We have so much access every day to seeing other people and how they look to us. We know the facial expressions and gestures of our loved ones, colleagues and friends so well that we can imitate how they move and the way they look at us- with great accuracy in our minds. The funny thing is-  we don’t have a way of actually seeing how we look to the other, in quite the same way as we are seen!


Yes, we have mirrors, pictures and videos which capture some moments of us in real time- but we really don’t know how our face looks when we sit across from someone else and empathize with their sadness over a recent breakup or how we look when we kiss someone we love or greet our pet at the door.  This is probably why we spend a whole lot of time looking in the mirror- trying to see what others see in us… trying to get some glimpse of how we appear to others in our spontaneously lived lives.


So how can we know how we impact others or how they really see us? How do we know what we’re like and how we come across in an accurate way or a specific way?…How can we sense what it’s like to sit beside ourselves… be held by us… be loved by us.  It’s  like that Faith Hill song “I only wish that you could see … ooh the way you love me…”


Well, we can’t ever entirely see  ourselves exactly how people see us,  but we have an incredible gift – which is being on this earth surrounded by other people. (Somedays you may not feel that and you might want everyone to go away -especially if you’ve had lot of subway time in NY!)- But often –   when you really think about it, if you were here alone on earth with no other humans- it would be hard to fully have a sense of who you are.


It is largely through our interactions -or as gestalt therapy calls our “contact” with others- that we find ourselves. In the eyes of the other, in the reactions of the other to us- we learn a lot about ourselves, about our loving ways.. our less loving ways (!).. and  about how we are experienced that is, if we are paying attention.


This principle of being reflected by the other back to ourselves-  is written about in most psychological theories. It’s known as “mirroring” or attunement. It is how we come to know ourselves when we are babies. It’s the parent saying to the baby when the baby claps her hands “Yes! That makes you happy!” or their smile or welcoming gaze that says “there you are!” that the baby begins to feel “yes I AM! I exist! I elicit good feeling when you SEE me!” or even “You SEE ME!”



The adult version of finding yourself in the other-  is when you share how you feel with a close friend and they  validate your feelings just by saying “yes- that feels sad for you.” . So in life..a large part of how we know we exist or or sense and feel ourselves is through relationship. ( Of course there is a distinction between learning about ourselves from our relationships vs. exclusively looking to our relationships for validation. Topic for another blog..)


A beautiful example of how our relationships reflect us is exemplified in the movie Buck- which if you haven’t seen – I highly recommend. It’s about a horse trainer (horse whisperer) with incredible empathy and intuition for horses and their experiences. Having grown up in an abusive home- “Buck” has a heightened sensitivity for the experiences of struggle, vulnerability and trust-  which he brings to his understanding of horses who pose behavior challenges to their owners. He teaches other trainers that how they interact with and approach their horses (eg gently rather than violently) will be reflected in how their horse responds to them. 


In a funny, revealing moment Buck says to the other horse trainers..  “how would YOU feel if someone tossed a piece of leather on your back that smelled like some other animal and then climbed on top of you suddenly while smelling like a cheese burger?!” Horses know- they feel us, they feel our energy- and how we approach them affects how they respond to us.




This mirroring- can feel difficult at times – when it makes us have to look at choices we’ve made that we’re not so happy with – but it’s also a huge benefit in helping us grow into who we want to be.


I noticed this the other day while walking down the street. I smiled at two pple as I was walking  – a mailman and a mother.  I was in a hurry and so my smile was kind of quick, unclear lame half-smile- one that could just seem a polite acknowledgement of the other person. At first, I wondered why I didn’t get back much of a smile.. why did I get a lame smile back?!  Then I realized-  I got back the smile I put out…Hmm… as a life metaphor- what if I bring more life into my smile/ open more deeply to another… then what will return to me….?!


Taking this to a deeper level – often when I work with parents and children- the same process goes on. Children mirror what they see in the world around them. We know this- but how deeply do we consider this? If a mom is constantly distracted because she’s checking facebook and email on her iphone- and not present- is it really so surprising that her child has difficulty playing by himself and is constantly clamoring for her attention?  If a parent can’t sustain their attention with their child to some degree because of their own restlessness – why are we so surprised when their child has the same difficulty?


If you’ve ever been in a relationship and your partner says “you know.. you have a way of doing that that really drives me crazy “ and suddenly you realize “this is sounding familiar, I keep hearing this from my partners..…” – there’s your mirror.


How we eat.. how we treat our money.. how we talk to our friends, how we interact with the pigeons on the sidewalk (or let our children interact with them).. reflects us. There are mirrors everywhere! If we are quiet enough to tune in- these mirrors can teach us about our own patterns and how we relate to our world.


If we really sense this-and it takes careful and subtle awareness- we can realize how much of an impact we really can and do have on others in a profoundly inspiring way. We can use this to see and feel our impact, to heal our relationships and ourselves, make changes we want to see, take more risks… and feel empowered.


A reflection for this week: consider how much you do matter to others (since you are THEIR mirror) and how much the people in your life can teach you about yourself in every moment. How much will you allow them to matter to you in a heartful way? How much do you let yourself see and learn about yourself and the other in your moments of contact with each other?. We are teachers to one another all the time. And we can learn from everything if we are quiet enough to listen.