Have you ever been the “new person” in a group who know each other well?
You might have felt, at first, like you were a little out of the loop. They seem to be on the same wavelength. They have the same humour styles. They might even speak in similar tones of voice, or use the same mannerisms.
This is an example or normal, healthy mirroring. It’s not that a group of very similar people just happened to find each other. It’s that, after spending a lot of time with people, we adapt our behaviour in little ways, to match the other people in the group. When people like each other, they become like each other.
It’s a natural human behavior that helps us say “I’m in your group, and you’re in mine.” In fact, some psychologists have argued that when children don’t get this healthy mirroring from their parents, it can be a trigger to developing pathological narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder) in the first place.
But when does Narcissistic mirroring become a weapon for the Narcissist? When does normal mirroring change into the Dark Mirror?
The Narcissist Mirroring You – Narcissistic Mirroring
The normal mirroring we’ve just discussed happens slowly and gradually over time. In narcissistic mirroring, the narcissist takes this process and accelerates it.
They use the words you use, claim to like the things you like, and copy your mannerisms – even if they just met you 5 seconds ago.
The idea is to make you feel as if you’re in the company of someone you’ve known for years. It makes you feel seen, like someone really gets you. When everything you like and value is being validated by what seems to be a very confident, successful person, it’s easy to see why people fall for narcissists.
At the same time, narcissist mirroring isn’t about true closeness (narcissists, in general, tend to avoid true intimacy). It’s a trick to make you feel comfortable with them, to gain your trust – to get you to lower your guard.
The Dark Mirror
As I’ve just mentioned, people who mirror are generally people who’ve known each other for a long time – people who trust each other. By using mirroring early and aggressively, the narcissist engineers that trust more quickly.
When you feel seen and understood, then naturally you start to open up. You reveal deep and personal things about yourself. Narcissists sometimes know just how to push people’s buttons – and this is one way they learn which buttons to push.
Eventually, narcissistic mirroring becomes a weapon.
When they get to the phase of the relationship where the put-downs, abuse, and devaluation starts, the dark version of mirroring begins. Now the mirroring switches from a positive reflection of the things you desire and value, to a negative one.
Examples of Narcissistic Mirroring
So what does narcissistic mirroring look like in practice?
Often it starts with simple things, building a sense of shared commonalities and interests.
You say you like jazz. “I love jazz! Jazz is amazing. That’s real music”.
You say your favorite color is purple “My favorite color is purple too!”
If you say you love to go out and party to let your hair down, so do they, but if you’d said you like nothing more than snuggling up with a good book, well, surprise surprise, so do they.
You’re sat there thinking “Oh my god, I have so much in common with this person!”, but in reality, it’s a facade.
Narcissistic mirroring often involves non-verbal communication too. Whether you lean forward, back, or to the side, they mirror that. If you talk fast and loud, they talk fast and loud. If you talk with your hands, they will too – and it might be an exact, carbon-copy of the hand movement you just made.
Mirroring can sometimes involve bigger, more outright lies. You went to Disneyland last year? They went to Disneyland last year! You used to work in finance? Guess what, they used to work in finance! Your family is from Ireland? No way, their family is Irish too!
And what about dark mirroring, what might that look like?
Well, say you revealed that you’re worried you’ll turn out like your mother, someone you didn’t get along with. They’ll store this information away for use another day. Then at the right moment, they’ll mirror that back
“That thing you just said there, that sounds like something your mother would say.”
In this example, they might use this put-down whenever they need to feel better at your expense, or to help win an argument.
Or say you’ve revealed your insecurities about work, and don’t feel you do your job well. Later, you hear about a higher-level job opening, and you’re thinking of going for it.
“You’re thinking of applying for a promotion? That sounds crazy, that sounds like too much for you. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”
In this case, the idea of you getting a promotion makes them insecure (they are the successful ones, remember?), so they use your weak points to talk you out of it.
Dealing With Narcissistic Mirroring
Sam Vankin, who we met at the start of this article, recommends a strategy for dealing with narcissists – you mirroring narcissistic behaviour. In other words, you turn mirroring against them. If they shout, you shout. If they leave, you leave.
If they act suspicious that you’re cheating, you do the same to them. This advice crops up from place to place around the internet, so I thought I would address it here.
This approach may work in some situations and with some narcissists but in general, I would advise caution. Narcissists have been playing this game their whole lives, and you are new to it. It’s a bit like challenging a chess grandmaster to a game – they simply have more experience than you, and have a better idea of what to do in certain situations.
Also, when narcissists feel threatened, they often respond with rage, abuse, or other nasty tactics. So you’re potentially leading the way to more of the things you’re trying to avoid.
Instead, first take the steps that you should take when dealing with narcissists:
- Look after yourself: through self-help, healthy habits, or seeing a therapist to increase self-esteem and self love
- Set boundaries: Establish clear rules for what you will and will not accept
- Leave the narcissist: If their behavior goes beyond your boundaries, leave the narcissist
However, with mirroring, there is a further step you can take – be a better mirror to yourself. Don’t accept comments that mirror you, if they are not accurate. This applies to positive comments as well as negative ones. This means making a plan to build self-esteem and inner security – know who you are, and become comfortable with that.
That way, if someone mirrors you, you can make a realistic assessment of these statements. Not only in terms of whether it’s true or not, but also, whether it really matters.
So, now that you’ve learned a little about Narcissistic Mirroring, I hope you’re better equipped to recognize and deal with them. And if you know anyone who lives or deals with a narcissist, feel free to share this article with them too!