A Manipulation Tactic: Mirroring
Imitating and mirroring is one of the most common methods narcissists and other emotional manipulators use quite often. Especially at the beginning of the relationship, the narcissist starts analyzing you. Whether it’s a romantic or professional relationship, or even if it’s only a regular friendship; the narcissist carefully examines what you need in a relationship and acts accordingly. If you’re looking for excitement in a romantic relationship, they’re the most adventurous person in the world, if you’re looking for clarity in a friendship, you can’t find someone more honest than them. Thus, they imitate all your wishes and reflect them back to you. By doing this, they make you feel like they have everything you’ve been searching for in a person.
They can imitate not only the things you’re looking for, but also you. This can be done through your physical appearance. For instance, they can imitate your clothing choice, your tone of voice, your hair style. This is quite common especially in a friendship with a same-sex narcissist. Your friend slowly steals your identity, but they do this so subtly that it can even look like you’re the one who’s imitating the other. Or, they can imitate the things you like. For example, you like taking walks and so do they, you like a certain song and turns out that’s their favorite song. At first, you can take this whole thing as you two having common interests but in fact, they’re just absorbing what you have and reflecting them back.
It’s not only your appearance and desires, they can also copy your character and values. Let’s say you’re a polite, honest and just person. They start acting the same. You can look at them and think how wonderful they are. But all those virtuous characteristics you see in them are actually yours. A narcissist is quite good at making everything about themselves. While you’re busy admiring their qualities, what they’re actually doing is holding up a mirror in your face.
Apart from being manipulative, there are 3 different reasons why they do this:
1- Survival mechanism: Majority of the emotional manipulators cannot experience human feelings properly and thus, cannot reflect them. For instance, the feelings of some people suffering from antisocial personality disorder tend to be very surface level. That’s why they realize that they’re different at an early age. Other people are able to experience feelings like pain, joy, fear while also displaying these feelings with their body language and facial expressions, but these people are like an empty shell. It’s because the anti-socials or sociopaths and psychopaths observe their surroundings carefully. They pay attention to the circumstances that cause people joy or pain. They also start copying people’s expressions and gestures. They learn which facial artery pops out when one is jealous, and how the eyes look when one is sad, and then imitate these things accordingly. Basically, all of these things are actually just a survival mechanism. They know they won’t be accepted if people around them realize that they’re different.
Because they lack feelings, they also lack conscientious values. Nobody wants to be around someone who doesn’t feel remorse. That’s why antisocial people feel the need to pretend and mirror others in order to continue their existence in the society.
2- Lack of identity Everyone’s a little different, special and authentic in their own way, right? We even have sayings to describe that: Being one of a kind. But when it comes to narcissists, things are a bit different. Think of a person whose personality never developed, a person with no identity. A person who started wearing a mask at a pretty early age and never took it off. Although this mask is quite charming on the outside, it is nothing but a mask concealing a huge emptiness.
Therefore, the narcissist tries to fill this emptiness by stealing from others. They try to make themselves look like a complete human by stealing one’s smile, another person’s political views, some other person’s hobbies and so on.
3- Jealousy: When a narcissist sees something they wish they had in the possession of another person; they can get really upset and try to mirror it. For example, let’s say you’re a very eloquent speaker. You have excellent diction and tone of voice. The narcissist tries to mirror these. Another example; you’re known as a funny and entertaining person with a unique sense of humor. The narcissist mirrors you again. They try to laugh and joke around the way you do. In fact, you may witness them telling others the very jokes you told earlier. Or, you’re a very benevolent person and it makes you admirable. Even though the narcissist doesn’t really feel the need to help others, they can get extremely jealous of the praise you’re getting for being such a kindhearted individual. So, they try to mirror your benevolence in an attempt to earn praise.
If a narcissist is mirroring you by imitating your traits and values; know that you have something they wish they had.
Don’t take their need to mirror as admiration, though. Admiration is to appreciate someone you think is better than you at something, which motivates you to try harder to improve yourself. You see other people’s success and get inspired. Everybody can admire someone and see them as a role model. Especially younger individuals tend to imitate others and see them as their role models in order to find themselves, and there’s nothing unhealthy or unnatural about that. That isn’t a destructive admiration. It’s simply being influenced by someone else’s achievements. I hope one day I can be as good as them, you think. The narcissist, on the other hand, thinks how can they have something that I don’t? They don’t want to see the people who happen to be smarter or more talented than them. Their biggest goal is to sabotage your success.
You can find yourself losing your own identity as they copy your traits and steal your identity bit by bit. Let’s say you’re someone who exercises all the time. The narcissist first tries to alienate you from this habit, and then turns into someone who exercises all the time. Because adding themselves a new trait isn’t good enough to satisfy a narcissist, they need to usurp you of it completely.
We may not always notice when a narcissist or some other emotional manipulator is mirroring us. Still, we can see some little signals when we’re around this kind of emotionally immature people. For instance, we can witness them acting like a whole different person when they’re around new people, or their actions and words may not match. In fact, we can even experience physical symptoms like stomach spasms or chest pains when we’re around these people or when we merely think about them. We better heed the warnings of these little signals and physical reactions. Especially if a person’s actions and words do not match, if they’re acting like a different person when surrounded by others, if you’ve been feeling like you’re losing your own identity ever since you met them and that you’re slowly switching identities, I advise you to take a step back and look at things from a broader perspective.
You can also find the articles on https://medium.com/@narsistsiz:
The Wall Street Journal. “Use Mirroring to Connect With Others”. Access 20 September, 2016. https://www.wsj.com/articles/use-mirroring-to-connect-with-others-1474394329.
Thrive After Abuse. “Red Flag of a Narcissist #4: Mirroring”. Access 13 March, 2015. https://www.thriveafterabuse.com/red-flag-4-mirroring/.
You can also check out my other articles on manipulation tactics:
A Manipulation Tactic: Gaslighting
A Manipulation Tactic: Word Salad
A Manipulation Tactic: Silent Treatment