The Mirror and Assertiveness

Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston here. I'm here on Maui, the island of Maui, at Ai Pono Maui, which is our residential treatment center. I wanted to share with you a really inspiring talk that we had today in our group.

I talk a lot about a type of communication, Assertiveness, and how important that is to the process of recovery — how important it is in order to really being free from struggles with food and fat. And eating. And all of that.

But there's another piece that goes hand and glove with the assertive formula, the assertive form of communicating, and that's the mirror.

And once you start to get the handle of assertive communication sooner or later you're going to come up against the mirror. The mirror is this: Whenever we feel a strong emotional charge, that's when we know the mirror is operating. Now, if it's a strong positive charge — like when you fall in love — all those qualities that you see in the other person that are so attractive, are actually qualities within yourself that maybe you haven't ever really identified or acknowledged, or appreciated, or cultivated or developed.

When it is mutual, when the love is mutual, you get a double mirror effect. So, not only do you get to see in the other person all those positive qualities that you have yet to develop, but you also get to see through their eyes, the positive qualities that you already have developed. That's what's happening when you have a positive emotional charge.

That's what it looks like in the mirror.

Now, when there's a strong negative charge, what's going on is that person is reflecting back to you aspects of yourself, you would just as soon banish to Siberia. But you can't, any more easily than you can amputate your hand and throw it on the ground. Someone's going to come along, pick it up and put it back in your face.

How that works is: There are qualities in you that you don't know about or certainly don't want to know about. The only way we get to know and learn about these aspects of our self is to see them in somebody else. Because the truth is, we can't really see ourselves. I can't see my own eyes. I can see their reflection in the mirror. But I can't really see my eyes. So we need other people to show us aspects of ourselves that perhaps we've disowned, that we need in order to come into wholeness. Because healing is wholeness.

So, it works something like this. I'll give you an example from my own life.

I had a neighbor and her name was Cathy. Cathy was continually coming to me because she was annoyed that the tree in my back yard was blowing leaves into her yard. And the leaves from the hedge that separated our properties would be in her yard because she was downwind from my house.

This happened a lot. There was even a time when she asked my younger daughter to tell me to plant flowers on her side of the hedge. So you can imagine that I was getting a little annoyed with this. Well, one day I was getting ready to take my daughter to dance class. But I had just gotten a phone call, and my mother had had a stroke. I didn't know how bad the stroke was and I was supposed to leave the next day from Hawaii to Los Angeles where I was giving a talk. But I didn't know if I had to cancel that flight and go in the other direction, which would be back to Guam where my mother lived. And so I was pretty distressed.

In fact, I was crying. But I had to take my daughter to dance class. So I was in the car, and I was crying a little bit. Cathy came over to the car window, and she said, Anita, are you going to be watering the hedge?

I kind of looked at her, and was like, um, I don't know. She said, well, somebody has to water the hedge. I said, I didn't even think you liked the hedge! And I wasn't too assertive. I went whatever. And I drove off. And as I was driving my daughter, I was so upset that I must have been talking out loud. She said to me, mom, you told me I should never let people talk to me like that without saying something. I said, hmmm, you're right. I really need to assert myself.

So after I dropped my daughter off I went over to Cathys. She was in the yard pulling weeds. And she said I'm over here. So I went over, and I said, you know Cathy, obviously you're ticked off at me. I'm ticked off at you. But we are neighbors. We are going to have to figure out some way to get along. Why don't you and your husband, me and my husband sit down and talk this out.

She said I don't know when we'd be able to do that. I said, you just let me know. And I thought, okay, that's that. I asserted myself.

Then, I get a call and find out my mother's okay. It was a really minor stroke. That meant I was headed out the next morning to Los Angeles to give my talk. I arrive there, and the night before the talk, I can't sleep. It's like — I am so awake. Why? I'm thinking about Cathy. I'm annoyed with Cathy. That story is going on and on and on in my head. I said — oh my gosh.

It's the mirror!

Now, I hate the mirror. Because the mirror is hard work. But at least I knew what it was. So whenever the mirror is operating, there's a question to ask yourself: What is it that the

So whenever the mirror is operating, there's a question to ask yourself: What is it that the other person is doing that irks you the most? What is it that Cathy was doing that irked me the most? And I thought, oh, she's so demanding. The second question you have to ask yourself is: Is there a part of me that either does that to others, or to myself? And I thought, I am so not demanding, in fact sometimes I don't even ask for what I want. That's how undemanding I am. I couldn't figure it out. But at least I knew, okay, it's the mirror. And I was able to get some sleep and give my talk.

But I paid attention to this because I had to find out– What is it? A couple of weeks later, I was on the phone talking to a friend of mine that lived on the Mainland. As we were talking, he started laughing. He said, Anita, you are so demanding! I said, wait, wait, wait! Tell me how I'm demanding? He said, “Well, you demand a certain level of excellence from yourself. And you demand a certain quality of communication in all your relationships. I went, Yes! I am demanding. Now, here's where the magic begins.

Because once you get it, once you find out, oh what is it that's being reflected back to me, so that you can bring it home, one of two things happens. Either that person stops doing whatever it is they were doing. Or, they continue to do it, but it doesn't faze you.

So, I would watch Cathy come and go from her house, walk up and down the street. And every time, I would say to myself, oh, that's me.

That's the demanding part of me. I can see that now — in this instance.

I never heard from Cathy again. She moved away. Now, that's not always what happens.

But what I do know is this: had she continued to talk about the leaves coming into her yard, it wouldn't affect me in the same way. Because I would go, oh yes, there's a part of me that is like Cathy. And it may not even be a big part. I may not even do that with other people so much, but I certainly do it with myself.

So that's the mirror. Its hard work, but it's where your freedom comes.

It even can get really funny because once you get to working with the mirror, it lightens things up: In the sense of illumination, because you see what had been kept in the dark, and you bring it into light. But it also lightens things up in terms of levity, and it can even be really funny. And that, that in itself, is so freeing. So today at Ai Pono Maui Residential Treatment Facility it was a lively discussion we had. It was a deep discussion.

I'm going to invite you to see if you can find the mirror in your life. Remember, its whenever you feel a strong emotional charge, negative, or positive. Look to see what that's reflecting back to you. Until next time, Aloha.

I would love to hear what you think, share a comment below!

Till next time,



  • Your insights are so enlightening for me Anita, they give me “ah-ah!” moments each time I read a new one. I have just finished reading your book Eating In The Light Of The Moon and it has provided me with an entirely new way of looking at my eating dis-ease. When I read your analogies & metaphorical tales it’s as if you have reached into my mind & unraveled something that previously I found so painful & complicated that now I see is very obvious. You are right: once we can see the heart of the pain/problem clearly in front of us as in a clear glass mirror, then we can begin to really look closely & take steps to adjusting how we want to see the reflection; polishing it up until the image staring back at us is one we are familiar & satisfied with!
    Thank you so much for your work, Anita.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    You may also like





    Find the Hidden Meaning in Your Food Choices