Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)
How And Why We Mirror In Relationships
When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of you as fate. -Carl Jung
As a follow up to my article Mirroring in Relationships: Making the Invisible Visible, I want to more specifically define what it means to be a mirror in a relationship for an INFJ. Many intuitive and highly sensitive types can undoubtedly relate to the mirror analogy, but the tendencies of an INFJ make it so understanding the reasons, reactions, repercussions, and remedies for mirroring just might make the difference between a harmonious or miserable romantic experience.
What is Mirroring in a Relationship
The term mirroring has a couple different meanings. It can simply mean mimicking someone’s actions back to them, in a sense copying their behaviors and actions. It can also be a more complex act like trying to align yourself with a person’s interests, communication style, or personality preferences. People often mirror one another early in a relationship to establish commonalities and build connections with a potential partner. Mirroring can be positive. It can let romantic partners know that the other person is paying attention and interested, and it can create a sense of familiarity and comfort that in turn fosters a willingness to open up. The problem, however, occurs when the person mirroring loses his or her sense of identity in the process, or the person being mirrored can no longer see who is behind the mirror. INFJs make excellent mirrors, but they need to consciously work at remaining reflective- otherwise they run the risk of feeling like fragmented shards of glass.
How Do INFJs Become Mirrors
For anyone not familiar with the term INFJ, it is an initialism used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of the sixteen personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine Myers, from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl Jung. The individual letters stand for various functions of personality. INFJ, for example, indicates the following personality functions: Introversion (I), Intuition (N), Feeling (F), Judgment (J). INFJs make up Only about 1-3% of the population, so they are quite rare. These individuals are intuitive, and they seem to have a way of seeing through people. They are skilled at recognizing what others are trying to keep beneath the surface, and due to their wise, gentle nature, INFJs live to help others reach their full potential and better themselves. As I explain in I Will Rain On Your Parade, the INFJ is often misunderstood and seen as being too intense in the continual pursuit of improvement at all costs. Overall, however, this personality type is accepting and understanding, and they have a unique talent for making people feel at ease. This in turn results in situations where people are willing to tell an INFJ their deepest and darkest secrets, and these conversations often start the mirroring process for the INFJ. Here are some of the reasons that INFJs so often become mirrors in relationships:
- INFJs observe first and talk later. Since this personality type loves to listen, people find themselves talking more to an INFJ than perhaps to other people they know. As a person talks to the INFJ, it is almost like talking to a therapist. I’m sure many INFJs are familiar with the phrase, “I didn’t realize this about myself until I said it to you just now.” People typically like conversing with INFJs, because they may feel like it’s the first time anyone has every really taken the time to listen to them. Being in a relationship with an INFJ is a process of self-discovery through deep conversation. The INFJ, however, doesn’t remain silent forever. Early listening is like research. The INFJ is gathering information about this person, and when the information gets processed, the INFJ often has practical and useful advice to offer. Some people, however, don’t necessarily want advice. There are many people that would prefer the INFJ to remain the silent listener, so when the INFJ remembers and uses information in past conversations to help guide the future, this is not always well received.
- INFJs often feel other people’s pain more profoundly than their own. If INFJs aren’t careful, they can easily focus more on their partner than themselves. A lot of INFJs are comfortable listening to other people’s problems, because it is in their nature to genuinely want to help. They don’t, however, open up very easily themselves, and you will rarely hear an INFJ going on and on about personal issues. It isn’t that this personality type doesn’t like talking through things with another person. It is just that they are so intuitive that they know when something is bothering someone. Most INFJs will feel like their own issues aren’t that big of a deal. This can backfire on the INFJ, because it forces most of the relationship talk to be about the other person. Over time, it can make the INFJ feel invisible
and their partner might feel like he or she knows nothing about the person that’s been quietly listening for so long. It’s not unusual for an INFJ to come out of a relationship wondering where he or she has been for the past several months or years. Standing too long behind the mirror will make one’s sense of identity vanish over time.
- INFJs have a deep need for harmony. INFJs value peace and balance, and they will tell you that this is achieved only through continual growth and self-reflection. They are not afraid of enduring pain in the process of growing, as a matter of fact, they kind of expect it. This personality type has a wonderful ability to see the big picture, and they view a lot of the everyday problems people get worked up about as no big deal. That being said, they still compassionately help their loved ones through even the littlest of issues. INFJs want their partner to be happy, and they know that their partner needs to find harmony in the day to day in order to do so. To make this happen, the INFJ might take on roles like personal assistant, trainer, therapist, doctor, or life-coach. It becomes an intense relationship where the partner is ever immersed in self-work and reflection. The INFJ sees this as a good thing, which will bring his or her partner harmony in the end, but sometimes this all becomes too intense for the person involved in the self-work. Other personality types cannot necessarily endure the same level of intensity as an INFJ 24 hours a day, so there may be times when the partner feels like the INFJ is too serious, too harsh, too demanding, or just plain not satisfied in the relationship. The reality, however, is that the INFJ is just trying to ensure ultimate happiness and harmony for both partners.
