The Mirror Effect

“People will love you. People will hate you. And none of it will have anything to do with you.” — Abraham Hicks

He was short, stocky, with close-crop hair. His face covered in stubble, congruent with the nonchalant nature of his appearance. He was a few pounds overweight, but certainly approachable enough. After all, it was only a haircut.

Despite a lack of online presence, the shop possessed a distinct local charm. Excited to go out and explore my new city afterwards, I darted for his empty chair.

After a brief introduction and assessment of my hair, he excused himself to the back. I began running through the scenarios of how I would spend my afternoon, fading in and out of enticing images I couldn’t wait to live out.

A few more minutes went by, and I snapped back to reality.

“Where the hell is this guy?”

I became visibly frustrated. My mood deterred toward a path I had no intention to venture down a mere few minutes earlier. I wanted to stop it, but I wasn’t letting go. The feeling kept sinking in deeper.

When he finally emerged from a back corridor, I wasn’t shy about my disdain. For the duration of the haircut, I opted for an eroded version of my personality — all because of an unexpected intermission.

As the disconcerting tension began to heighten, the barber stepped in attempting to lighten the load. He shared with me a modest overview of his life, highlighted by his two sons, one of which had been struggling with depression.

The one who he was on the phone with in the back.

I immediately became overwhelmed with guilt. At this point, I didn’t care about the haircut. I didn’t want him to flip the chair around and show me the mirror. Disgust and self-loathing started knocking on the door.

It was at this point, I recalled a Carl Jung quote,

“Everything irritating about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.”

Before allowing guilt to consume me and hi-jack my day, I asked myself what this situation could teach me about myself.

A few things became clear:

  • One was, a prolonged and unexpected wait time triggers me. Highlighted by anger and frustration, I realized this was due to my fear of insignificance. That I would go through life generally unnoticed, and therefore, unloved.
  • The second was I was tying a looming, wildly unrelated fear to a situation that had zero acknowledgement of it. Whether he was actually speaking to his son or he just has a differing relationship with time is irrelevant — neither one has anything to do with me.
  • Third, and perhaps most important, once the guilt stepped in, self-loathing came along with it — a very unhealthy combination. It was at this point, I acknowledged my discomfort with prolonged wait times as a discomfort with myself. My lack of self-love was at the source.

We all have trigger events, times where our emotions attempt to steal the present moment. When these buttons get pushed, we lose our ability to remain grounded in reality and associate minor details to personal problems.

Intelligence can be defined by the number of refined distinctions about a given subject. To develop emotional intelligence, distinction is much of what we need.

We can first notice and recognize the feeling for what it is, disassociating it from what’s happening with the other person we think is causing our issue. If we want to address or question the situation, we can do so in a calm and collected manner. If not, we can be okay letting go as we know it’s got far more to do with us than it does with the other person.

To end the story on a high note, the barber and I got on much better terms. I get my hair cut by a different barber at the shop—not because of the incident, this guy is simply a better barber — but he and I still have tremendous rapport. He actually owns the shop, and is extremely welcoming to any guest I bring in.

Moral of the story: your emotions are your teachers. Don’t deflect the lessons onto someone else. When you face them head on and put in the work they suggest, you start to create a life you drew up. 

One of peace, joy, and love — for yourself and for others.