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Looking Through Other Peoples Eyes

Many talks I’ve given have been about the perspective shift of being able to look through other people’s eyes. And while this is a deeply important skill to develop to inform ourselves and to evolve, if not done from a place of health, it can lead to enabling co-dependent behavior.

Healthy perspective shifting includes:

  • Understanding that someone beeping in a car might be late and it might not be about you.
  • Making the effort to see a situation from your loved one’s eyes during an argument.
  • Taking the time to listen to a co-worker to really understand their needs.
  • Consciously integrate shadow elements of ourselves (part of the 3-2-1 process from integral theory).

Perspective shifting is paramount to evolving and growing. But we need to do it consciously and mindfully. When we don’t, looking at the world through other people’s eyes can lead to unhealthy co-dependent behavior.

What is co-dependence?

  • Someone who exhibits too much, and often inappropriate, caring for persons who depend on him or her.
  • Co-dependence can also be a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress caused, for example, by a family member’s alcoholism or other addiction, sexual or other abuse within the family, a family members’ chronic illness, or forces external to the family, such as poverty.
  • Codependency advocates claim that a co-dependent may feel shame about, or try to change, his or her most private thoughts and feelings if they conflict with those of another person. An example would be a wife making excuses for her husband’s excessive drinking and perhaps running interference for him by calling in sick for him when he is hung over. Such behaviors, which may well lessen conflict and ease tension within the family in the short term, are counterproductive in the long term, since, in this case, the wife is actually supporting (“enabling”) the husband’s drinking behavior.
  • My simplified definition is when we lose ourselves to the idea of another. When I am looking at my life solely or primarily through your eyes.

What is the difference between a healthy perspective shift, and losing oneself in another through co-dependent behavior? The difference is when we know who we are. Other’s perspectives should inform us, but our actions need to remain based on our own values. This touches deeply on understanding our values and beliefs. And while this could be a whole other talk, our values and beliefs need to be understood, and at least peripherally mentioned here.

My first talk I said that beliefs are an error of taking an opinion and treating it as a truth. What I meant by that is that an unconscious, unexplored belief is an attachment that limits, or affects, how we see the world. But we all have beliefs, we all have values, even though there is an ideal groundless state of being. To express ourselves as humans, as selves in relation to others, we need to be clear on what our attachments, beliefs and values are. The more we know about who we are as people, the more evolved, awake, and informed we are.

Gaining the skill of looking at the world consciously through other people’s eyes is an important growth for people. But we need to use the idea of an other’s perspective to inform our own perspective, not lose our own perspective to someone else.

The Problem With Self Protection

Our self is more than partially defined by the assumptions and beliefs we hold about the world. Our emotions arise as that self rubs up against its edges. Emotions often tell us when our boundaries, or self, have been compromised. There is no doubt that we need to work on our understanding of emotions. Teachings that help us understand our emotions I label as self protection teachings. Again, those teachings are very important.

Once we understand self as the accumulation of our own beliefs, we can learn to drop it. I’ll call the experience of dropping beliefs experiencing no self. That doesn’t mean our self stops existing, it just means we learn that we are not as attached to the self, and that it can be put down for pure experience from time to time. Practicing meditation is the expression of no self.

Because many think self is the root of desire, and hence unhappiness, some spiritual teachings discuss limiting or denying self as a spiritual practice. It is important to understand that experiencing no self doesn’t make the self unimportant. It is not something that should be shunned. To the contrary, it should be learned about deeply. Much of life requires understanding of ourselves and others boundaries.

Possibly to combat the erroneous notion of suppressing self, emotional teachings often end up defending self, which is one of the reasons I call them self protection teachings. But while it is important to not deny self, those teachings often make a different error. They fail to mention that our self may not be healthy. While emotional intelligence is crucial to self knowledge, we shouldn’t blindly assume that the self we find once watching our emotions is healthy or correct. Many people in touch with their emotions act quite horribly. It’s neither the answer to deny self, nor to accept it blindly. We need to learn to work with self.

Learning to work with self takes nothing away from the importance of emotional intelligence or self protection. However, to be truly wise, we need to be able to judge ourselves and be open to change. Blindly following our present boundaries does not allow us to evolve. Suppressing or shunning self only leaves us fragmented and unhealthy. We need to learn about self, and no self, and allow both to change and evolve.