More and more people are coming to recognize that we are all interconnected and interdependent - we only exits as isolated individuals in our own consciousness. This is maybe a bigger issues for men than for women, since we are taught to be "rugged individuals," while women tend to be taught to value close friendships. I know many women who feel isolated, too, so maybe the issue just looks different for each of us.
Either way, men tend to have fewer friends and to only confide "vulnerable" parts of themselves to their female partners (Wexler, 1999). This is problematic in many ways - most of all, it leaves us without other men with whom we can have our experience mirrored.
In Self Psychology, mirroring is an essential need for all children - the mother reflects and validates the child's own experience, which serves to help the child self-regulate as well as to build what eventually becomes an ego self. As we develop, it becomes an avenue of self esteem and a normal part of human communication. If you frown while telling me about your boss acting crazy, I frown in response to demonstrate my sympathy or empathy for your experience.
According to Wexler, men who have not received adequate mirroring in our childhoods (and that's a lot of us), look for it in our relationships, not in our male friends. In essence, men are looking to the woman in their lives for validation as a man and as a human being - this is a bad situation for everyone:
Thus, the adult man who has been deprived of these essential mirroring functions turns, unconsciously, to his closest adult relationships and activities to help him acquire what was never soundly established long ago. He enters a love relationship with defenses erected against too much intimacy, for fear of being hurt and missing attunement once again. The needs resurface, inevitably, as the emotional connection develops. He hopes, he prays, that the good feelings he has about himself as he intertwines his life with his partner and family will buoy him for the rest of his life against the emptiness and deprivation that he has already experienced.Anyway, this was inspired the Daily Om from a day or two back - it describes mirroring in a more general and New Age kind of way, but it's points are still valid.
Some of this psychology can best be understood by first considering the power to generate a state of self-cohesion and well-being that men in our culture frequently attribute to women. Pleck2 outlines two very important dimensions of male reliance on female validation.
The first is that men perceive women as having expressive power—that is, the power to express emotions. Many men have learned to depend on women to help them express emotions; in fact, the woman's richer emotional life and capacity for emotional expression provides an essential life spark for many men. Whether they can identify this or not, many men feel lost without the fundamental connection to this spark.
The second form of reliance is masculinity-validating power. Men depend on women to remind them, and reassure them, of their fundamental masculinity and masculine self-worth. When a woman refuses to offer this validation, or when a man's unrealistic expectations and subsequent distortions convince him that she is withholding it, many men feel lost. They desperately demand the restoration of their virility, masculinity, self-worth, and, ultimately, self-cohesion, by the powerful confirming source.
Thus, the reflection offered by these female mirrors is extremely powerful. And the man who craves mirroring finds, as the relationship moves on, that his wife, his children, the job he has, and the life they have together have not sufficiently made up for what he has never received. When his wife seems more interested in talking to her sister than to him, and when their sex life wanes, and when his children do not show the respect to their parents that he envisioned, he becomes fragmented. When these responses are not forthcoming, these men are unable to maintain their sense of self-worth, self-esteem, or validity. Various types of behaviors reflecting this fragmentation may ensue (gambling, substance abuse, reckless sexual behavior, aggression).
We are drawn to people who reflect back to us parts of ourselves that we feel we are missing - for men, we are often drawn to women who can validate or affirm our masculinity for us, as well as relying on them to express our emotions for us (or, in a similar vein, create our social lives for us).
So as you read this Daily Om, try to keep in mind how this might function in your life and relationships - do you have male friends who can mirror validation for you, or do you rely (as I have often done) on a woman partner to do that for you?
We Are All Mirrors for Each Other
When we look at other people, we see many of their qualities in innumerable and seemingly random combinations. However, the qualities that we see in the people around us are directly related to the traits that exist in us. “Like attracts like” is one of the spiritual laws of the universe. We attract individuals into our lives that mirror who we are. Those you feel drawn to reflect your inner self back at you, and you act as a mirror for them. Simply put, when you look at others, you will likely see what exists in you. When you see beauty, divinity, sweetness, or light in the soul of another, you are seeing the goodness that resides in your soul. When you see traits in others that evoke feelings of anger, annoyance, or hatred, you may be seeing reflected back at you those parts of yourself that you have disowned or do not like.
People you feel drawn to reflect your inner self back at you, and you act as a mirror for them as well.
Because we are all mirrors for each other, looking at the people in your life can tell you a lot about yourself. Who you are can be laid bare to you through what you see in others. It is easy to see the traits you do not like in others. It is much more difficult to realize that you possess those same traits. Often, the habits, attitudes, and behaviors of others are closely linked to our unconscious and unresolved issues.
When you come into contact with someone you admire, search your soul for similarly admirable traits. Likewise, when you meet someone exhibiting traits that you dislike, accept that you are looking at your reflection. Looking at yourself through your perception of others can be a humbling and eye-opening experience. You can also cultivate in you the traits and behaviors that you do like. Be loving and respectful to all people, and you will attract individuals that will love and respect you back. Nurture compassion and empathy and let the goodness you see in others be your mirror.
Pleck, J. (1980). "Men's power with women, other men and society," in The American Man, edited by Pleck, E, Pleck, J. & Englewood. Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, p. 417–433
Wexler, D. (1999, April). The Broken Mirror: A Self Psychological Treatment Perspective for Relationship Violence. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 8:129-141.