- INFJs process out loud sometimes. Processing time is important for this personality type. While listening to someone, an INFJ might be inclined to say out loud what is being observed or repeat back what a partner says as clarification. It is like the INFJ is talking to him or herself in order to fully grasp what is being observed or heard. This may, at times, feel odd to a partner like they are always being watched, or that the INFJ is describing the behavior out loud as a form of judgement. The INFJ is rarely apply a judgement or trying to criticize the partner in these moments of processing. It is just how the INFJ is trying to make sense of the input, but it can make the partner definitely feel like everything said and done in the relationship is subject to the reflection of the mirror.
- INFJs do not accept anything other than absolute truth. There is no such thing as fooling an INFJ with smoke and mirrors. This personality trait is not easily deceived. Even if a partner wants to ignore something troubling, the INFJ will see beneath the surface and want to expose the truth. Actually, the more a partner doesn’t want to address something the more the INFJ feels the matter needs to be tended to, the more the INFJ will want to force a partner to take a long, hard look into the mirror. This isn’t the INFJ trying to be pushy. This is more likely the INFJ worrying that his or her partner is losing ground in the battle of ultimate self discovery. INFJs aren’t big on distractions or putting problems aside. They would much rather deal with the issue, so they can experience harmony as soon as possible. It is challenging for INFJs to recognize when it might be a good idea to put down the mirror in order to let their partner take a break or recharge.
Signs That People Are Viewing You As A Mirror
Reasons for mirroring in a relationship might stem from a good place, but if the INFJ isn’t working overtime to remain self aware, trouble can arise fairly quickly. Many INFJs feel like people always like them in the beginning of relationships, but they lose their enthusiasm for them in the end. Perhaps their partners feel like the INFJ is too intense to be around all the time. It takes a while for this personality type to open up if they’ve been hurt in the past, and sometimes by the time the INFJ realizes that there has been a loss of identity as a result of extensive mirroring, both partners are frustrated, confused, and believing the relationship is too far gone to ever recover. Relationships are not easy for INFJs, and the tragedy is that this personality type is more loyal, lovable, passionate, determined, and strong than anyone could ever desire. Having an INFJ as a partner can be pretty magical, but too often this personality type doesn’t practice enough self love to maintain the appropriate balance of give and take in a relationship to make the partner feel like an equal. The partner may feel loved, but they also can get overwhelmed with the whole process of mirroring. Many INFJs report partners suddenly needing out of the relationship at a point when they thought things were going quite well. This is why it is essential for INFJs to recognize when they are mirroring too much for their partner. Here are some common signs that mirroring is beginning to take its toll on the relationship:
- Partner doesn’t want to be looked at. If you used to stare lovingly for hours into each others eyes, and now every time you even glance at your partner you are asked, “Why are you looking at me?” this might be a sign you are mirroring. More likely than not, partners feel guilty or overwhelmed from constantly viewing themselves so clearly through the INFJ’s observations and reflections. Even if an INFJ is not openly criticizing or judging them, they feel uncomfortable confronting something they have kept beneath the surface so long.
- Partner communicates inability to think clearly in INFJs presence. Because partners of INFJs are still trying to have a relationship with an INFJ while the INFJ is mirroring, they rightfully get confused when they feel like every conversation somehow goes back to what is going on with them. They may be trying to connect with the person behind the mirror, but all they can see are constant reminders of themselves.
- Partner repeatedly reacts to INFJ in a way that does not match how the INFJ is feeling. People react strongly to what they do not like about themselves, or when they feel like they are being criticized. It may seem like partners are having a lot of emotional ups and downs when the INFJ is mirroring. Maybe they are fine one minute, and then the next minute something seemingly small sends them spiraling. A simple question like asking “what do you want to do tonight?” could turn into an argument about the INFJ never being satisfied and bored.
- Partner tells the INFJ that it is impossible to make the INFJ happy. Serious self reflection is not easy. When partners are able to see all of themselves through the INFJ, they don’t always like the reality of what they see. They might initially feel like the INFJ is just picking apart all their flaws, but over time partners cannot help but see the truth. While the INFJ may be perfectly content in the relationship, the partner may not be able to believe it during the mirroring process. If they are only seeing their flaws, then they can’t understand how they can ever make someone happy.
