The Magic Of Mirroring And Reflection In Relationships And In Therapy. Part 2.

imageMother and Child Smiling at Each Other. (Mary Stevenson Cassatt) Wikioo.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”

John Joseph Powell.

  • Relationships As Mirrors: How can another person function as a mirror for us?


Alessia Zolfo – Anatomy of Thought, The Lovers [2008] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Relationship is understanding. It is a process of self-revelation. Relationship is the mirror in which you discover yourself – to be is to be related.”

Bruce Lee

  • “To Be Is To Be Related…”

As we saw last week in Part 1, from our earliest years, we need care, nurture and love from others; we cannot thrive without them.

We mostly live in relationship to others and this is essential to our mental and physical well-being.

Crucially, other people will mirror and reflect who we are in terms of what they say, their behaviour and how they relate to us.

imageTwo Heads Looking at Each Other. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Wikioo.

It helps to have several people in our lives whose opinions and thoughts we respect, so that, hopefully, they can reflect us with less interference from their own problems or prejudices.

However, what we see in other’s eyes may not necessarily be the whole picture of ourselves.

It can be contaminated, clouded, or rose-coloured, according to how that person sees you and what they project onto you.

Another who can see us relatively clearly is an asset in our lives.

“The one who has a good friend doesn’t need any mirror.”


We can, therefore, in relationships, serve as mirrors for each other.

We can reflect back to the other person issues within them that we feel need to be worked on, and in turn learn what we need to attend to in ourselves.

“Through others we become ourselves.”

Lev S. Vygotsky

Relationships offer a chance for personal growth, challenging some behaviour patterns, affirming others. Our reactions to other people reveal much about ourselves.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl Jung

Jung was referring to the fact that the behaviours and feelings that trouble us most in others must be within ourselves, otherwise we would not feel so disturbed by them.

We all function as a mirror for others, and they will also give us a reflection of ourselves.

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

If, for example, we are always irritated by another’s anger, perhaps they are giving vent to something that we find difficult to express.

Alexei-Jawlensky-PortraitPortrait. Jawlensky.Wikioo.

“The feeling of being ‘offended’ is a warning indicator that is showing you where to look within yourself for unresolved issues.”

Bryant McGill

“When you see a good person, think of becoming like her/him.
When you see someone not so good, reflect on your own weak points.”


imageJawlensky. 1913 . Meditative Woman. Wikimedia Commons

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

Marcus Aurelius

  • Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is important if we are not to unconsciously project our uncomfortable feelings onto others around us, scapegoating and demonising them, instead of being able to reflect on our own shadow side. 

This prevents us from having to face our own real feelings. However, in doing this, we will miss seeing our reflection in the people around us and we will be incomplete as a result. 

“The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.”

William Makepeace Thackeray

imageThe Mirror. Shani Rhys James. Wikioo.

“The journey into self-love and self-acceptance must begin with self-examination… until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.”

 Iyanla Vanzant

image“DalH from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (unfinished), 1972-73”
Salvador Dali. Wikioo.

`’There is one art of which people should be masters – the art of reflection.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • Reflection And Mirroring In Therapy.


“The heart of the wise, like mirrors, should reflect all objects without being sullied by any.”


Reflection and mirroring play an important role in counselling and psychotherapy.

The therapist will paraphrase and summarise the patient’s words, and repeat the essence of these words back to the patient in this different form, whilst also identifying, clarifying and reflecting back the feelings behind the words.

This demonstrates that the therapist has understood and heard what the patient has said.

The therapist may also subtly mirror back the patient’s body language to show further empathy on a different level.

Part of the therapist’s task is to be sufficiently self-aware to give a reflection back to the patient as clearly as possible, unsullied by person blocks and projections.

In this way, a therapist can better help a person to appreciate their individuality and their diversity, giving them clear reflections of themselves to strengthen their personal identity.

To enable this clarity, it is essential that the therapist has had therapy herself, so she can value her own difference and strengths. 

image“And you say you are broken, but broken mirrors like you create the most beautiful patterns of light.”

 Nikita Gill.

“He who is different from me does not impoverish me – he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves – in Man… For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass.”

 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Therapist’s self-reflection is crucial here, achieved through introspection,  therapy and through regular individual and group casework supervision.

A therapist can then work though any personal blocks that might be in the way of showing empathy to all kinds of others. 

“To my mind, personal psychotherapy is, by far, the most important part of psychotherapy training.”

