A Mirror Named Mal: My Experience in Meeting Someone Who Mirrored my Behavior Back to Me…

Anyone who knows me well knows that one of my favorite films is “Inception.”  What appealed to me the most about the film were the deep psychological elements that were carefully constructed with the character of Cobb (played by Leo DiCaprio).  Particularly, the projection of his wife, Mal.

Mal was the most fascinating character to me because she reminded me of a part of myself that can be almost uncontrollable when triggered.  As a matter of fact I jokingly refer to this part of me as “Mal.”   Lately, “The Hulk” has been a good description for this part, but I’ll stick with “Mal” for the time being.

Almost every one of us has a part or parts of ourselves that when triggered can hijack us and we are no longer able to think rationally.  A psychological process that I have been training in for over two years, I.F.S. (Internal Family System Structure), describes this part as the one you may need in a fight out in the streets if your life depended on it but not someone whom you’d necessarily like to have over for dinner.

I.F.S. practices a concept called “Parts Work.”  Instead of looking at the human being as one monolithic being, it sees us as a variety of parts.  It has nothing to do with multiple personalities or anything like that, however the process does recognize that each part has its own story as to how it came to be.  I.F.S. focuses on learning to speak for your parts and not from your parts.  This way of thinking has been life changing and saving for me, particularly when dealing with “Mal.”

“Mal” is not a “bad” part.  “Mal” is a part that was created to protect me when other, more vulnerable parts of me felt attacked.  However, somewhere along the lines, the wires got crossed and “Mal” began to misread the signals…this is usually how it happens for most people in life.  And I will briefly show you how:

Recently I met a Mirror.  Someone who almost exactly gave me back the behavior I gave to them.  When I displayed peaceful behavior, the Mirror often gave it back to me.  When I displayed angry behavior, irrational behavior or just sadness, this mirror often gave it back to me.  Did this person mirror everything for me?  Of course not.  Just the parts of themselves that were similar to my own particular parts and that were affected by my behavior and vice versa.

This was quite shocking to me initially, because I had never met anyone who “went there” like I did when “Mal” took over.  When witnessing this Mirror give me a taste of my own medicine I actually remember saying to my sister, “Can I be that extreme?”  And she nodded her head in a compassionate type way and said, “Yes, and you have come a long way from how bad it use to be.”

A part of me felt ashamed.  Very ashamed and angry with myself.  How many friendships/relationships had I ruined because “Mal” misread a signal and took over?  How many times had I identified myself as solely the victim when in actuality, I was just as much of the perpetrator as the person whom I was pointing a finger at?

I began to ask myself some very serious questions especially after a blow up.  “Was there anything I could have done differently to keep everything calm and get a different outcome?”  “Did I overreact?”  “Did I misread or read too much into what that other person was saying/doing?”  “Did I have all of the data before I just fired off?”  “What is it that I really wanted by doing or saying what I did or said?”  “Did I ask for what I want or did I just assume they should know?”  I didn’t like the answer to most of the questions most of the time and began to recognize a pattern.

I talked to my life coach about this and he recommended that instead of beating myself up over this, that I treat “Mal” or this trigger as a “trail head” or a starting point to take me to where the pain originated so that I could heal it.  Not surprisingly, “Mal” had many branches that led back to various parts of my life; each branch created as a way to protect a part of me that had been exiled, was fragile, deeply hurt and now was bruised, terrified and in hiding.

When I realized this, after I re-cognized this information, I began to see “Mal” in a totally different light.  Yes, the shame and anger still came up when she would “take over” after I calmed down and looked how much worse things were, but I also realized she responded to parts of myself that picked up on things that my conscience was not readily aware of.

She picks up on when I don’t feel comfortable with something, when a part of me feels used, unappreciated, she picks up on when a part of me is feeling deceived, when someone indirectly attacks me and the first thing she wants to do is fight and win – by any means necessary.

Her intentions are good, but as I’m sure you guessed, she does not always serve me in the best way.  “Mal” can be very manipulative and influential, she will distort images, tell other parts what they need to hear to get them into “battle” mode, act like she is calm and come out of the no where when she believes the first “missile” has been launched.

A good friend of mine described their “Mal” like this: “It’s like, I can see what I am doing.  I can see how much hell it’s going to be after I calm down, but when I get that triggered, that angry or feel that threatened, I cannot control it.  It really is like ‘The Hulk.’ There is nothing rational I can say to it at that time, it will just find another way.”

Actually, the only thing that has ever worked for me is to write it out, cry it out and when I calm down some, go ahead and process that energy.  I think the hardest part about “Mal” for me is the anxiousness.  The huge fear of “What’s going to happen now?”  “Mal” could very well be considered an extension of the ego and the ego is a false sense of self.  That too is not a negative dynamic in and of itself because the ego was created by the human mind to protect more vulnerable parts of ourselves.  And like the ego, “Mal” projects into the future – and her future is usually quite grim.

I have been working to heal “Mal’s” wounds for quite a while now, probably more aggressively than I ever had because I have a lot more at stake.  Recently “Mal” reared her head again, although this time not as extreme.  The Mirror that I wrote about earlier, gave me their version of “Mal” right back to me.  And this time, the outcome was very hurtful.

Since I have been working with “Mal” so rigorously lately, other, more centered parts were able to step in.  My SELF was able to step in too before things really got out of hand.  “Mal” was responding to a part of myself that felt hurt and angry after it took a chance and exposed itself.  When the Mirror failed to produce a reflection for this part, “Mal” took over and attempted to protect me at all cost, by any means necessary.  After I calmed down, I also saw that this person’s “Mal” went to the extreme too.

Although a part of me sits in sadness as a bond that was very dear to me is possibly ending, I have a sense of calmness.  “Mal” looked out for me, recognized some things I did not want to see and acted on them.  In turn this forced me to do my work.  This forced me to once again face my own internal mirror.

I realize that I cannot control what anyone does, how anyone handles their anger, grief, or when I hold up a mirror to them.  Some people will shut down.  Some friendships will end.  And some new connections will emerge and some people will show you the type of die-hard, loyal friends they really are.  Adversity reveals true character – I am a firm believer in that.

Of course, no one wants to deal with a “Mal” all the time.  That is draining and it chips away at the foundation of any relationship.  Recently, I got a taste of my own medicine and vowed that I will work my ass to off to heal all facets of “Mal.”  Because if I can be how I think this person behaved towards me, then I know I’ve got serious work to do.

And please always remember the mirror has two sides – a yin and a yang.  If you connect with someone who is always calm, chances are, they have a very angry side too.   If you connect with someone who is open, vulnerable, warm and commutative, chances are there is also a side of them that is quiet, stoic, insensitive and uncaring.  One typically does not  exist without the other.

In the end I realize that I can only hold myself accountable for when I am wrong, continue to do my work and take pride in seeing “Mal” slowly transform into a part that is on my side in a healthy way.

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One Response

  1. How courageous of you to look and see yourself and then work at healing those parts, not ignoring, but accepting they exist and taking action. Some don’t wanna evolve. Congratulations to you for your revolution.

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