I lost a dear friend last year. Not to death but to illusion. Her perpetual absence has me mourning her. Some days, I wake up and think about what we shared over the years and my heart aches. Sometimes, those memories leave me angry. Always, I doubt myself and wonder if I had only done or said something differently, would she have reacted the way she did? I send loving energy her way and imagine her calling me. I think of calling her and saying, “okay this is ridiculous, life’s too short not to talk this out!”. Then I remember her last words to me – not spoken, but written in an angry email that wiped out six years of friendship – and I can still feel the seething quality to the words. So, I keep from making the call.
“Who says that to someone?,” another friend says to me. She gives me her sage-like glance, “you know when someone calls a person those things, it’s because it’s a problem they can’t deal with within themselves, right?”
I know. Lordy, do I know. I’m a therapist, after all. I talk about ego defenses and shadow sides all day long. Yet, somehow, when the table’s turned and I’m on the receiving end of someone else’s disowned stuff, it hurts. It hurts because, the truth is, my friend was right. I am those things at times. I’m those things enough that I can’t write down what she accused me of being. I also know that it’s my stuff – in all its uneasiness and embarrassment – that shrieks back at her. It stands formidable like the wicked witch’s mirror reflecting the wrinkles and blemishes she’d rather kill for than acknowledge.
Our struggle with the personal shame of disowned feelings is never more apparent than within our interactions with others. Our psyches are drawn to those who echo our perspectives. The traits we admire in others, are the traits we possess in ourselves. The nuances of our mindset and the way we feel about ourselves is always reflected in the people we choose to be around. We manifest our private circles this way.
Inconveniently, we’re also drawn to those who possess the darker, less examined aspects of our Self, and this can sometimes be the same person whom we think hung the moon. Insecurity, selfishness, fear, manipulation, self-loathing, uncertainty all attract like. We may think we’re attracted to powerful people because they’re “fabulous” and we feel special around them, yet the shadow side of powerful people is a fear of powerlessness. The darker the shadow, the more troubled the relationship. The addict is drawn to the codependent. The narcissist to the anti-social. The unconscious aspects of Self work in mysterious, sometimes contradictory ways. As we attract the familiar, we are unknowingly disowning the negative traits and placing them at the feet of the other.
In his classic work, Love and Will, Rollo May argues that love and will are the conjunctive process of being. Combing love and will is a reaching out to influence others; molding, forming, creating the consciousness of the person we love. This is only possible when we’re open to the influences of the other. Love must first follow. Because without love, will becomes a form of manipulation:
The interrelation of love and will is shown, furthermore, by the fact that each loses its efficacy when it is not kept in right relation to the other; each can block the other. Will can block love. The overemphasis on will, which blocks love, leads sooner or later to a reaction to the opposite error, love which blocks will. (pg. 276)
If we’re willing to look in the mirror, to see ourselves without the illusion of what we want to present to the world, then we can accept the wrinkles. We can also see the spark in our eye, the great smile on our face and the smoothness beneath our aging. We can embrace all parts of our Self no matter the discomfort. We can – at the very least – be open to the possibility of growth.
Our higher Self knows instinctively that having to face our issues regularly is the only way to resolve them. Our ego – what we prefer to see in the mirror – rejects all that’s unattractive. That unattractiveness may come in the form of another person who’s holding up the mirror to us. Sometimes we reject the whole person no matter how much love we have for them, because our will not to see is stronger than the engagement of acceptance.
Will blocks love when we’re not feeling complete. Fixations on another’s flaws are those infantile aspects of Self. When we decline to acknowledge them, we don’t have to take responsibility for them. If we can allow ourselves to be sidetracked by the ineptitude of another, we can delay the journey that may take us deeper into our own healing. May says we can’t change unless we’re willing to open to the influence of the other. In this case, it’s looking deeply into the mirror then asking, “What in this mirror drives me to want to kill?”.