Oftentimes, survivors of narcissistic abuse are misunderstood when it comes to the reasoning they were in a relationship with someone who is so abusive in the first place. People who don’t understand narcissism, hear about their malicious behavior and immediately assume they were horrifying for the entire relationship. For some victims of narcissistic abuse, this is far from the truth. The beginning of their relationship was plagued with a manipulative tactic called mirroring, which is when a narcissist mimics, shows an interest in, and emulates their victim. 

Why Do Narcissists Use Mirroring?

Mirroring is a core dynamic in the love bombing phase, which consists of an abundance of materialistic gifts, spontaneous moments, intensity, communication, and time spent together. 

Not all narcissistic relationships begin with a love bombing phase, but for those who have experienced it, they describe it as a magical, full of passion, once in a lifetime type of connection.

Narcissists use mirroring to give off the perception of being the victim’s “Mr or Mrs Perfect.” They’ll pay so much attention to what the victim is passionate about, what their insecurities and vulnerabilities are, intimate details about them along with other things that make the victim feel like the narcissist knows them better than anyone else. 

Which is why victims of narcissistic abuse are drawn into these types of relationships in the first place. 

Why victims of narcissistic abuse are drawn into abusive relationships in the first place. 

The Difference Between Healthy Mirroring And Narcissistic Mirroring

In a healthy relationship, mirroring allows the couple to see each other accurately. It allows the couple to reach a new level of intimacy because of the vulnerability it requires. Mirroring is a form of nonverbal communication that symbolizes a connection and strengthens a couple’s bonds.

Narcissistic mirroring is the exact same thing, just astonishingly one sided, superficial, and vile. During the love bombing phase, a narcissist will accumulate as much information as they possibly can about the victim, to weaponize against them in the future. 

  • The victim tells the narcissist that they’re insecure about their weight during the love bombing phase. The narcissist calls them fat in an argument five months later.
  • The victim tells the narcissist that they don’t want to be an alcoholic like their father was during the love bombing phase. The narcissist gaslights them into believing that they had too much to drink and compares them with their father in an argument 8 months later. 
  • The victim feels ashamed about being kicked out of college. The narcissist says “well at least I was intelligent enough to get a degree…” in an argument 1 year later.

Narcissists have no concept of boundaries, especially when it comes to weaponizing their victims’ insecurities and vulnerabilities against them in the future. 

What Happens When You Reject a Narcissist’s Mirroring

One of the more likely forms of mirroring that’s likely to get rejected, is emulation. For those with even the slightest amount of cynicism inside them, mirroring can feel very uncomfortable. 

When a narcissist uses emulation to mirror their victims, they may:

  • Dress the same
  • Eat the same foods
  • Take up the same activities
  • Take an interest in the same things
  • Somehow “run into” the victim at the same places 

It can feel really stalky, which is actually one of the things a victim of narcissistic abuse can expect when they escape the abusive cycle. So, when a victim of narcissistic abuse rejects the mirroring attempts, it’s very common for the narcissist to use gaslighting, guilt and shame to coerce them into accepting their behavior.

What does that look like? 

Gaslighting is the most dominant form of manipulation in the narcissistic realm. When you take a step back and look at all the different forms of manipulation narcissists use, they all have an element of gaslighting embedded within them.

Gaslighting is when someone doubts the reality and ability of another person so frequently that the victim becomes consumed with self-doubt and distrusts their own perception of reality.  

gaslighting

The combination of gaslighting, guilt, and shame to coerce a victim into the twisted dynamics of mirroring manifests in comments along the lines of the following:

  • Don’t be so sure of yourself, I come here all the time.
  • I can’t believe you’re mad at me for liking you.
  • You’re being incredibly arrogant.
  • You really are afraid of commitment, aren’t you?

Shame, guilt, and gaslighting play a massive role in the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. 

When implemented during the love bombing phase, it can be incredibly challenging for the victim of narcissistic abuse to follow their intuition instead of succumbing to the fear of losing someone who could potentially be “the one.”

What Role Does Mirroring Play In the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle?

Keep in mind that not all narcissistic relationships have the same beginning. Some individuals may experience the love bombing phase, some may Idealize the relationship, and others may experience abuse right from the very beginning.

Mirroring correlates with the abuse cycles that begin with a love bombing phase. In all honesty, narcissists are fantastic during the love bombing phase. It’s superficial, but they make the victims feel loved. 

With that being said, a narcissist’s fear of abandonment, self-loathing personalities, and crippling levels of insecurity make them incapable of the intimacy and authenticity required to uphold the love bombing face for an extended period of time. 

When the love bombing phase comes to an end, the narcissist will begin to devalue the victim with comments along the lines of the following:

  • You have no ambition 
  • You are a bad mother/father
  • You make me feel the way I do

The devaluing phase isn’t just a transformation from love by mean to devaluing. It’s also the origin of many of the commonly known narcissistic behavioral patterns. We’re talking scapegoating, breadcrumbing, projection, baiting, and much more. 

This sudden shift in behavior applies to mirroring as well. So, instead of an onslaught of questions that makes the victim feel valued, it morphs into the weaponizing of insecurities, being emotionally neglected, and devalued. 

Transition from love bombing to devaluing

The Correlation Between Mirroring And Future Faking 

Mirroring and future faking have a twisted Yin and Yang relationship. Future faking is a manipulative tactic designed to coerce, control, and distract victims of narcissistic abuse, and it requires the knowledge a narcissist gains by mirroring their victims. 

Mirroring is a very important aspect of future faking, because without it, a narcissist can’t fabricate an attractive future to control the victim.

Examples Of Future Faking

  • “I want to have kids with you. I’ve always wanted to name my son Thomas. Of course not now, but soon.”
    • For many, having children is something people desire. Building a life and family with someone is very important to many. This would be the type of thing a narcissist would learn while mirroring, and exploit in the future.
  • “ I want to take care of the family finances, you won’t have to work, and you could focus on your goals of starting that flower business!”
    • Future faking often incorporates financial abuse because we live in an era where money is power, something a narcissist desperately needs. By controlling the financial stability of their victims, narcissists are able to trap them within the relationship indefinitely.

It’s impossible to know the future, so being able to know when someone is future faking is impossible as well. But you can certainly make an educated guess. If your partner can’t do the basics, like doing what they said they would, don’t expect them to follow through on major ticket items like starting a family or being financially responsible for others.

Warning Signs Of Mirroring

Narcissists are incapable of the intimacy, vulnerability, and authenticity it takes to participate in genuine conversations. Don’t get me wrong, they can definitely create the illusion of participation, but they’ll never give genuine answers to deep questions.

Instead they’ll make the conversation all about the victim. “It’s always about me, I want to hear you talk for a change…” or they’ll be very short with their answers, which are most likely false. 

Love bombing phase

Being able to identify mirroring is very difficult because there are so many people out there who are genuine but have a hard time opening up themselves. As a rule of thumb, if your partner ever uses the vulnerabilities and insecurities they learned about you, against you, it is a major red flag for mirroring and unhealthy relationships. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists use mirroring to create a foundation for their manipulative behavior. Mirroring is a core aspect of narcissistic behavior, as it gives them the information needed for coercive control. 


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Malignant Mirroring

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