Mirroring - Imitating or copying another person's characteristics, behaviors or traits.
Borrowing a Self-Image
Mirroring occurs when people with Personality Disorders have a vacant or distorted self-image, which can manifest itself as an imitation of another person’s speech, mannerisms, behaviors, dress style, purchase preferences or daily habits.
In more extreme manifestations of this behavior, the person doing the mirroring might begin to believe they actually are the other person, to the extent they might call themselves by their name, claim to be them or ‘borrow’ elements of the other person’s life such as relationships, past experiences, career or family history and claim these as their own.
Mirroring can be a form of Dissociation, where a person’s strong feelings create “facts” which are less than true.
A dramatic case of mirroring is portrayed in the movieSingle White Female, in which the character Hedra Carlson (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) begins to imitate her new room-mate Allie in the way she looks, dresses and behaves, imitating her haircut, wearing her clothes and ultimately seducing Allie’s boyfriend.
What it Looks Like
- A man switches accents to mimic a colleague.
- A woman wears identical clothing to her friend.
- A mother wears her daughter’s clothing.
- A teenager makes phone calls in which she pretends to be her sibling or parent.
- A secretary wears her boss's wife’s perfume in an attempt to seduce him.
- A man writes letters in which he forges his boss’s signature.
How it Feels
There is an old saying that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and a little mirroring can sometimes be taken as a compliment at first. You may feel honored or flattered when someone begins to mimic your fashion sense, your behaviors or traits.
However, when this becomes pervasive, it can start to feel a bit “creepy”. It can become quite unsettling to realize someone is paying so much attention to you, yet isn’t behaving in the normal or healthy ways which are part of a reciprocal relationship. If they begin to see you as a representation of themselves you may find yourself in a situation of Engulfment, and be under extreme pressure to stay in the relationship.
If that person begins to pretend they are you, it can become downright frightening. You may fear other people will mistake them for you, that they will behave in ways which will embarrass you, get you into trouble, or make you unpopular.
How to Cope
There are no laws against imitation, and people who are unfamiliar with Personality Disorders may struggle to understand any complaints about mimicry and fail to take your fears seriously.
It is often best to detach as much as possible from a person who is mirroring you. Be aware that sometimes, when you try to cut off contact with a person who has been “super-nice” while mirroring you, they may Splityou from ‘good’ to ‘evil’ , and you will possibly see some of their “not so nice” side come to the surface via False accusations, Fear of Abandonment, Emotional Blackmail, Threats or Stalking.. Do not let this prevent you detaching if you feel the relationship is unhealthy – get yourself some backup.
What NOT to do
- Don’t allow yourself to be emotionally blackmailed into spending time with someone you feel threatened by.
- Don’t allow yourself to be isolated into just one relationship with someone who is mirroring you at the cost of other healthy ones.
- Don’t give up things you love to do or healthy behaviors to try to navigate any kind of dysfunctional engulfment.
What TO do
- Surround yourself with supportive friends who will understand and validate you in a healthy way.
- Put some distance between you and a person who is mirroring you.
- If you must spend time with someone who is mirroring you, take along a supportive friend.
- Call the police at the first incident of violence or threat of violence.