I overheard two sisters talking the other day. The older sister was maybe 7 years old, the other was 4 or 5. The older sister asks: “Why do you always copy everything I do?”
“I don’t know,” the younger sister replies.
“Well, stop it!”
“I can’t,” the younger sister says.
What a great interchange. It shows the importance of self-reflection and the problems that arise when we lack the ability to self-reflect. See, no one expects a 4-year-old to have insight into why they do the things they do. Developmentally, they’re just not “there” yet. This 4-year-old, for example, was smart enough to say she couldn’t stop copying her sister, but she didn’t have enough insight into herself to ask questions like:
- When do I copy my sister?
- Is it okay that I’m copying her?
- Is my copying causing problems between the two of us that I don’t want?
- What impact is my copying actually having on my sister?
This inability to self-reflect is why a 4-year-old will continually do the same thing over and over again until they “learn” through reward or punishment, as opposed to making healthy changes based on rational thought.
After we get all the psychological noise about other people out of our heads, reflecting on how we act and behave in relationships allows us to understand ourselves better. Because in order to have the relationships we want, we have to make the changes we need to make in ourselves first. But we can’t do that until we see the role we play in relationships—who are we in relation to someone else, how are we acting, what is our role in conflict, are we being too dependent, how do we impact others? We need to use our relationships as mirrors into ourselves.
So, we have two choices: Continue to act as if we’re 4 years old or develop the skills of self-reflection necessary to be mature adults in healthy relationships.