Mirror Theory and the Wounds that Make and Break Relationships

Mirror Theory and the Wounds that Make and Break Relationships
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Have you ever wondered what’s happening when you connect with a person and then, some time later, you see aspects of their personality that you don’t like? Jacques Lacan’s mirror theory has something to say about this process.

According to Lacan, we construct our identity by reflecting it onto others. Thus, the relationships we have with others are reflections or projections of aspects of our personality that we do or don’t like.

What is mirror theory?

Just like how there are parts of our body and appearance that we don’t like when we look in the mirror, there are also aspects of our personality that we don’t want to accept. The things we hate the most in other people are actually inside us, at least in a symbolic way. To put it another way, what we dislike in others is also what we dislike about ourselves.

We are constantly projecting parts of ourselves. And since we’re not usually able to see our own shadows — or even our strengths — life gives us the gift of relationships. Relationships show us what we have inside. People act like mirrors, reflecting us and giving us a chance to see who we are.

Two tree angels connected at the heart.

Direct or inverse mirror

Mirror theory can act in a direct or inverse way. Let’s take an example. Say you can’t stand how selfish your friend is. In a direct way, you may be projecting the selfish part of you that you refuse to see. On the other hand, in an inverse way, they might be reflecting how selfless you are. Maybe you’re always caring for others and forgetting yourself. Either way it is valuable information if you want to get to know yourself and grow.

You may think that your boss is too demanding with you. But maybe you too are very demanding and perfectionist with yourself. Your boss, in this case, is just a reflection of how you are with yourself. Alternatively, you may be too lax and need a little rigor in your life. And we all know that balance is a virtue.

Emotional wounds

A bandage is not a cure. When we are wounded, we cry out in pain. Then we calm down and clean the wound and bandage it so it can heal. We don’t bandage it and forget it, because we know it won’t heal like that. Instead, we keep an eye on the wound until it finally heals.

We all have emotional wounds. Emotional wounds are all those emotions, feelings, thoughts, and ways of acting that come from painful moments in our life that we haven’t accepted yet. We’ve become prisoners of them. Our welfare depends on transforming those emotions and ways of thinking into wisdom and experience. To let them push us to become a better person.

Mirror theory pictured by a blue woman and a black bird.

What your wounds are reflecting

When we forget our wounds, they become a part of our unconscious and influence our thoughts, moods, and behavior. And then inside, they make holes in our heart. So you meet someone with the same holes, the same wounds, and you bond . The wounds are mirrored, and something good results. But you have to be careful, because wounds like this can also separate people.

If the wounds go unhealed, sooner or later they will hurt the relationship. Insecurity, fear, jealousy, possessiveness… It’s as if life were trying to send you reflections to show you how to grow. If you don’t figure them out and pay attention to what they’re telling you, you will not grow.

In fact, it will stunt your growth and weaken your relationships. So let’s keep mirror theory in mind and take advantage of the valuable information it gives us about ourselves. Let’s pay attention — and grow.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.