make us feel like shit, our interpretation and reaction to them does.
It’s not like sound waves are picked up by our ears then translated into a negative emotional response. We are the owners of our feelings. Someone else might have lit the pilot light, but we are the ones who pour gasoline onto the hell fire.
If we are feeling the need to talk to someone about someone else, then we should make sure to include ourselves as part of that discussion.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What if hell wasn’t other people, but trying to change them?