The Positive Power Of Mirroring And Reflection To Help You Gain A Sense Of Self. Part 1. By Dr Linda Berman.

  • Mirroring And The Self.

5395301790_cf71e687eb_oJacques Emile Blanche – Fillette (Lucie Esnault au Pysche). Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“To live without mirrors is to live without the self.”

Margaret Atwood.

A mirror is not merely an inanimate looking glass on the wall. A mirror may have many forms.

imageMirror Women – Mirror Heads, 1982. Salvador Dali. Wikimedia Commons.

“All sorts of things in this world behave like mirrors.”

Jacques Lacan.

From our earliest days on earth, we have looked for and responded to mirroring. In order to develop and maintain our identity, we have a need to see ourselves, reflected in others, and in the world.

“The mirror is a worthless invention. The only way to truly see yourself is in the reflection of someone else’s eyes.”


imageMary Cassatt. Mother And Daughter. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“The precursor of the mirror is the mother’s face.”

Donald Woods Winnicott

Ways of thinking about ourselves develop from early experience with our primary caregivers. It must be emphasised here that parenting is certainly not gender exclusive.

The quotations above and below mention only the mother’s face and her gaze; the paediatrician and  psychoanalyst Winnicott was reflecting the time and culture in which he lived, practising from the 1920’s onwards.

Whatever the gender of the parent, their responsiveness to the child, the way in which the child’s image is mirrored and reflected in the parent’s eyes, crucially influence the child’s self image.

A significant other who is not empathic, who cannot attune to the child’s needs, will not be able to help that child develop a sense of self that is cohesive and sustaining.

The way the parent thinks about the child will form and affect the manner in which the child thinks about herself:

‘The mother gazes at the baby in her arms, and the baby gazes at his mother’s face and finds himself therein… provided that the mother is really looking at the unique, small, helpless being and not projecting her own expectations, fears, and plans for the child. In that case, the child would find not himself in his mother’s face, but rather the mother’s own projections. This child would remain without a mirror, and for the rest of his life would be seeking this mirror in vain.’

D.W. Winnicott

imageFather And Son. Scott Wayne. Pixabay.

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan regarded ‘the mirror stage’ of child development as occurring between 6-18 months. When the infant sees her reflection in the mirror, she needs the adult to confirm that it is indeed her image.

Most adults will naturally say “Yes that’s you! That’s …(child’s name)” as if they know instinctively that the child needs this critically important affirmation and reflection of her identity. Lacan felt this was a very significant developmental stage.


“Baby kissing mirror image.”Uploaded to Flickr on July 29, 2005 by roseoftimothywoods

In adulthood, our self-image will have been influenced by our early years and also by other life experiences. However, often we do not really know ourselves, or recognise the influences and patterns of behaviour that have made us who we are.

In this case, we tend to unconsciously reproduce the past in the present. If we are to avoid this, self-awareness is crucial.

 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana


Etching- “Night Shadows” by Edward Hopper, on p. 23 of October 1922 Shadowland. Edward Hopper. Wikimedia Commons.

“We walk unknowing amid the shadows of our past and,  forgetting our history, are ignorant of ourselves.”

Salman Rushdie

“To be ourselves we must have ourselves – possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must “recollect” ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.”

Oliver Sacks

imageReflection in the mirror by G. Soroka (c.1850, Russian Museum)Wikimedia Commons

“Looking in the mirror, staring back at me isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament.”

Colin Firth

Working on yourself, exploring your self-image and how you see yourself, will inevitably alter your ‘reflection’ in other people’s eyes, as well as your own.

“Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.”

Ernest Holmes

The ways of thinking you have developed about yourself will need to be explored, and difficulties with self-image overcome, perhaps with the help of a therapist.

“A mirror is not a reflection of who you are. It is the reflection of how you see yourself.”


“Being angry at the mirror won’t change what it is reflecting. If you want to SEE something different, BE something different.”

Steve Maraboli

  • Animals As Mirrors.

Boy and Wolf. 1891.Johan Tirén. Wikimedia Commons.

“The Native Americans know that wolves are mirrors for humans. What they show us are our strengths and weaknesses… When I lived with the wolves, I was proud of the reflection of myself. But when I came back, I always paled in comparison.”

Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf.

Animals can be a kind of mirror for us too; when a human stares at a loved dog, both benefit.

The same hormone that is detected in parent and baby when they gaze into each other’s eyes can be also detected in dogs and their humans doing the same.


“Research published in the journal Science in 2015 reported that simply gazing into each other’s eyes causes a tremendous spike in oxytocin levels in both dogs and dog guardians.

Of the duos that had spent the greatest amount of time looking into each other’s eyes, both male and female dogs experienced a 130 percent rise in oxytocin levels, and both male and female owners a 300 percent increase.”

The Wet Nose Blog.

  • Books As Mirrors.


“Reading” by Nakamura Daizaburo (1898-1947) Flickr.

“Books are the mirrors of the soul.”

Virginia Woolf.

Within a book, we often find aspects of ourselves. We are part of a whole human race, and it is inevitable that we will find our own reflection in the pages of many books.

These reflections are from the mirrors that a book provides, mirrors that verify how much we are connected to each other.

They confirm and reassure; even if we are alone, they show us that we belong to the world.

“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
Rudine Sims Bishop

We need to see ourselves in books. They take our life experiences and mirror them back to us, processed, modified, perhaps, in some instances, justified.

This can feel supportive and affirming of who we are.

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

Ursula K. LeGuin

imagePierre-Auguste Renoir: Girl Reading. Date circa 1890. Wikimedia Commons.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Alan Bennett

To be continued……

How do relationships help us with self-reflection? What role does reflection have in Therapy?

These and other points will be explored in next Tuesday’s post, published on

© Linda Berman


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