If your partner, parent, friend or co-worker is abusive or neglectful, you might be unable to fathom how this person manages to feel okay about his or her behavior. How can people so not get what they’re doing wrong? Can’t they understand that the way they act and the things they say hurt people? How is it possible that they don’t recognize what’s acceptable and appropriate versus what’s unacceptable or inappropriate?

It’s entirely possible—because they’re not reflective like you probably are. I’ve blogged about the process of reflection before (http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/?p=4488 and http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/?p=4894), so this may not be a new topic to you. Reflecting means you think about what you say and do without judging it. Judgment has no part in reflection. It is a neutral observation: “Oh, I did this and positive things happened. Hey, I didn’t do that and things didn’t go so well.” By reflecting, you learn how what you do or don’t do affects yourself and others.

When you’re the type of person who reflects a good deal, you get to know yourself inside out. You’re rarely surprised when someone says you’re x or y about you because you already know this information. You learn from mistakes by taking corrective action. You come to understand the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and, if you’re reflective (but not overly analytical or critical), are probably pretty good at them.

The problem arises when you believe that everyone is as reflective as you are. The way I describe it to clients is that because you live in a house of mirrors, you think everyone else does too. The truth is that many people live in a house with no mirrors at all and that’s exactly how they wish to live. They rarely, if ever, think about what they say and do because it makes them uncomfortable and ashamed. If you hold up a mirror, they turn—and often run—away. Reflection terrifies them because they’re highly judgmental and they think you’re trying to point out their shortcomings. And often you rightfully are and expect they’ll be glad to know what you show them. How wrong you are.

Alternatively, sometimes people reside in houses with too many mirrors so that it seems they’re living in the fun house at an amusement park. You know, the kind that keeps on showing you reflections of yourself ad nauseum. After a while, that can make a person a bit crazy. Seeing nothing but themselves, the image gets more and more distorted. You don’t want to be constantly reflecting—that’s like gazing at your navel. You want to reflect intentionally for a reason, to gauge what and how you’re doing, and leave it at that for the time being and until there is another cause for reflection.