We all hold up mirrors for each other, and use other people as mirrors. Often it’s not conscious, and often we have no idea whether the reflections we see are clear and true, or alarmingly distorted. Here are the methods I’ve been able to identify, there are probably others.
We project, and then see in the other person things we don’t like about ourselves. We don’t know that we’ve made the other person into our mirror, so we may well try to punish them for how uncomfortable the likeness makes us feel.
We assume that everyone is just like us and would naturally mirror our feelings and thought processes. When they fail to be this kind of mirror, we can get confused, upset and even angry.
We see things that, when other people do them, look terrible, tragic or otherwise uncomfortable. We may not be able to see it that way when we do all the same things to ourselves, but if we can recognise the mirroring in this situation, both parties can help and heal each other.
We can hold up mirrors made of compliments, encouragement, love and support so that the person we are showing the reflection to sees themselves in the best possible way. This can help them have faith in themselves to be that person, and more.
We see the worst in what a person does – all the flaws and inadequacies, all the scope for ghastly motives, and we reflect that back to them. We show them the worst of themselves, and undermine their sense of self with it, or make them angry and defensive. In reflecting and expecting the worst, we can push a person towards being and doing the worst that they can.
We can have beliefs about what it means to be the other sort of person – as Pagans we can still be hit with crazy ideas about what Paganism means. It can be disconcerting to be reflected back as the other person’s prejudices and unfounded assumptions. (Examples – you are not thin and therefore you are lazy. You are poor and therefore talentless. You are lgbt and therefore predatory etc).
If we’re really paying attention we can hold up mirrors that simply reflect back something true about how the other person is, but this is the least likely outcome, I suspect.
We won’t always be conscious of what we’re doing, but the more alert we can be to the idea of playing with reflections rather than reality, the more scope for spotting it we get, and in turn that means not having it take over.