Mirroring is just as the name suggests. Some of it’s synonyms include words such as reflect, match, reproduce, imitate, simulate, copy, mimic, echo, and parallel. It can suggest something as simple as a sibling prone to copy-catting, someone reproducing your newest hairstyle, or even when couples who are really in sync begin to unintentionally match their clothes.
Mirroring is something that also happens within relationships to make conversation more comfortable, to grow trust between two individuals, and create a bond. Emotionally healthy individuals tend to subconsciously mirror others that they feel drawn to. These are the healthy ways to mirror if we do so in a godly way, not succumbing to sin or encouraging, enabling, or joining someone in bad behavior. The goal in the Christian walk is to mirror Christ more and more everyday, and the way we do that is through relationship with Him. It works in our other relationships as well.
Mirroring as an Abuse Tactic
Mirroring, when twisted into an abuse tactic, is done the same way as described above, but with different intent. The goal behind this is to still grow trust, but it is done so through deception and manipulation. Abusers use mirroring as a way to make their potential victims feel safe within the relationship, not only causing them to let their guard down, but often inspiring them to turn over full trust and responsibility of their lives over.
It’s dangerous. The abuser poses as everything you’ve ever wanted and dreamed of, causing you to feel safe and more loved than you ever have before. You tell them your hearts desires, and they either say that they are there to fulfill it and/or they desire the same things for their own lives. In most cases, they never intend to fulfill those desires, at least not long-term. And, if they agree with any of the desires, they expect you to do the work to achieve them, putting you down when you fall short. They say what is needed to blind you to what is about to begin.
Mirroring – The Great Mask
Mirroring typically starts in the idealization phase as a part of or alongside grooming, continuing into gaslighting. Mirroring is often reused when needed if abusers see that any control they have over you is slipping, and the verbal, emotional or even physical attacks don’t seem to be working.
Mirroring is one of the main ways abusers become so good at blending in wherever they are. They go through their public lives under the radar, or worse yet, as such a “great person”. They are good at understanding expectations and rules, and abiding by them for as long as needed, even turning it on and off as needed. They know what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and what people want to hear. The whole point is to adapt to their surroundings, to go unnoticed, or even be praised for all that they do and who they are.
The Mask Will Fall
The problem is, it’s a mask, and masks always come off. There are people who suffer the affects of their cruelty, and the victim’s support system is being turned against them before their very eyes. The victim(s) will be told that no one will believe them if they ever speak of what happens behind closed doors because history proves that very few typically do believe them. An abused person is so beaten down (not always physically, but it’s all just as bad), that others tend to think that they are crazy. The abuser has told them for so long how crazy they are, and now that same sentiment is being validated by others on the outside. This abuse goes unnoticed by the outside world.
It is important to note that not every awesome person is an abuser in disguise, but that we need to pay attention to the warning signs. It’s hard to tell from only a couple of interactions who a person really is. The mask will slip in public if you don’t brush off the little things that maybe give you an uneasy feeling or cause you to raise an eyebrow. We need to first test the spirits, listening to the prompts the Holy Spirit gives to us about people, things, and situations.
Brushing off that “feeling” is a common problem. We often want to give people the benefit of the doubt, which can be wonderful because we are all sinners with the option to be saved by grace. The problem is, we often believe that everyone is who they say they are because we don’t want to judge or question them. But, we are told to judge the fruit in someone’s life (not without evaluating our own lives first), not condemn them or determine their salvation status, but to determine if they are who they say they are (Matthew 7) . According to Shannon Thomas in her book Healing from Hidden Abuse, “Psychologically abusive people can only maintain normalcy for short spurts of time.” We will see the fruit if we spend enough time, if we look at the complete picture, and overall if we pray for discernment and wisdom.
How to See Past the Mask
If you are now worried about the people you have let into your life because you feel like you can’t trust your judgement, don’t stress. Even though it’s often hard to tell who is in disguise and who isn’t, that doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear of who everyone else is when we are not around. As you read above, don’t ignore your gut, your intuition (both the Holy Spirit). Keep your focus on God, and He will let you know what you need to know when you need to know it.
There will be a few warning signs besides a prompt from the Spirit to let you know that things aren’t quite as they seem.
