I recently took a couple’s workshop to learn some new skills, and to refresh the ones that I have let get rusty. Brushing up on new tools to deepen my connections and nurture my relationships is an ongoing practice for me because I know that if I don’t my well-being will suffer. My relationships are the most important aspect of my life. Without connection I become untethered, and feel lost in the world.
I specifically wanted to learn more about communication, and how to diffuse power struggles and stand offs in my relationship. I couldn’t seem to get my partner to see things from my perspective, and it always seemed like someone had to win or be right for things to get resolved.
As a therapist I consider myself to be pretty savvy when it comes to relating and communicating. I pride myself on reading, learning and practicing everything I preach, and I am relentlessly hard on myself when I “lose it” or become “triggered” by my unconscious. Choosing to attend a couple’s workshop as a participant, and not as a clinician, forced me to shed my knowledge to be open to the experiential teaching being offered.
I’m trained to listen to other people’s struggles, to interpret the underlying meaning of communication, and to reflect back my interpretation of what is being said based on my education and personal experience. I sit daily with my clients analyzing their words, actions and affect; I’m careful not to bring my own judgments or reactions into the picture.
I hadn’t realized how much my clinical training and experience effected the way I relate in my relationships until I was asked to practice a well-known couple’s therapy technique called Mirroring.
I had to let go of what I thought I knew to make space for what I could learn.
Mirroring is a form of communication that allows each partner to speak openly about any feelings while their partner actively listens without reacting. The listening partner is asked to “mirror” or reflect back what was heard…verbatim. The idea is that the speaking partner’s experience is being mirrored exactly as they see it for themselves. The listening partner’s feelings, judgments, interpretations, and reactions are completely put on hold until it’s their turn to respond.
This is extremely hard to do because the instinct is to defend, counter, argue or be right. Listening to another person’s experience, and honoring it as being completely valid and true (for them) is one of the greatest relationship gifts to be given. The only other time we have the chance to experience this kind of resonance is with a primary caregiver, and the likelihood of that for anyone is slim to none.
If you think about looking in a real mirror, you will realize that what you see being reflected back is your own interpretation and version of yourself. When you practice this technique it’s as if you are holding up a mirror for the other person. It’s not your version of their version, it’s an uncontaminated, pure and organic reflection of what they are feeling and experiencing.
It’s complete resonance with their authentic self.
Mirroring works in any situation. You can use it with your children, family, friends, and even in your job. It’s a diffuser of agitation because at the core of every human being is the deep need and desire to be heard and understood. Almost all arguing and fighting stems from the feeling of being unseen or misunderstood; when we feel like our own experience of things is being challenged or questioned our defenses get heightened and we want to “fight” to be right. When we experience someone else as valuing our feelings and beliefs of what is true, we can feel safe and calm.
Mirroring builds incredible trust, and it immediately turns the space between two people from scary to sacred.
If you set an intention to be a mirroring listener, you will see your relationships improve. Walk through the world this week as a mirror for others. Let go of your need to be right, and of what you think you know to be true. You will see how habitually you relate to others, and how quick you are to bring in your own ideas of how things “should be”.