The psychological concept of mirroring is very important to understand when understanding psychopaths, since they will use it a crucial tool for manipulating their victims. Where does the motivation come from for this mirroring or copying of traits?
This behavior from the psychopath can be seen in a few different ways. Firstly, psychopaths do sometimes hold a fascination with high quality, virtuous people and mirroring is seen as a way of copying your traits in the hope they can be more like you. Secondly, it can also sometimes be a game relating to the manufactured soulmate or perfect partner they often create for their victims.
The psychopaths wants to create this synthetic clone of you as a way of building your trust, only to then betray it and seek to undermine those they envy. The mirroring is part of the setup phase which precedes the more toxic phases where they start to attack your self esteem.
Mirroring is an important psychological concept and can also be a healthy part of romantic relationships in particular. However it can also be used for deceptive and manipulative purposes and has also found it’s way into workplace psychology and management training. It is therefore important to decipher whether the person themself is genuine before being taken in by mirroring and other subtle psychological cues.
Lets go into more detail about the different ways we can look at this dynamic in relationships with psychopaths. There are different ways of interpreting this tactic and motivations between psychopaths may actually differ.
Psychopaths Want To Become You
There is no doubt that some psychopaths do hold a fascination with people with some kind of traits or virtues or other qualities they don’t have. Psychopaths are drawn, like moths to a light, to high quality people with attractive traits.
This can be vibrancy, intelligence, self esteem, popularity, grace, wealth, success, or anything else they want for themselves. Some of them believe that by mirroring you, walking and talking in step with you, they can absorb these traits for themselves and become more like you. As Anthony Johnson puts it in his presentation on the topic, psychopaths can see in you what they don’t have, and want to have it for themselves.
The Unslaved Podcast on psychopathy is an excellent resource which goes into more detail on this. They think that by being around you they can somehow absorb by osmosis or “download” the traits you have for themselves. With their glibness and superficiality this is how they see the world.
Once they realize that it isn’t that simple and to have these traits means you need to actually act and live in a certain way, this is when they often leave or discard the person. This is also when their fascination turns to envy, a more destructive emotion that wants to destroy something in another if they can’t have it for themselves.
The Unslaved Podcast is excellent on this, contrasting admiration with envy. Decent people have admiration for the traits and virtues of others, where they wish they had these qualities themselves. Envy is more toxic and wants to destroy qualities they can’t have for themselves. The mindset of envy is “If I can’t have it, no one can have it”.
This explains the way that psychopaths can turn ugly in a relationship and start attacking and undermining the person they initially tried to mirror and copy. The underlying envy that had been there all along starts to come out as the psychopath starts trying to destroy in you what they realize they cannot have for themselves.
This is definitely one way this dynamic of mirroring can play out with the psychopath. However, how many times can the smarter psychopaths go through this process with different people before they realize they can never have the traits they desire in others?
At some point the cleverer ones must surely realize that mirroring doesn’t work in allowing them to absorb the qualities they see in others. It is at this point we argue that the entire process becomes more of a pre-meditated game for the psychopath, where they use mirroring as a prelude to set the person up for the abuse they are going to inflict down the line. The motivations stop being selfish and become purely malevolent.
The Manufactured Soulmate
This is another lens through which to view the process of mirroring. It is the process by which psychopaths robotically create a manufactured soulmate in the early stages of a relationship, and is the early part of the idealize-devalue-discard cycle that is common to relationships with psychopaths. See Jackson Mackenzie’s Psychopath Free on Amazon for a great breakdown of this dynamic.
Here the psychopath uses the mirroring to make the victim feel they have found the perfect partner or friend. They will walk and talk in perfect rhythm with you, finish your sentences, copy your humor, tune in to you perfectly. It will feel like they are the perfect person for you. No one else will do.
The reality is that all this is fake and premeditated by the psychopath. The whole thing is a carefully planned act, something they used on the last victim and will use on the next one they move on to as well. They are just observing you; seeing what you like, want and respond to and mirroring you to provide it on cue.
The idea is build your trust as much as possible and pull you into a powerful psychopathic bond, where you are get addicted to the “high” they are able to give you by being seemingly so in tune with you and making you feel “ten feet tall”.
This is where the difference in the two approaches becomes more clear. Perhaps some psychopaths turn when they naturally realize “it’s not happening” with regards to mirroring to try and be the person they want; with more malevolent types perhaps the whole process is planned and they already know when they are going to turn.
They view the entire idealize-devalue-discard process with a cool detachment and see the whole thing as a game to destroy the high quality people they now know they can never be. Once they built your trust sufficiently high to know it will hurt, they start to bring you down and the devalue-discard part of the relationship begins.
Protecting Against the Psychopath
Whatever the motivations of the psychopath, it is important to be aware of this tactic of mirroring and how it is used to build trust and a false sense of connection. It is important to take a step back and slow down if a relationships seems too good to be true and someone just seems to be mirroring your every move in a way that is too perfect.
It may be that the person truly is a good match for you and the “flying high” feeling you are getting is because the person genuinely is a vibrant, charismatic person who also happens to be a high quality, authentic person with integrity and real substance. In which case you have the best of both worlds.
However, it is important to slow down and take things a little more slowly, since this “flying high” feeling is something psychopaths are very adept at creating in the early stages of a relationship to reel their victims in. For their part too many people fall for this act and forget the old adage “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”.
The reality is that relationships are not perfect and usually require work to sustain and so if someone is selling you a kind of “counterfeit gold” in the sense of a synthetic sense of bliss and perfection where you seemingly don’t have to do any work, it may be the marsipan topping the psychopath is laying out for you to set you up for what is coming down the line.
Therefore character judgement is very important when approaching any relationship, but especially ones which seem to be going very fast and where there seems to be “flying high” sense of connection and mirroring. Check for psychopathic character traits in the other person, such as:
- A glib, superficial charm.
- An egotistical, self centred personality.
- Easily bored and constantly needing external stimulation. No inner life or reflectiveness
- A tendency towards power and control over others.
- Lack of general care or concern for the world. Everything is surface and “froth”, just words.
- A lack of vocational traits or any sense of higher purpose in life
- Inconsistencies start to emerge between the image or persona they have been presenting to you and their actual behavior towards you and others.
- A tendency towards dishonesty. Lies will start to become apparent as things they have told you don’t add up.
- A mysteriousness about their past. Evidence of skeletons in the closet and things they haven’t told you.
- Constantly speaking badly about their ex partners, friends, or business acquaintances.
- See also our Checklist page and our article on spotting the psychopath.
- Our article on the psychopathic bond is also useful for seeing how psychopaths can reel you in and get you hooked on positive feelings they can arouse within you early on in a relationship.
It is important to look past any surface charm and observe how the person is actually behaving towards others, even if it seems you are on a “honeymoon period” and can do no wrong. This will change if you are with a toxic person and over time all psychopaths will give themselves away with a predictable set of behaviors and traits.
Our Resources page has links to some excellent books and videos which will help you learn the manipulative tactics such as mirroring that they use to draw others in. The Unslaved Podcast is also a superb resource on this particular aspect and has an extensive list of traits to look out for.
New E-Book Coming – A-Z Glossary Guide on Cluster B abuse, designed for newcomers to the topic. Click here join the list to be notified on release.