- Compatibility – Compatibility can be a great thing, but watch out for things and people that seem too good to be true. There are great people out there, but if they go out of their way to agree with you on everything, like everything you like, want everything you want, this is a red flag. Real, authentic relationships will be two people coming together however the relationship allows, differences and all. There will be things you disagree on, interests that differ, etc. No two people are going to like everything exactly the same.
- Caught Red-Handed – This is where gaslighting and mirroring often collide. You will catch them doing or saying something that goes against who they originally told you they were. When you bring it up, they will make a big deal of how they can’t believe you would think that about them, how you don’t trust them when all they have done is be trustworthy. They will tell you that you didn’t see what you saw, that you didn’t hear what you heard, that you don’t feel what you do, and they will replace reality with their own, altered version. Another possibility is that they may admit what happened is true, but they will minimize it saying that it’s not a big deal, you’re overreacting, or we are all human. Always believe actions over words. Grace is important, but keep an eye out for repeat actions, as well as how they react to anything or anyone they feel questions them.
- Friends – We need to pay attention to other people’s relationships, and also how they handle our relationships. If someone has little to no other friends, and those friends are more of acquaintances, worshipers of the abuser, or party buddies, beware. All three of these groups lacks a couple things all healthy relationships have. 1. Accountability, 2. Give and take, and 3. Intimacy. The acquaintances may think the abuser is great because they have never gone on a deeper level. They’ve only seen them with the mask on, and that person is quite pleasant and fun. The worshipers are most likely also being abused by the abuser, they just haven’t figured it out yet, and blindly follow the abuser to the end of the earth. The party buddies are just that. They drink, smoke, do drugs together, along with all of the other pitfalls of the party life. Maybe deep subjects have been touched, maybe masks have fallen off, but who can be sure? No one knows if it was the substances talking and perceiving or if they really saw what they saw. They also don’t want to be held accountable for their own actions. Party friends typically hold a “What stays in Vegas” mentality throughout their “relationship”. We also need to be aware of how the abuser interacts with our friends and family. If they don’t like any of them, or if they make you feel bad for being around them, run! They are trying to isolate you from your support system. Also, if any of your closest friends and family or more than one don’t like this person, have a bad feeling about them, voice that they are worried for you, you should listen to them, even if you feel defensive. Listen! Ignore your feelings, and hear people out. Chances are if you haven’t found these sources to be untrustworthy in this way, they are seeing more clearly than you on this.
- Family Life – We need to observe how these people treat their family members. All families have disagreements. We often get along better with some rather than others. But watch how they interact and speak to one another. If it is ugly, makes you uncomfortable, or confuses you, praise God for the early warning signs. If this is how they interact with their family, they will most likely treat you the same or worse down the road.
- Listen Closely – Listen to the things they say when they talk. How do they talk to others, including those in service industries? Who do they talk about, and what do they say about them? How do they talk about themselves? If you notice a pattern of putting others down or treating them badly, while lifting themselves up, even if subtly, this is a huge red flag. They may talk about themselves in a way that makes them sound like a martyr, they may blatantly tell you what is great about themselves. When they have a captive audience, listen to how they tear others down, making them sound stupid or awful. It could be a person standing right there, it could be a supposed loved one, it could even be you. Even if it’s a true story, that doesn’t mean that a mature, emotionally healthy person would need to tell it, especially to a crowd. Even if it’s done “just as a joke”, that person is showing some of their true colors. When an abuser feels confident enough to reveal some of their real selves, it means they are confident in not getting caught or held accountable in it. That confidence throws a lot of people off causing them not to do or say anything. Don’t freeze just because you are surprised or confused.
These are just a few of the many red flags that you should look for, and definitely don’t ignore if you see them. People will let you know who they are if you are spending the time with them.
Mirroring can be hard to spot because those who use it for evil are very cunning and deceptive. We want to see the good in everyone, but that doesn’t mean that we get to dismiss the bad when it rears it’s ugly head and surprises us.
Work on your relationship with God, so you can hear His Spirit more clearly. Listen and obey Him because He will let you know what and who to steer clear of.
- The Three Stages of Abuse
- Gaslighting – What You Need to Know About This Psychological and Emotional Abuse
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