“I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”~from the song Man in the Mirror, Micahel Jackson
So you’ve probably heard this joke before. A portly wife is getting dressed to go out to dinner with her husband and says to him, “Honey, do these pants make my butt look big?” The soon-to-be excommunicated husband replies, “It’s not the pants.”
Another version of this “ugly truth” scenario is the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The Emperor is deceived by his tailors into believing he is wearing beautiful new garments when in truth he is wearing nothing but his underwear. When he parades in the streets in front of his kingdom in his invisible new clothes, only a small child is authentic enough to shout out what everyone else is thinking — “The Emperor is in his underwear!”
Sometimes self awareness is forced upon us when someone else has the courage or the audacity to point out our own “big butts” or nakedness. This can be a painful, but pivotal moment in life.
When we try to hide our big butts (metaphorically speaking) under ill-fitting pants, or delude ourselves into believing we appear one way when everyone around us sees our nakedness, we are setting ourselves up for that awful moment when the truth is revealed for the world to see.
The truth has a sneaky way of finding its way into the light of day.
For some issues in life, we are more like the portly wife. We know we have a big butt, but we try everything to cover it up and not deal with it. Other times, we are like the emperor, deluding ourselves into really believing we are someone when we really are not that person at all.
Then the moment comes when someone pulls back the curtain.
If we are lucky, it comes in the form of a kind and loving conversation in which our big butts or nakedness are gently pointed out. More often than not, it is the result of an unexpected attack in the heat of an argument, or an off-the-cuff remark from someone who has bypassed the filter between brain and mouth. You are blindsided and cut to the quick.
Of course our first reaction is to defend, deny, and obfuscate. We feel indignant and hurt. If we recognize a kernel of truth in the remarks, then we quickly line up excuses like toy soldiers to defend our ego.
I don’t know about you, but I have stewed for days over one of these remarks, playing out all sorts of scenarios in my head to give that person a piece of my mind. Sometimes I’ve actually done it, whipping off a knee-jerk email or phone call in the heat of the moment. I’m sure you can guess where that led.
No matter how self aware we may be, all of us have our “big butts” and naked moments.
And as painful as it is for someone to hold a mirror up to these, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to turn around and look square into that mirror at our true selves. Sometimes we may see that we are not so bad after all. And sometimes we may finally recognize and accept areas where we need to grow and change.
It has taken me many years to learn how to handle these dreaded moments. But with some thoughtfulness and preparation before a mirror is held up to you, you can turn these moments into an opportunity for self-awareness and growth.
Here’s my “Big Butt Method” for doing just that:
- If the remarks are coming from loving kindness from a person you respect, then sit down and listen. Try your best not to deny or defend (this is so hard), just listen. Ask questions if you need clarity about something.
- Thank the person who is telling you. Believe it or not, it can be just as hard to muster the courage to point out someone’s flaws as it is to hear them. Only someone who really cares about you is willing to put themselves out on a limb to say something to you in a kind way. Even if initially you don’t agree with them, thank them for caring enough to make the effort.
- Sometimes snarky is disguised with niceness. There are “well-meaning” people who feel obligated to point out your flaws, not so much because they love you, but because it makes them feel better about themselves. Or because they think they know best. It is much harder to hear the truth from this person, but before you are snarky right back at them, take a deep breath, hear their words, and remove yourself from the situation before it gets ugly.
- The most common scenario is an argument with a spouse or loved one. A fight ensues, and they go for the jugular, shouting out your most vulnerable weak spots as they claw their way to the winner’s circle. We have all been the recipient and the shouter in these situations. And there are no winners. Just a whole lot of hurt. The only salvation is to retreat to separate corners until things calm down.
- In each of these situations, it is imperative to sit on it for a while. Even when someone speaks to you from a loving heart, you will still feel wounded and defensive. That’s human nature. It’s our ego squealing in pain. So step back as quickly as possible, without making remarks and excuses, and reflect on what the person had to say.
- Accept that there is possibly some truth in even the cruelest words. Whether spoken in love or anger, you might be hearing something important for your growth. Don’t dismiss the words right off the bat. Acknowledge the possibility of some truth in them.
- When you feel calm and more centered, assess the situation. Look at your life and interactions with others now and in the past. Have you heard these remarks before? Is this an ongoing theme in your life? Is it holding you back or compromising your relationships, personal growth, or lifestyle in some way? Look at people around you. Do they have this issue? Is it offensive to you? Sometimes just awareness is all it takes to begin to change.
- Reach out to others whom you respect and who love you. Tell them about the conversation and the context (loving vs. cruel or snarky). Ask them if they believe it is something you need to address, correct, or work to change. This is hard to do, but knowing the truth is essential to growth. Your “big butt” will be revealed again if you don’t take care of it now. Be brave enough to seek the truth.
- Once you have an understanding of the truth, strive to grow and change. You may discover that the truth will set you free. In fact, the truth may not be as bad as it first appeared. Once you accept your flaws and challenges, you are opening doors to amazing, life changing growth. Learn ways to change the problem or behavior. Read, study, practice, ask for help if you need it.
- If possible, go back to the mirror-holder and let them know what you’ve learned. This is very hard too, but it closes the circle. If it is someone you love and who loves you, this can be enormously healing and restorative. They may be more inclined to accept loving mirrors from you in the future. If it came from someone snarky, you will disarm and amaze them by saying a simple “thank you” for pointing out what you need to hear. Perhaps they will surprise you and apologize for their own bad behavior.
Hearing the truth about your “big butt” or invisible garments is never pleasant. As much as we know we aren’t perfect, we don’t want that pointed out to us. But in many cases, it can be a gift. Prepare your mindset in advance to view these situations as opportunities for growth. When they happen, you will be better able to accept the gift and use it for your own happiness and growth.
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