“He’s doing it again,” I vent in a text to my friend. “Why is he like this?!”
I’m at a meeting with my ex, Micah. That’s already stressful enough, but he’s making it worse by copying all my actions. It creeps me out, and I want him to stop.
I get up from the table and grab a pamphlet from the lobby. Micah follows me and grabs the exact same pamphlet even though dozens of others are available.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence. I put my pamphlet back and grab a different one. Micah does the same.
Okay, this is definitely weird, but I’m used to it. Micah always does this whole copy-whatever-Missy-does thing when we’re in public. I should just let it go, but it bothers me because I start questioning myself and trying to defend him.
Like now, for example. Perhaps I’m overreacting and Micah just likes the same pamphlets I like. I decide to let the situation go and head to the receptionist’s desk to chat. While we’re catching up on current events, I absentmindedly grab one of her business cards from the counter.
Micah grabs one too. Ugh, where did he even come from? He’s always lurking behind me somewhere. Our odd game of monkey-see, monkey-do continues until the meeting ends.
Actually, that’s a lie. Micah follows me to the parking lot and continues to copy everything I do until I head home. I’m forced to leave first, as always, because Micah won’t pull out of the parking lot until I do. I test this theory by spending 10 minutes applying Burt’s Bees, eating a snack, and calling a friend. Micah finally drives away when I’m done, following me until I lose him on the highway.
I later learn Micah’s behavior is a form of narcissistic mirroring.
When people hear the term narcissistic mirroring, they often think of a partner who tells you everything you want to hear. It’s true some narcissists act like your dream partner by mimicking your interests and feelings, but sometimes mirroring is more subtle. Mirroring can also continue long after the relationship ends if you’re stuck working or coparenting with a narcissist.
Regardless of the situation, narcissistic mirroring is basically what it sounds like. The narc in your life watches you closely, then mirrors you by doing whatever you do. You may notice you like the same foods, have the same goals, or behave the same way at events.
But what do narcissists get out of mirroring, and why do they do it? Every narc is different, but here are 5 common reasons for narcissistic mirroring:
1) Narcissists don’t have a stable identity
Imagine waking up every day with no clue who you are or what you want from life. It’s normal to question your purpose or identity at times, but narcs do it constantly. Some narcissists hate themselves deep down, while others just can’t grasp the concept of authenticity or self development.
Regardless of which trait describes the narcs you know, you can assume these individuals don’t plan on digging too deep for answers. Narcissists generally don’t focus on cultivating their own personalities. They just steal other people’s traits and hope nobody notices.
2) Narcissists want you to like them
People often joke that opposites attract, but research shows many people actually prefer like-minded folks. Narcissists understand this, so they adopt whatever personality will impress you. Unfortunately, it’s typically your own.
You may think you’ve found your soulmate, twin flame, or BFF when you first interact with a narc. You have so much in common, from favorite TV shows to life goals. It’s easy to keep the conversation flowing because you completely understand each other — at least it seems that way. If you’re dating, this type of mirroring often occurs during the love bombing phase.
3) Narcissists want to establish trust
As the law of attraction states, like attracts like. Many people are more likely to trust someone with personality traits or interests that mimic their own. This is true with positive traits as well as weaknesses.
A research study by Lisa DeBruine indicates that physical similarities also increase trust. Using a digital program, DeBruine morphed a stranger’s facial features a little at a time until they resembled a study participant’s face. DeBruine discovered that participants felt digital images with similar facial features were more trustworthy than other people.
Seasoned narcissists understand that shared traits build trust, which is why they imitate what you do. You may even notice your narc dresses just like you, wears similar makeup, or dyes their hair the same color. Some people find these behaviors flattering at first, but you should consider them red flags.
4) Narcissists like the illusion of intimacy
As we discussed earlier, people often gravitate toward individuals with similar traits. You may consider someone trustworthy if they look or act just like you. As you get to know someone you trust, you may let down your guard and reveal personal tidbits. Narcissists are counting on this, which is why they create an illusion of intimacy as quickly as possible.
Your narc may say they’ve never felt this way about anyone else. You’re the love of their life, the coolest friend, or the best coworker they’ve ever had. They adore everything about you and want to know every detail about your life, from your biggest fears to your greatest regrets. This information will come in handy later during the devaluation phase, where you’re left wondering what went wrong.
5) Narcissists want to manipulate you
You may have heard the cliche about how knowledge is power. This phrase definitely rings true for narcissists, as it’s easier to manipulate someone when you know how their mind works. Narcs build trust by mirroring your actions, then slowly break you down using information they’ve gathered.
There are different forms of narcissistic manipulation, with some more subtle than others. Gaslighting is a common form of manipulation, but it’s difficult to identify. Your narc may say or do something, then immediately deny it.
The tricky thing about gaslighting is that it doesn’t always involve something major, like cheating or stealing. The narcissist in your life may make up little lies and then say they’re worried about your mental health when you debate them. Over time, you may doubt your sanity when a gaslighter insists you had pizza instead of spaghetti for dinner — even if you ordered the pizza yourself.
Narcissists also manipulate you by exploiting your fears and driving your loved ones away. A narc may insist you’re too good for your current job or say your friends don’t truly appreciate you. This may seem believable if people in your life dislike the narcissist, especially if the narc acts just like you. Eventually, you may find yourself dodging your family’s calls or avoiding people you once trusted.
It’s okay to have things in common with friends or family members, but you shouldn’t be clones of each other. Watch out for people who mirror your actions regularly, especially if the relationship seems flawless. You might be dealing with a narcissist.