Do we really see ourselves in the mirror?


Do we really see ourselves in the mirror? – is a search term I saw the other day in my stats which led someone to my blog.

It caught my attention for several reasons.

It stood out because it didn’t have the word – narcissist – in it, as the majority of the searches which lead people to my blog do.

There is much I could say, and probably have, about narcissists and mirrors.

There has always been something which has bothered me about the concept that narcissists are in love with their reflection in the mirror, due to the myth which gave narcissism its name. The myth itself suits the disorder, but just as with many things connected to narcissistic personality disorder, and mirrors, there are distortions which become more real than that which is actually there.


Of the narcissists whom I have known, I can’t think of a single one who actually liked their reflection in the mirror. Mostly this seems to be due to the mirror not showing them what they want to see. Worse still the mirror is prone to point out their flaws to them. Telling them anything but what they want to hear. When looking in a mirror they experience what the Evil Queen in Snow White felt when the enchanted mirror told her that she was not the fairest of them all. Which is why narcissists prefer to look to people for their reflected self rather than into actual mirrors. They can manipulate people, whereas mirrors are not as cooperative because mirrors have nothing to gain from the relationship.

Human interactions always have an element of gain, of give and take, whereas a mirror does not want nor need anything from us and neither does our reflection. It’s just there, as is, and it echoes us back to us.

Who are you? – we ask the mirror, ourselves in the mirror.

Who are you? – the mirror, our reflection, asks as a reply.

What do you want from me? – we ask.

What do you want from me? – is the reply.

Tell me who I am! – we demand.

Tell me who I am… – it says, not a demand so much as a reflective request.

If the mirror could do more than just reflect ourselves back at us, echo back to us all that we project onto and into it, it might challenge us to the very core of ourselves, saying things such as – I love you as you are, don’t look at the imperfections, at what is wrong with what you see, look at your eyes, how alive they are, look at me, see me, accept me as is… accept yourself as you are, as is.

Perhaps it does say all those things, and more, but we don’t hear it, its voice is faint compared to the voices inside which often shout and drown everything else out.


Perhaps it speaks to us… we just don’t listen, just as we don’t listen to ourselves but seek to find what we want to hear in the voices of others.

charlie chaplin

That question – Do we really see ourselves in the mirror? – stood out because it is a profound question which on the surface appears simple. Just as our own reflection appears at first sight. It’s the sort of question which only when you attempt to answer it do you find how deep it is and how far beyond the surface simplicity it delves into the complexity of being human. Just as when we look further into our reflection we find that the mirrored surface is not as flat as it seemed and if we reached into it we might disappear.

Before you can answer such a question, other questions need to be asked and answered. Such as – Who is looking in the mirror?

If you do not know the person who is looking in the mirror, how are you going to know yourself when you see yourself?

Perhaps you’re looking in the mirror to find yourself?

But if you are, will you recognise yourself if you see yourself?

Or will it be like one of those moments when you catch sight of your reflection and don’t recognise that it is you and wonder why that person is staring at you making you self-conscious. How rude! What are they thinking? Do they like what they see, is their gaze complimentary or are they criticising you?

It’s surprising, or perhaps to be expected, how self-conscious we are when we look at ourselves. More so than when others look at us. What is it about our own eyes watching us which makes us so anxious, nervous, and prone to find excuses to look away or distract ourselves with a pimple or other imperfection which we perceive?

ernest holmes

We sometimes get annoyed at others for not knowing us, not seeing us, particularly when we think we know them and see them. We’ve taken the time and space in our lives and minds for them, why won’t they do the same for us – perhaps they think they have and feel the same way about us.

But when someone who does know us well and sees us clearly looks at us, we don’t want that kind of knowing gaze to look at us, especially when that knowing gaze is our own reflected back at us.

We look away from ourselves and look to others, finding comfort in them not knowing or seeing us, and in our knowing and seeing them, finding a certain grumpy solace in the fact that we can’t be known or won’t be known, but others can be and are. They can’t possibly know us, it frustrates us but comforts us too, but we can and do know them and that too frustrates and comforts us. We love and hate it at the same time. With others such things are easy and difficult, but with ourselves the challenge is beyond difficult and easy.

Why are we looking at ourselves… like that? What are we thinking when we look at ourselves, do we know? We may be aware of some of what we are thinking when we are looking in the mirror, but what is our reflection thinking when it is looking at us? Does our reflection think differently from us?

Oh, look at those bags under my eyes, and those lines, when did I get so old? – we might think.

Those bags carry the weight of your world within them, years of living, years of experience,  mementos of time spent, those lines are the map of paths taken, this is the history of being, it’s not about being old, it is about so much more which is a part of you, of your being, why must you focus on the least which seems to be the most, when there is so much more to be found beyond… – the reflection says, but its words are lost as we search for a way not to see what has been seen, not to seem what appears to be.

deng ming dao

A mirror is just a flat surface which reflects us back at ourselves when we look in it. So what we see is influenced by how we look into a mirror. It is also affected by our attitude towards mirrors and looking into them. And by the attitude of those who may catch us in the act of looking at ourselves, and of how we feel if someone caught us in such a position.

Everything has so many layers of so much… so very much muchness.

What we see in a mirror, be it a real one or a person acting as one for us, is what we are seeking, but what we are seeking is not always what we hope to find.

Do we really see ourselves in the mirror?

Yes. No. And everything in between and beyond.

We are seen yet never seen. Known yet never known. The part which remains a mystery is there to keep us searching, for the aim is not to find, but to keep seeking. The journey is the goal, for in taking that journey we discover our world, both inside and outside… and… and…

personality revealing mirror