The Mirroring Man Part. II

A few days ago, I wrote about being a mirror and how easy it is to reflect others. We often take on the characteristics of the people who surround us. While it’s natural for this to happen, sometimes we choose to mirror others as a way of avoiding ourselves and our insecurities.

I also wrote about how I struggle to keep my independence in relationships. The post was written during a moment of high stress. I was trying to be an independent person but I struggled with relating to others. Instead of being myself, I choose to be what I thought everyone else wanted.

 

The concept of mirroring, or establishing rapport, isn’t new. It’s been studied for decades by psychologists. While it’s easy to understand, I think we often forget how it affects our relationships.

Incase you’ve forgotten, I use the words mirroring, or establishing rapport, is the act of reflecting another person. For example, if you’re in a lousy mood and we’re having a conversation, I would act like I was in the same mood. If we’re sitting down and talking, copying your posture would be a way to have rapport.

The purpose of mirroring is to make others feel comfortable. When people are relaxed, they’re more likely to share themselves or more valuable information. Copying a mood or sitting in the same way helps the other person know that you’re a friend and that you aren’t going to harm them.

Instead of covering the same ground, I want to continue where we left off. If you want to read more about mirroring, check out the original Mirroring Man post.

Establishing excessive amounts of rapport is unhealthy. In any relationship, you want to relate to each other. However, relating to others shouldn’t compromise your relationship with yourself. What I mean is, if your friend comes over in a bad mood and starts complaining, you shouldn’t put yourself in a bad mood just to relate to them.

Another example of this is maintaining your interests. Often, when I start hanging out with a friend, I take on their interests. If they like woodworking, suddenly I find myself doing what they’re interested in. While it’s natural to relate to others and do activities with them, it’s important to do what you love as well. In many of my relationships, I stopped doing what I loved so that I could relate to whomever I was with.

A healthy amount of rapport is relating to others but keeping your independence. When a friend is in a bad mood, you can relate to them without ruining your own mood. Sharing interests is important but you don’t have to compromise what you love for the sake of a relationship. If you love painting, take time to do it with or without your partner. Don’t sacrifice your passions for a relationship. Be willing to have new experiences but also make time for yourself.

 

When I wrote the original post, I was frustrated with myself. Many of my friendships and relationships felt artificial because I established too much rapport. I didn’t feel like myself when I was around others. I was too busy being interested in what they were into and I didn’t spend enough time doing what I loved.

I’ve learned that while it’s great to relate to others, it’s even better to have differences. I have a friend who’s an audiophile. We both listen to a large volume of music and various genres. Whenever we hang out we turn on music and share what we’re both passionate about. However, he really into metal and I can’t stand it. I love ambient music but if I turn it on I get complaints out the wazoo from him.

It makes both of us unhappy when we compromise what we like. Metal puts me in a horrible mood and ambient bores him. Instead of listening to either of these genres, we can find our happy medium, which is alternative rock, and listen to that. We can share what we’re passionate about without sacrificing what we like. By finding that common ground, we can establish rapport and have a good time. Man, when we get into music, hours can disappear.

But I still love my ambient music. The minute he walks out the door, I crank up Tycho on my speakers and continue to jam out. When he gets back to his room, he goes back to his music. Our friendship is built on common ground but solidified by our independence. We respect our differences but we don’t give up our own tastes.

 

Being the Mirroring Man was about relating to others. I wanted to understand my friends and to have meaningful relationships. Compromising what I loved didn’t make sense. Why would I start listening to metal music if I didn’t like it? Relating to others wasn’t worth sacrificing my own interests.

The lesson I’ve learned is that we need to find common ground with others but without building our homes on it. Travel to shared spaces to spend time with other people. Find what you’re passionate about, dwell there instead. Go visit others and share interest with them – but always come home at the end of the day.

You can’t be somebody else, they already exist. Be who YOU are. If you don’t know who that is yet, go explore. Find what you like and work from there. Copying others and sacrificing your interests isn’t a way to be truly alive. Find what you love and be happy.

The Mirroring Man (or “Letters from a mirror”)

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.

An Empty Mirror

In Zen Buddhism there is a concept about an empty mirror. We all reflect the world around us. We’re reflecting each other’s emotions, the atmosphere of where we live, and the objects that surround us. If you spend all of your time around people who complain, chances are that you also complain. Similarly if all of your friends smoke, it’s likely that you also smoke. If you live in a city, you probably take on a few of the stereotypes applied to city folk. So without the world to influence you, what are you? This is the concept of the empty mirror.

