Mirroring, in it’s truest sense, is mimicking another person’s behaviour in order to build a connection.
It can be done subconsciously, or consciously. You may find yourself mirroring the movements of someone you are talking to, or you may mirror an interviewer’s body language in order to make a connection. It can be as simple as smiling when someone else smiles, or frowning when they do. It builds an emotional connection between two people.
Someone may be subconsciously influenced by your mirroring, and will be more inclined to like you or may like you better without realising why.
However, mirroring has deeper roots in the world of Borderline Personality Disorder. The person with BPD may adopt a chameleon effect, and many people with partners with BPD have found that initially their relationships began because of an intense connection. It is intoxicating to find someone who thinks, acts, and has the same interests and morals as you do; but the individual with BPD may have simply adopted the same ideals and ways as you because they think that is what you will like.
It’s a very complicated notion, the person with BPD will have an exaggerated form of mirroring from childhood. If a child does not have a healthy self-esteem, or feel loved by its parents for themselves, apart from accomplishments, they will develop what object relations theorists call the “false self,” – the self that is fabricated in order to get the approval of his parents, based on the ability to achieve good grades, a good job, a good mate, etc.
This false-self is often carried with them in to adulthood, and they may feel that they have to mould themselves into what they believe other people want them to be. In a pure sense, it is adaptability at it’s finest. However, in terms of a relationship with someone with BPD, it is often joined with idolising and devaluation of their partner.
Once the partner has exhibited a behaviour or action that the person with BPD views to be ‘bad’ (as will happen, we are only human) their whole sense of identity is stripped away from them. For them, their partner is their life-line and the only thing keeping them going.
They try to think and act and speak in a way that they think their partner will like by mirroring them, and once a ‘bad’ thing happens, they may feel intense distrust and hatred. They may feel that they have given everything, and changed everything about themselves (despite not being asked to) to please this other person.
I know that in my previous relationships I dedicated myself to being what I thought my partner wanted. I changed my clothes, my hair, my ideas and interests just to suit my partner. A defining factor of BPD is that we are plagued with no sense of self.
In between partners I would find myself completely lost and out of my depth. I did not know who I was until I had attached to someone else. My life had no purpose until I could fill it with someone who loved and cared for me.
When I was with partners, I struggled to understand them. I think I can speak for a lot of people with BPD when I say that we simply just don’t understand other people. We don’t understand their actions, or their motives or just plain anything.
I lost count of the amount of times I asked my partners, “How do you want me to act?” or “What do you want me to say?” or “I don’t understand what you want?” I believe I frustrated them no-end, because they would respond with, “It’s not about what I want!” or “I want you to tell me what you’re feeling!” I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t understand what they wanted from me or what to say until they had said it and I could repeat it back.