I had the privilege of going to an Elton John concert this weekend. I’ve been listening to his music since I was a kid and he is still in wonderful form. The music and the band were more than I could have asked for! One of his well-known songs, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” written by Elton and Bernie Taupin, really struck me as I was singing along with the audience. There is a line that says, “Although I search myself it’s always someone else I see.” I started to think about this line in the context of the work I do in helping people to understand others – and themselves.
We tend to put a positive frame around our own actions and reactions. No matter what we do, we often tell ourselves that we “mean well” in our approach. We might color our harsh words, judging attitude or impatience with “I was trying to do the right thing.” But this same behavior, when we notice it in others, can be intolerable to us. There is a line of psychology that talks about the shadow aspect of our personalities. This means that there are parts of our beings that we don’t really want to acknowledge, so we keep them in the shadow. But, when we observe this behavior we think we’ve hidden in others, we react very negatively to it. It’s as if we don’t want to own that this is part of us, so we just push it away.
That’s what I began to think about, listening to Elton sing his famous song. I search myself and try to understand myself, but do I accept and believe what I see? Or do I push it away and say that it must be someone else who is doing the things I don’t like to believe I can do? We may have one image of ourselves as a certain kind of person, and any kind of information or insight that says we are really a different kind of person will upset us in some way.
Think about a time you were “accused” of some behavior or some approach and you felt you were wrongly accused. Once when my son was talking to me, I was admittedly not paying enough attention. He asked me a question and I couldn’t respond. He cried out to me, “MOM – you NEVER listen to what I am saying and you aren’t listening now.” Instead of admitting my guilt, I tried to tell him all of the times that I do listen and how, of course, I’m interested in what he has to say. But, truth be told (and as I did tell him a few minutes later), I was not listening to him in that moment. Instead of just admitting that, I became defensive because of the accusation he made that I never listen to him. It’s true, there are times that I am preoccupied and I am not a great listener for my kids. I can make many excuses for why this is, but that doesn’t matter. Overall, I have to “own” my behavior even if I don’t like it.
Seeing what we do, and how we act in relationships, can be a wonderful learning experience for us if we allow ourselves to see and believe what we are doing. We need to search ourselves and embrace all of what we see – the good, the bad and the ugly! If we push it away, or believe it isn’t a part of who we are, we actually limit our chances of changing and growing and becoming better people in our relationships.
When we search ourselves we should want to see the parts that we don’t love, and we can’t embrace. These are the parts that will prove to be our teachers over time and will help us to have more compassion toward others who may have these traits, too. Make a commitment today – before the sun goes down on you – to open your eyes and embrace all of who you are.