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The Mirror Theory

The Mirror Theory

How to Handle Impossible People


We can all think of a few people that we would describe as being "impossible." These are individuals who push the wrong buttons, irritate us to no end and annoy us whenever we talk to them. These are the people that we find arrogant, critical, and negative or possess some other character deficit. How do we handle impossible people?

The interesting thing is that we don't all find the same people hard to take. The guy that annoys me, doesn't bother my wife and the neighbor that she dreads talking to, I can communicate with easily. Why do these difficult people clash with some but not with others?

The Baal Shem Tov explained this with the "mirror theory." Why do these difficult people clash with some but not with others? He taught that when we look at others we are looking at a mirror. When we observe and analyze the behavior of other people we actually discover ourselves in them. The profile we create for others is shaped by our own personality.

None of us are perfect. We all have our deficiencies and areas of personality that are underdeveloped and need work. But we are often unaware of these deficits. Self love often causes us to be in denial, preventing us from resolving and correcting these weaknesses.

When we observe character defects in other people and criticize them, it is really the undeveloped parts of our personality that are showing up. We are only so irritated by these blemishes because the very same issues are unresolved within ourselves. My spouse might not have the same area of weakness, and therefore does not notice it in others.

When we see faults in others it can be used as an opportunity for self reflection. If we think someone is arrogant we can examine our own egos. If we describe someone as being unkind we can examine on our level of kindness, compassion and empathy. If our friend's judgmental nature bothers us we should think about how we view other people.

We should always endeavor to look at people in a positive light. But when it becomes difficult, it is an opportunity to look inwards.

Rabbi Michoel Gourarie lectures on a wide range of topics with a special emphasis on Personal Growth and Self Development, including self esteem, communication and relationship building. He is the director of "Bina" in Sydney, Australia.
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Discussion (21)
June 2, 2015
I can deal with "within the normal real of human function". This gives me great relief because the world is well supplied with people who do horrifying things and I would be devastated to have to ask myself, do I torture animals for fun and do I kill people, rob people, set fires and all that other bad stuff. I cannot believe that I mirror these traits, even though I know I am far from perfect and have done things I deeply regret.
hermine stover
May 19, 2015
when to apply Mirror Theory
You make a good point!
Inappropriate control, physical or emotional abuse is inexcusable. No one should ever have to be controlled or be the subject of any form of abuse. One of the most important aspects of a person is their dignity.

Victims of any form of abuse should never blame themselves in any way.

The mirror theory I shared with you is very different. What I was referring to was noticing deficiencies and weaknesses of other people that fall within the normal realm of human function. These deficiencies do not really affect or compromise us. They just seem to annoy and bother us even though other people do not appear to be affected.

It is these "blemishes" that we notice or highlight in others, which are really a mirror image of our own. It is these weaknesses that our sages refer to when they say that we should judge others favourably and focus on fixing ourselves first.
Michoel Gourarie
May 19, 2015
I am not fortunate in that I have neighbors who have tried to burn down my house, have sued me in actual court (and lost) on several entirely made up charges, have attacked my husband physically and who manufacture street drugs. this is a partial list of their crimes against me. the come onto my property and vandalize things, I really do not think these people mirror any of my inner faults.
May 6, 2015
Spent my whole life doing this with abusive people until I realized is not me. Articles like this caused me untold pain and guilt and too many years trying to find what it is in me that causes me to feel bad, confused hurt crazy around them Would you tell this to someone who itches from walking in poison oak. Or who feels the pain if someone smacks them in the face? Hanging with toxic people and verbal abuse is no different.
December 8, 2014
Looking inward with compassion
Seek with the knowledge of (Shem.) "We should always endeavor to look at people in a positive light. But when it becomes difficult, it is an opportunity to look inwards." We learn from each other relationships as to learning from our behaviors + our mistakes in our everyday realities, We correct ourselves with the knowledge of (Shem.) + Him whom is always in our hearts to look inward with compassion to forgive those whom are always Looking for empathy always with one G-d. In other words, Seek with your heart and the knowledge of our Shem.

Thank you for sharing what is true.
Eugina Giovanna Herrera
New York City, New york
November 20, 2014
business relationship
I currently have someone on the team I supervise that pushes my buttons to the point where I lose my temper. I want to make the relationship work as she has many good things to contribute. When we talk about one situation it becomes an octopus of problems. I have tried to give direction without being caught up in the "she says, he says" scenario. She will not acknowledge her reactions to a person she clearly has animosity towards and presents as "being just fine and what is the problem"? "She is only trying to express herself and understand the other person's mindset for making the decision they made". Help. Any suggestions will at least move me out of the gridlock I feel myself to be in. I understand that she is showing me a part of me that is not expressed but I need real help in real time. There are some pretty smart people on this blog. So rather than dispute the theory, which I believe is pretty simplistic, I just want feedback.
October 9, 2014
A friend of mine mentioned that you should have some time in a day that you look in the mirror and remind yourself that what you are and what you are gonna do ever is is for that person staring back at you in the mirror. I love this friend, and I also find him at time self absorbed and most if the time talking about himself and his opinions. From this article I was hoping to understand him a little better, but I was unable to understand or link him to this.
Anyways, for me, what I do understand is that I think he is right, about the time to live and give for yourself, but with the little humility I would be able to live with myself better!
November 1, 2013
Mirror mirror on the wall, liar liar beware the flaw / fall

Perhaps too few who suck in the entire mirror theroy really take a look at the full image.

How many got to this site thinking that they don't have issues or baggage? We do and yes someone out there thinks we are "impossible".

What brought me here is not just finding ways to learn new skills but the acceptance that my daughters and I live with an Impossible Person. We can do no right, get yelled at made to feel stupid. Even the most subtle understanded whispers are snarky.

They have the ability to turn it all on you, you start thinking you're nuts
August 13, 2013
I believe the mirror theory to a point, but something we have already overcome inside ourselves . This is more like been there, fixed it and moved on As for myself I do encounter situations with even family members like that. If is frustrating not to react, backing off is harder. But bottom line I have come to realize we have to fix ourselves. It is easier to recognize what has already been part of our life experience rather than what we read. Ever heard the expression."Life is the teacher and we are the students" that makes a lot of sense to me
August 8, 2013
Not always true
I always get annoyed when I see someone write stuff like this annoying blog post and expect everyone to just believe this little theory without thinking logically for themselves.

It's a nice theory, sure it "feels good' and "sounds right" but in reality anyone with a brain can see it's not always true..

Not every fault we see in others exists in ourselves. Sometimes we just plain see something we know is wrong in a person.. and it annoys us... that is not because we have the same traits... but rather because that person is just plain wrong.

So yeah, nice theory, but not a fact at all. There is right and wrong in the world, there is such a thing as morality, it's not just "our perspective" and not everything can be explained subjectively!