What is mirroring in relationships?

A discussion came up today during a therapy session when I explained a situation that I was faced with. Without giving details here, she said:

“It sounds like this person mirrored your behavior and when you hit a depression and life stopped being fun, they moved on.”

Have you ever met someone who was so much like you in early stages of the relationships that you couldn’t help but feel like you were soul mates? Or maybe it seemed too good to be true.

Some people you click with naturally, but sometimes – people are mirroring your behaviors.

Why do people do this?

That’s a good question. It may be that people lack confidence or awareness into who they are. Or they admire you and want to be like you. Or the darker aspect of mirroring – it can be a manipulation tactic to win you over. To gain your trust. And then a few months down the road, the flip will switch and you start to see that they aren’t the person you once knew at all.

On the toxic side of mirroring, it may be that the person is so miserable with their life that they can’t help it. They might not be aware of what they are doing. While others are very aware and use this to “infiltrate” the other person’s life. And sometimes, they are so good at what they do – it works.

I’ve lost friends over this. But I’m also fiercely protective over those long-term relationships and friendships and will do what I can to keep them safe.

What is mirroring?

Mirroring is matching the other’s persons behavior. Whether it is the way they speak, their mannerisms, they way they dress, the things they’re interested in, even down to body posture when together in person.

Sometimes mirroring happens when you spend a lot of time together. I’ve noticed, that sometimes I will adopt phrases that a partner or friend uses. Or we repeat the same jokes. You get the drill. Or you start loving their hobbies and interests, just to spend time with them.

This is also why I stayed in relationships that weren’t good for me, for far too long and often wound up hurt when they ended.

Is mirroring a toxic behavior?

Not always. The other person may not be aware of what they are doing. While other times, mirroring can be a way to gain your trust early on and make you feel as though you are the most important person. That you’re a rare bird and a rare catch. That your connection is like nothing else they have ever experienced before.

This is a form of manipulation that often presents itself months down the road. It may be easy to catch early on, but some people are good at masking and hiding who they really are.

I know I’ve done this in the past with people. I don’t think it was intentional. I would change myself for partners. Until I did some shadow work to determine core values and started imposing boundaries and limits that were for me.

This also changed relationships for me. While there are still things I struggle with – like trust and anxiety, I’m getting better at recognizing toxic traits early on. But some people can still fool you. I also really recognize toxic traits in myself, that I am trying to unlearn.

What about mirroring in romantic relationships?

Sometimes in romantic partnerships or connections, you can mirror each other’s feelings. This is especially true if you are an empathetic person. I know that for me, my emotional state often depends on how the other person is feeling. Or how they interact with me.

Relationships are harder for me, because I notice everything. Even if communication changes in the slightest, I need more reassurance more than the average person. It can honestly be exhausting. I’m learning as much as I miss things like intimacy, I’m often better off single.

If my moods are that dependent on the way someone else treats me, then maybe that person or relationship isn’t the right one for me.

New relationship energy or mirroring?

New relationships energy can also complicate things. Some call it the honeymoon stage. Everything is shiny and new. You want things to be perfect. But relationships aren’t perfect. They’re meant to have challenges and lessons so that we can all learn and grow from them.

While mirroring early on in relationships can be a useful tool, over time, learning to recognize your partner’s needs and emotions should come naturally to you.

You’re allowed to feel what you want in the present moment. You’re allowed to have a difference of opinions. You don’t have to match or agree on every subject or challenge that might come along.

This is part of life. Part of what being in a relationship is. The best connections are those that you can learn from and help each other grow. And also, when you’re there for each other during low points in life.

Something I really learned this year is:

Be wary of people who seem too good to be true early on. If they use language like “you’re important to me” in the first weeks of conversation, this is a red flag for me.

It’s one thing to click naturally and have a lot in common, but trust me when I say – you won’t match on everything. And if you do, maybe it’s time to step back and figure out who you really are and what makes you tick.

Because copying someone, making friends with all of their friends, and then ditching that initial relationship? That’s just hurtful to the ones you leave behind. And yes, I’ve had this happen a few times.

One person just ghosted me without an explanation, after chatting for months on end. All day. Every day. I wound up blocking her on all platforms when I learned she was hitting up my partner at the time. That’s not cool. That’s taking mirroring TOO far.

Some people do this. They see you living the life they want for themselves, and try and take yours over, while pushing you out. I’ve lost some friends to this over the years. And sometimes, you just drift apart as new people come in.

Good relationships take time to develop. Build on them. Go slowly.

Have you ever been mirrored by someone? Or have you caught yourself mirroring someone else? If so, let me know in the comments what happened.

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