What Is Mirroring, And How Can It Get In The Way Of Your Relationships?

Have you ever used the same tone as someone you're speaking with? Or maybe you brush your hair away from your face the same way someone else does. You might not realize it immediately, but you may even slightly imitate their accent when speaking with them. These are all characteristics of a communication technique known as "mirroring."

Mirroring is the act of mimicking another person's verbal or non-verbal cues while engaging with them, which is separate from jokingly copying someone. The practice can be described as one that can establish comfortability. The beauty of mirroring is that it is not exclusive to romantic partners. If you've watched actors Brooke Shields and Drew Barrymore reflect on their childhoods during a recent episode of "The Drew Barrymore Show," you may have caught a glimpse of mirroring within their interaction. As both women recall uncomfortable Hollywood moments they experienced as children, they tend to nod in agreement. Both sit on the couch with their legs crossed. Though, Shields appears to cross hers after Barrymore. These subtle gestures are critical in the women's intimate conversation.

This is the kind of environment that fosters mirroring. Understanding both the positive and negative effects it has on your daily life is necessary.

Mirroring can help build healthy bonds

By now, we all know that healthy communication is the key to any successful relationship. While understanding how to express yourself is important, effective communication also involves listening well. Mirroring is an excellent method to show that you're paying attention to the person you're speaking to.

Psychotherapist and sex and couples therapist Lee Phillips, Ph.D., tells Well + Good that this is especially beneficial for those in romantic relationships. Reusing your partner's words shows that you are paying attention to everything they are saying, whether you are engaged in a heated dispute or a minor debate. Repeating it back to them shows that instead of simply hearing the words, you're actually digesting them. As Dr. Phillips' explained, practicing this technique during conversations can help partners come to common ground during arguments.

A study conducted by researchers at Wellesley College and the University of Kansas found that people strongly desire to connect with people like themselves. With this in mind, mirroring can certainly come naturally to some couples who have established similarities. This can be a great relationship-building tool, though certain risks can still apply.

Beware of mirroring that is rooted in emotional abuse

While mirroring can bring people closer, abusers can use this to create a false sense of familiarity. A relationship with a narcissist can see a lot of mirroring taking place. People who have narcissistic personality disorder have a heightened sense of superiority. They often gaslight their partners, and unfortunately, mirroring can be used to do this. Sadly, there is no proper way to know for sure whether your partner is mirroring you to manipulate you. Though, there are a few things you can be mindful of to prevent being the victim of narcissistic abuse.

Licensed family therapist Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C, tells Well + Good that someone lacking empathy with their mirroring could be a sign. Oftentimes, they might exaggerate the similarities. They may mimic nearly everything about you at the same time to gain your trust. If this happens, consider stepping away to re-evaluate whether or not the person you love is a narcissist.

In your relationship, you may be eager to mirror just to show your partner you care. Still, be mindful that too much can be overwhelming. Be sure that you are moving with genuine intentions. Even if you demonstrate mirroring in your professional associations, beware of possibly scaring off employees or employers. Ultimately, they want to know what you can bring to the table. Excessive mirroring could be a turn-off. In most instances, the method is a positive way to build meaningful connections. Don't be afraid to explore it.