When we meet, we’ll relate. I’m interested in everything, so undoubtedly we’ll have something in common. You’ll speak passionately about what you’re interested in, then I’ll return the enthusiasm. We’ll talk a lot about you and, when we talk about me, I’ll make sure it follows back to you.
It’s taken years to realize that in most relationships, I act as a mirror. It’s easy to sink into the grooves of another person. To see how they speak, what they like, and to return it to them. After all, people are interested in themselves, so they’ll be interested in me if I’m like them.
There’s a huge disconnect here. The reason that this works, why mirroring is so easy, is because people want to know themselves. They crave intimacy but they don’t know why. They feel lonely. Even with other people, they feel like they are alone. They feel this way because they don’t know themselves.
Internally, they have a craving to really explore, to find what they like, but for some reason they have a block. Someone who told them that they were wrong for being who they are. They’ve been taught that they’re too wild, too creative, too “emotional”. On the other hand, they’re told that they aren’t manly enough or smart enough or something else.
This block eats them away. Inside they are this person; the one that’s wild, seeking greatness, liking things that other people call weird or different. That is who they truly are. They don’t really crave anyone else. What they want is to be themselves.
This is why it’s easy to name traits that you want in another person: “I want to be with someone who’s adventurous or who’s traveled to faraway places”. Make a list of traits you want in another person and I guarantee that most of those characteristics are things you want to find in yourself.
If you were really daring, you’d be that person. When you’re looking for this guy or gal, I believe that you’re really soul searching. You’re trying to find someone that you can be authentic with, that makes you feel like you can be adventurous or a traveler. You’re just looking for the excuse to be you.
I say this because I’ve acted as a mirror for a long time. You say that you like something, I bring it out in you as much as I can. Let’s pretend that you really like music, specifically alternative. If I bring that out in conversation every now and then, you feel authentic. It makes you feel interesting and likely to talk about your passion.
The more you talk about your passions, the more alive and real you feel. People like doing this because it’s sharing who they are inside – they like being themselves. They want to be themselves.
Like I said though, people are afraid to be authentic. If you are real, like you share that you only love British rock from the ’80s, there’s a chance you’ll be rejected. Being called weird or unusual can hurt, especially when you’re just being yourself.
That’s why being a mirror is easy. People like being able to be themselves. They don’t want feelings of rejection. If I mirror your interests, your enthusiasm, your mood, you feel close to someone.
However, the closeness has nothing to do with me. It’s all about you and your image of yourself. Internally I’m substituting that relationship you need with yourself. You don’t need me, you just need to be close to who you are inside. If you accepted that you liked weird things and just lived authentically, you wouldn’t need anyone else. You would just be content with your own company.
Now onto me. It’s taken even longer to realize why I mirrored people.
At first I thought it was the ease. When you meet someone, you both need to establish some form of rapport. Usually it starts non-verbally with gestures or posture. Eventually it shifts to language and how you speak. When two people have good rapport, they mirror one another.
The purpose of establishing rapport is to feel comfortable. When you mirror each other, you feel safe. This makes it easier to be yourself. Like I wrote above, I think this is one of humanity’s basic desires: to be yourself.
Over time I noticed that I really wanted to understand people. At a surface level, everyone is the same. We all talk about the weather, what we think about the news, how our days are going et cetera. This is basic level chit-chat. It’s also incredibly boring. Everyone is having a ‘good day’ and the weather is always ‘____ cold’ or ‘____ hot’.
To really get to know a person, you have to break beyond this surface level. Chatting about the weather doesn’t explain what motivates a person. It doesn’t tell you what they’re passionate about. For that, you have to establish rapport.
That’s where mirroring came into place. If I wanted to understand a person, I just had to be like them. Whenever they were interested in, I was too. We could break beyond basic conversation and start having deeper discussions. We could talk about philosophy or what you think happens after death. Undoubtedly you’ll share yourself in the process.
The craving to understand people developed into a desire to know others on a deep level. I wanted to know what their passions, what gets them out of bed in the morning, how they want to spend their life. I wanted to know them on a deep level. To have connection with another person.
It’s easy to say that mirroring was as simple as that: I wanted to know others and to understand them. But it goes much deeper than that.
There are two different types of closeness: authentic and unauthentic. Both are relatively self-explanatory. Authentic relationships are ones where both people are who they are inside and out. It doesn’t matter if they other person rejects or accepts them, they are who they are. The second is artificial: one or both persons projects an image: they aren’t themselves.
Think about your friends that you can get wild with, where you can do or say whatever you want. Those are your authentic friends. Now think about the people who you pretend around. Perhaps your coworkers. Around these people, you act smarter or different. You’re not yourself. Those are your unauthentic relationships.
What I craved internally was a sense of authenticity. I wanted the connection of an authentic relationship but I felt that I couldn’t get it by being myself. I had to be what the other person wanted. That way they could be authentic and I could be ‘close’ to them. After all, everyone’s interested in someone that shares their interests.
The odd part is that, for some reason, I thought that I could feel authentic if others were authentic. No one else can make you feel like you. Only you can be you. It’s not something that others can bring out, only you can.
Basically, being a mirroring man, I was caught in my own insecurity. Inside, I felt that I couldn’t be myself, so I reflected everyone else.
That sort of closeness isn’t satisfying. I felt lost in everyone elses’ struggle to find themselves. Everyone is just searching for themselves in some way.
The reason I’ve written this is to solidify these thoughts. I can’t be authentic if I’m just living as a mirror. A mirror has no properties of itself, it only sends back what it receives. I am not a mirror, I am a person. Authenticity cannot coexist with artificially reflecting others.
From now on that mirror is shattered. You can’t establish rapport perfectly with every person while being yourself. Not everyone mixes. Being with people who you don’t blend with, just to ‘mirror them, is a waste of time and a waste of self.
You are beautiful, whomever you are, as you are. I cannot go on showing you who you are, that is something you have to find yourself. I am not a mirror. We may squabble, we may act as oil in water, but no longer will I be someone I’m not just to satisfy you. Live authentically and alive, shatter whatever mirror you may be holding up. Who you are behind it is so much better than any image you could try to reflect.