Irvin D. Yalom

“Let us begin by simply stating that therapists must show the way to patients by personal modeling. We must demonstrate our willingness to enter into a deep intimacy with our patient, a process that requires us to be adept at mining the best source of reliable data about our patient- our own feelings.”


For a therapist, a lack of personal integration can be a serious handicap. 

If the therapist has not risked facing her own deeper reflections, and listened to the mysterious echoes from her unconscious, there will be difficulty helping another to do this.

As a therapist, it is important to remember that you cannot accompany anyone anywhere you have not been yourself. 

“Question: What is the therapist’s most valuable instrument? Answer (and no one misses this one): the therapist’s own self.”


It is a privilege to be trusted by another on their psychological journey. However, we, as therapists, need to know our own depths before we dare to accompany someone else into theirs.

On such a difficult journey, frequently involving painful memories from long ago, we need to be helped along the way by a therapist who knows their own reflections, deep within themselves.

imageThe Mirror of Long Ago. 1946. Clarence John Laughlin. Wikioo.

  • Reflections and Projections In Couple Therapy.

In a couple relationship, we may see reflected in the other aspects of ourselves, some of which we may find attractive, others we may dislike.

Sometimes we might unconsciously project these ‘unacceptable’ feelings and behaviours onto our partner, and reject and disown them in ourselves.

The other person then unconsciously carries a ‘double dose’ of the denied aspect, theirs and ours. Thus, they may be labelled, for example, as the ‘angry’ partner, or the ‘depressed’ one.

Unless we are aware and in control of unwanted and unrecognised parts of ourselves, they will be acted out in some disguised and perhaps destructive way.

1982.124.1 004Herb Kruckman – The Couple [1938] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Couple therapy can help us ‘take back’ our projections and re-own the rejected parts of ourselves.

Such therapy may help us understand where our dislike, or fear, of these aspects originated, so that we can come to terms with them.

The concepts of psychoanalytic couple therapy are complex; for those interested, these are recommendable books explaining theory and practice:

‘Psychotherapy With Couples: Theory and Practice at the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies’ by Stanley Ruszczynski (Routledge. 2018)

‘ A Couple State of Mind: Psychoanalysis of Couples and the Tavistock Relationships Model’ (The Library of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis) by Mary Morgan. (Routledge, 2018.)


Edvard Munch. Eye in Eye. 1899—1900. Wikimedia Commons.

“There is a mirror in which you can see yourself entirely – not your face, but all that you think, all that you feel, your motives, your appetites, your urges and fears. That mirror is the mirror of relationship: the relationship between you and your parents, between you and your teachers, between you and the river, the trees, the earth, between you and your thoughts. Relationship is a mirror in which you can see yourself, not as you would wish to be, but as you are.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

  • The Mysteries And Magic Of The Mirror

Magic mirrors have long featured in stories and have been used by magicians and in funfairs.

They may distort the truth, or, as in Alice in Wonderland, secrete another world inside.

I end this post with a whimsical look, through images and quotations, at how magical mirrors can be….

imageSpencer Gore. Interior. Wikimedia Commons.

“I love mirrors. They let one pass through the surface of things.”

Claude Chabrol.

Velázquez. Las Meninas  (detail)1656–57 Wikimedia Commons.

“For I do not exist: there exist but the thousands of mirrors that reflect me. With every acquaintance I make, the population of phantoms resembling me increases.”

 Vladimir Nabokov.

imageMagic Mirror. Escher. Wikioo.

“A mirror can contain the reflection of the whole universe, a whole skyful of stars in a piece of silvered glass no thicker than a breath.”

Terry Pratchett

imageNot to Be Reproduced, 1937 by Rene Magritte. Wikimedia Commons.

“If art reflects life, it does so with special mirrors.”

Bertolt Brecht.

imagePaul Klee, Nello Specchio Magico,(In The Magic Mirror) 1934. Wikimedia Commons.

“Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures.”

George Bernard Shaw.

imageTenniel sketch from “Alice Through The Looking Glass” 1871. Wikimedia Commons.

“Oh, Kitty, how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I’m sure it’s got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It’ll be easy enough to get through.”

Lewis Carroll

Ernst Oppler. Self-Portrait and Portrait. 1928. Wikimedia Commons

“I took a breath and let it go
and suddenly the air was crisper
and my lungs lighter
and suddenly
there was him
saying my name
in different ways
and I catch myself throwing glances in the mirror,
seeing someone I don’t know
quite yet
but I can’t wait to,
and that is the start of everything.”

Charlotte Eriksson

© Linda Berman

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