- Partner appears frustrated and pressures the INFJ to speak his or her mind. This happens when INFJs become overly focused on their partner’s needs and neglect their own. When INFJs hear this, it is time to make sure they have not lost touch with themselves in the mirroring process. This is said when partners feel like they have no idea what the INFJ is looking for in the relationship or needs. This should be interpreted as a sign of love from a partner, as it is an expression of wanting to know and honor the INFJ’s needs as well as their own.
- Partner tells INFJ that he or she may be happier with someone else. When INFJs continue to mirror, without taking the proper steps to ground themselves and establish clear boundaries with their partners, people often feel a great need to escape. It could be that they need to just break free from the constant reflection of the INFJ, but it could also be that they need to just break free from themselves. They may feel not good enough for the INFJ, or they could just feel like the INFJ can never be pleased.
- INFJ begins to feel confused, unappreciated, desperate, and lonely. In the final stages of mirroring, partners try and break free from the constant mirroring. They may become angry, frustrated, or confused with the INFJ, and they may even lash out at the INFJ. All of this typically blindsides INFJs, and it is difficult for them to understand how their partner could be so upset with them. This is the point where a lot of relationships end for INFJs. There is a sudden moment where both the partner and the INFJ wake up so to speak and wonder how they even got to this point. The partner definitely feels like something needs to change. It could be that they need to just break free from the constant reflection of the INFJ, but it could also be that they need to just break free from themselves. They may feel not good enough for the INFJ, or they could just feel like the INFJ can never be pleased. Regardless of the reason, the INFJ gets that all too familiar feeling of being alone and misunderstood.
Ways to Reflect & Retain A Sense of Self
Learning to recognize and manage the mirroring aspect of the INFJ personality, as well as understanding how it impacts loved ones, is an important relationship skill for INFJs to master. INFJs don’t need to deny who they are, but it is important for them to look at themselves from a different perspective. INFJs are really good with figuring out what is going on with other people a lot more than they are about figuring out what is going on with themselves. These mirroring skills can be quite useful, and there are times when it can help others. It is just a matter of staying grounded and remembering not to lose sight of one’s self. Here are a few items for an INFJ to keep in mind when it comes to their relationships:
- Make sure your partner wants help before you help, and if he or she does, then set clear boundaries. Just because you can see what’s beneath the surface, that doesn’t necessarily mean your partner wants you to grab a shovel and start digging it all out. With loved ones in particular, it makes a lot of sense to set boundaries. Have a limit to the “therapy” sessions. Talk about subtle ways your partner can let you know when they need some time or space.
- Hold partner accountable for his or her own feelings, and make sure you clearly know how you feel separate from your partner. If you notice a partner projecting his or her feelings onto you, or you don’t feel like your partner has an accurate understanding of how you feel, speak up. Have this conversation when you both feel more at ease, and approach it in a loving manner. Also regularly check yourself for a clear understanding of your own feelings. It isn’t uncommon for an INFJ to absorb the feelings and emotions of loved ones. It is just as easy for the INFJ to get confused about individual needs when mirroring becomes excessive in the relationship.
- Take breaks. Remember to take time off from the deep analysis every once in a while for a little fun. Do things together that are lighthearted, and don’t forget to participate in activities independent of one another. It is also necessary to take breaks from each other. Stepping away from a misunderstanding to regain focus is often helpful. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the relationship to pause every now and again. It is just something that you may need to do in order to remain happy.
- Respect your partner’s processing style. We all have communication style preferences. Even if you are ready to talk about something, that doesn’t mean your partner feels the same. Make sure to discuss communication preferences before you are in the heat of a heavy conversation. If processing styles are extremely different, discuss healthy compromises you both would be willing to make in order to ensure the lines of communication stay open.
- Remember it is not your responsibility to heal the world. Someone else’s self work is not your self work. INFJs will take it too far, neglecting their own interests, in the name of “helping” someone else. A loving partner, does not like seeing you exhausted or frustrated. They don’t want you getting so worked up about their issues. If they are struggling, this can sometimes make it worse. They also don’t want you taking away their control over their own situation. Offer a helping hand when asked, but respect when your partner firmly tells you that they don’t want you to get involved.
- Step out from behind the mirror so that others can really see you. This is probably the most important action an INFJ can take. More likely than not, your partner fell in love with you not your mirroring abilities. A suitable partner will appreciate your intuitive capabilities, but they will also recognize the need for you to allow yourself to shine and be nurtured as well. A loving partner wants you to be as happy as you want them to be, and if you are always hiding behind a mirror, they will never be able to see you and understand you in the way you deserve.
Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts. Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.