Do you find yourself judging other people for displaying behavior and/or emotions you don’t like? Or do you admire and maybe even envy greatness in some and wish you could emulate them?
Now, what if you knew the very traits we see in others are the ones we possess ourselves? And if we recognise this, how then can we harness this understanding to help us live our best life?
‘If you spot it, you’ve got it’ is a principle that is familiar to Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners, but the concept goes back thousands of years. The ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, said, “When you are offended at any man’s faults, turn to yourself and study your own faults”.
Psychologists have long studied projection: a defense mechanism, which involves projecting undesirable emotions onto someone else rather than admitting to and dealing with the feelings and the unwanted behaviours in ourselves.
The psychologist Carl Jung theorised everyone carries what he called a ‘shadow’ - the dark, unknown side of ourselves which is prone to what is referred to as ‘psychological projection’. This means we will potentially not spot what is going in ourselves, but we will spot it in the behaviours and language of others without realising it exists within us.
Jung believed the more deeply hidden this shadow is within ourselves, the more likely we are to see, hear and feel our own failings in what are the perceived failings of other people without owning our own behaviours, thoughts and actions.
Fortunately, it is possible for us to lighten this shadow side of ourselves by becoming aware of what we notice in others, and then looking inwards to see what it is within ourselves we could be mirroring in these behaviours of others. We may not always carry out the same sorts of behaviours, beliefs and emotions the same way as how we perceive them in others. It maybe a more subtle or slightly different way we exhibit behaviours we spot in others, yet still reflect what we are judging in other people.
For example, does it upset you your partner or someone close to you is not appreciative of everything you do for them? Perhaps you haven’t been showing much appreciation towards them either or perhaps to someone else is in your life. Do you think your co-worker is lazy? Maybe there’s an area in your life where you are procrastinating as well. Is your boss too demanding? Could it be that you are you too focused on perfectionism and you are also demanding of others around you? Do you think your friends take you for granted and expect you to always be there for them? Is it possible that you are taking yourself for granted and not valuing yourself enough?
Of course, holding a mirror up to the less than perfect parts of ourselves can be challenging. The fact qualities we don’t like in others are the ones we ourselves possess – and perhaps dislike about ourselves – is not an easy truth to face. But the flipside to this - ‘if you spot it, you’ve got it’ - also works for the good you see in others. What you notice in others which creates happiness and joy is something that you possess as well. It may be buried, it make a while to uncover, but you can model the greatness you see in others in your own life to get the same results.
So, the next time you find yourself bothered by the behavior, actions and emotions of a person around you, consider changing the questions you ask yourself. Instead of “How do I deal with this difficult person?” ask:
And importantly, being aware of this principle and living it means acknowledging the greatness you notice in others is also a reflection of traits you possess. This is an opportunity to recognize where you do this in your life and pat yourself on the back and ask:
Listen to Empower World’s Coaching and Leadership Podcast Episode 98 where Jeanine Bailey and Marie Quigley talk about the principle of ‘If you spot it, you’ve got it’ and discuss some examples of how recognizing this principle led to meaningful change for clients.
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