When you realize that you’re a mirror, reflecting the world, you can begin to contemplate emptiness. You are not anything that you reflect, you are just a mirror. If you look deep into a mirror that is reflecting a pond, you may think “oh that is a pond!” but no, it is just a reflection. Similarly you are not your environment, you may look at yourself and think “oh I am adventurous or a hiker”. No, you identify with those traits but you are not them.

Perhaps now you are thinking “but I am adventurous! I know myself”. No, you are empty of everything. You are not the city that you live in or the people you hang around. You are not the emotions that you feel or what anyone calls you. What you are is reflection of everyone and everything. In reality, you are empty of all of it.

When you run on a hot day, you think “I am thirsty”. That is not you, that is a reflection of the body. By being part of the swim team, you are not a swimmer. That is what you do but it is not who you are. You are nothing. There is no you.

When you go through your day, you think “maybe I should go shopping”, “today it’s hot outside”, these thoughts are reflections. Without the external world, you couldn’t think these things. Therefore they are not part of you, they are not internal. They could not exist without the world.

When you feel angry, sad, happy or any other emotion. These feelings are a reflection of your environment or your body. They are not you, they come from the world. Maybe you need to eat more food because your body is hungry or you’re sad because you missed the train. Either way, it’s not from you.

Sometimes I identify with these environments and think “I’m a photographer or artist or writer”. What happens if you take away the camera or computer, am I still any of these? No, I’m just me. I’m a mirror reflecting the world.

Why is it important to understand this? Because when we identify with the world, that is, to take on an identity relating to what we are reflecting, we simplify or limit ourselves. When you say that you’re a swimmer to me, in your head a swimmer could be someone who swims recreationally, while I think it is a person who swims professionally or as part of a team. Immediately we have miscommunication. When you say you’re a swimmer, we have two different ideas about who you are.

Now when I say that I’m a photographer, I take on all the traits I think fit the term “photographer”. To me, that means I believe I’m a photographer because I take pictures of people and I get paid to do it. I think of photography as a lifestyle. Now problems start arising. I haven’t taken any pictures in 6 months, am I still a photographer? I no longer get paid to create images, who am I?

Internally we’re always talking to ourselves to make decisions. “Well, I’m an artist so I should _______” or “what would an artist do?”. I act as if I am what I’m reflecting. No, I am not a photographer, photography is something that I do. It is not my identity. Remember, I am just a mirror temporarily reflecting whatever is in front of me. Currently I don’t take pictures. I used to but now I don’t.

The reason we identify with these labels is because we want organization and simplification. When you ask me, “what do you do for a living?”, it’s easier to reply with “I am a carpenter”. There is no problem with this simplification – we generally understand each other. However, the problems arise when you answer these questions to yourself, when you start to think that you are a carpenter.

See, the mirror concept is a little bit troubling: it’s difficult to think “oh I am nothing”. We want an identity or something to label ourselves. We want to compare ourselves to others. “Well John’s a baker, at least I’m a traveler”. We don’t need to tell other people we’re better but we think it internally.

To fix this, stop identifying with what you do and the place where you are. You are not Buddhist because you meditate or a Christian because you go to church. You are not a tired person; that is a reflection. Stop trying to identify yourself, you are only perpetuating a condition. You will act like a tired person if you label yourself as one. Instead, just be or do. If you enjoy taking pictures, take pictures. If you live in Minnesota, don’t identify and think “oh I have to be this way because I’m a Minnesotan”. Just be as you are.

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22/31 Blogtober

Mirroring Others

My entire life, I’ve always been part of a diverse crowd. In high school, I surrounded myself in every clique. When I wanted to do art, I hung out with the art group. Likewise, if I wanted to talk about travel, I’d go hang out with the foreign exchange students. No clique fully satisfied me and I found myself moving from group to group.

There wasn’t one group that I really fit into. I didn’t listen to the same music as my emo friends or care about my grades enough to always be with the smart kids. But I could hang out with any crowd. In the last year I’ve started to figure it out and notice a trait in myself – I tend to mirror the people around me.

What that means is, when I hang around artsy people, I become really artsy. When I hang around my foreign friends, I become really travel oriented. I tend to gain the group’s traits, both positive and negative. I think most people are this way. If you hang around a person who always talks about one topic, eventually you’ll start to talk about that topic too. There’s a quote by Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.

So, the first question should be; who do you want to be? Are the people you surround yourself with similar to that image? In the last year, I’ve found that the people I surround myself with aren’t who I want to become. My friends are great but I don’t think I’m maturing with them. If you want to be adventurous, surround yourself with adventurous people. Inevitably, you’ll start to take on their traits. If you want to be more artistic, find the art community or take a community education class. You mirror your environments, make sure what you’re mirroring is what you want to reflect in yourself.

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13/31 Blogtober

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