Mirrors & Mirroring

A. Molnos

The terms "mirror" and ""mirroring" appear in several different contexts in analytic psychotherapy and sometimes with quite different meanings.

"In the development of a baby, the so-called 'mirror reactions' help in the differentiation of the self from the not-self. The reflections of the self from the outside world lead to greater self-consciousness, so that the infant Narcissus eventually learns to distinguish his own image from that of other images. The mirror reactions are, therefore, essential mechanisms in the resolution of this primary narcissism" (Foulkes, 1957 et al., 150).

In a quite different meaning Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) postulates in human development a preverbal and presymbolic "mirror stage" between the age of 6 to 18 months in which the baby triumphantly discovers his reflection as a rigid totality. This reflection forms the basis of a false ego called "I" as opposed to the true self to be discovered later.

Kohut (1977) uses the term "mirror transference" of which he distinguishes three types. Here there is no question of real mirror or physical reflections. In these transferences the developmentally arrested patient experiences the therapist as part of himself, or as like or similar to himself at least psychologically and sometimes as a look alike or if he acknowledges the differences, he expects the therapist to have no other task but to praise him, to mirror his excellent qualities and performance.

In a concrete sense mirroring occurs when the therapist inadvertently assumes the same body posture as the patient or vice-versa. In a therapy group this unconscious phenomenon affects several or all members. Mirroring in this sense is mostly a sign of empathy and bonding although it can also express shared reciprocal hostility, irritation, for instance, when the chairs are pulled back and the body language signals distancing.