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.