In 1974, Dr. Virginia Satir presented the concept of mirroring in her groundbreaking book, "Conjoint Family Therapy."
In 1975 Dr. Thomas Gordon wrote a best-selling book called "Parent Effectiveness Training." In the book he taught parents to "active listen," which means to reflect back to the speaker the feelings and information they are trying to convey.
Mirroring, or active listening, is a powerful tool, but whether or not it works depends upon your intent.
If you are active listening to another with an agenda to get them to see what they are doing wrong, or to get them to listen to you after you listen to them, then your intent in listening is to control. The person you are listening to can easily pick up the energy of control and will get angry or go into resistance. Listening with the intention to control backfires and just creates confusion in communication.
However, active listening from a true desire to understand another's feelings and point of view can be magical. When you listen to learn and understand, rather than to control, you give the other person a great gift.
We all want to be heard and understood. While it is our responsibility to hear and understand ourselves - our own feelings and needs - and take loving action for ourselves, it also feels wonderful when someone we care about hears and understands us. This is the basis of emotional intimacy.
When I work with couples, I teach them that there are only two healthy ways of dealing with conflict:
1. Move into an intent to learn
2. Speak your truth and lovingly disengage
Moving Into an Intent to Learn
When you really desire to understand another, you move into an intent to learn - both about yourself and about them. Actively listening to the other is a major aspect of learning. When you really want to deeply know another, you listen carefully and mirror back to them what you hear them saying and feeling. It is not a matter of agreeing with them, but of understanding them. It is not about changing them or changing yourself, but about really hearing them and attempting to see the world through their eyes - understanding the good reasons they have for feeling and behaving as they do.
Your partner: "I'm still angry at you for being late and not calling me when you know I worry about you."
You: "I hear you saying that it's really unsetting to you when I don’t call when I'm going to be late. You feel I don't care about the fact that you worry."
Your partner: "Right. If you really cared about me, you wouldn't want me to worry."
You: "I understand. It hurts your heart when you know that I know you worry and I don't seem to care about that."
Partner: "Yes, that's exactly right. So if you understand this, are you going to start to call me when you are late?"
You: It sounds like you believe that if I understand you, then I will change - that I have no good reasons for not calling, is that right?
This dialogue can go on until it feels complete to both of you.
Your partner may or may not want to hear why you were late without calling, and you need to let go of getting him or her to hear you. That's the hard part!
Speaking Your Truth and Lovingly Disengaging
There are times when, even if you are open to learning and really want to understand another, the other is just intent on attacking and blaming you. When this is the case, you might want to speak your truth and lovingly disengage. This looks like saying something like: "I'd love to talk with you about this when you stop being angry," and then walking away, keeping your heart open. This means that you are not withdrawing in anger or blame. You are staying in compassion for yourself and the other person so that when he or she opens, you have no residue because you have taken full responsibility for yourself.
Once the other person is no longer angry and blaming, you might want to again open to learning and active listening to them - with no agenda that he or she listens to you. True listening is an act of giving with no expectation of anything in return. It is a kind and loving way to interact with someone you care about. It is a great gift.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process. Are you are ready to discover real love and intimacy? Learn Inner Bonding now! Click here for a FREE Inner Bonding Course, and visit our website at innerbonding.com for more articles and help. Phone Sessions Available. Join the thousands we have already helped and visit us now!
Additional Resources covering Love can be found at: