When we were raising our kids, I was one protective mama bear. If my husband got angry with the kids and tried to discipline them, I would get angry with him and become distant and cold (my anger would mirror his).
Because (of course) I believed my style of raising kids was best.
One of the students in my communication course recently asked the question, “What is the difference between being empathetic, and mirroring someone else’s emotions?”
So let me see if I can explain it in a way that is easy to understand.
One of our amazing gifts as humans is the ability to read other people’s emotions. We can sense when they are happy, sad, angry, -we know when something is wrong.
It’s one of our super powers.
Typically, most people want to be kind and supportive of their friends and family members, and to be there for them when they struggle.
We even have the direction in the scriptures to, “Mourn with those who mourn.”
This act of helping another person to bear their grief, can create a bond or connection between us. It strengthens our relationships.
The result of offering this type of emotional support is positive.
It enriches our lives. It doesn’t harm us to give in this way, rather it elevates us as we help the other person to think thoughts that make them feel loved and supported.
This kind of support is born from love.
When we talk about the negative behavior of mirroring emotion, we are referring to the times when we are allowing the mood of another person to affect our own mood, by adopting the emotion that we are feeling critical of.
For instance, let’s say my friend calls me and is very angry because a political party she disagrees with, has done something she doesn’t like. If I were listening to her and I disagreed with her,, and it made me mad, -then I am mirroring her emotion of anger.
I am allowing her to affect my feelings in a negative way that produces a negative result for me.
I’ll share another example. Let’s say one of our children was feeling depressed for a long time over a breakup with their boyfriend / girlfriend, And then I became sad because they were sad, and then we were both depressed. That is mirroring emotion in an unhealthy manner.
Having compassion for their sadness is one thing, but jumping in and swimming with them in their pool of misery, leaves no one on shore to help them climb out. I would be living at the effect of their emotions, rather than regulating my own.
This type of “support” breeds resentment.
Somehow many of us have gotten the message that in order to be a couple, we must experience all things together, but this just isn’t a healthy concept.
We are separate people. We have our own brains and emotions.
The best support we can offer is to recognize our partner’s independence, and respect their right to choose how they want to experience life.
AND do the same for ourselves.
This power to choose is a gift and blesses both of us because we take responsibility for ourselves, and stop blaming our partners.
This is the key to dropping resentment. It allows for more love between us when we’re not blaming our partner for our lousy mood!
I hope this helps to clarify. If you have any further questions, just drop me a line!
And if you find this material helpful, please share it with a friend!