(originally published on Medium.com)
I don’t often (or ever!) write about spiritual elements of health and healing (not to mention ideas with no references or ‘reporting’ per se!) but one concept resonated with me recently, after someone sent me a viral Tiktok video (!). The second point made — about mirrors/teachers/expanders seems relevant for life on and off social media, as well workplaces/companies because they are comprised of *people.* It’s a helpful framework to ‘reframe’ interactions with a growth mindset as well, and understand it all as a ‘dance’ we consciously participate in (or decide not to). However there aren’t any clear definitions, so this is my attempt here, as it seems to have resonated with close friends and loved ones, so it might be of interest to readers here, especially as it suggests an intersection between psychology and spirituality.
Of note, random passer-bys etc aren’t ‘relationships’ by definition, so those don’t really count in terms of our personal evolution unless there’s some kind of conflict or interaction that triggers us in some way to engage (it’s also a reminder that engaging ‘creates’ an energetic bond, which means energy, time, etc — why the most compassionate/conscious thing is not to engage).
Alright here we go. Relationships (friendships, family, coworkers, partners) fall into three categories:
1)Mirrors, 2)Teachers 3)Expanders
People that mirror parts of us we prefer not to confront. These deal with core wounds from childhood or early adulthood. Things like: needing to be perfect and moral (in order to be worthy/loved/feel secure and grounded and not anxious or abandoned), needing to please everyone and ‘be nice’ (in order to be worthy/loved etc), needing to fight/push for things (in order to secure resources/help/survive etc — this leads to envy and scarcity mindset)
(a) mirrors can have ‘good intentions’ for us ('helpful mirrors' or 'expansive mirrors')
…even if they bring up core wounds (unintentionally), the relationship helps us heal those wounds namely because the ‘mirror’ (other person) has the intention of kindness, compassion, patience, love etc (in other words: good intentions). This intention has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with how ‘healed and self-aware’ they are of their own triggers.
How can we sense their intention? How energized, at peace, relaxed, etc we feel around them *even if* parts of us feel triggered *at times*. Leaning into this allows ‘mirrors’ to transition into teachers and even expanders.
(b) mirrors can have ‘bad intentions’ for us ('harmful mirrors' or 'constricting mirrors')
…and they trigger our core wounds intentionally because their own core wounds dominate their actions and thoughts about others. They may take actions (overtly or covertly) to sabotage, harm, etc. An example might be a mirror with a core wound involving scarcity — this manifests as envy. They may be envious about someone’s job/income, apartment/house, partner/friend, kids, life stage, appearance/looks, etc. They may then sabotage the person they are envious of through gossip, overt or covert actions (including comments), energetic ways (“they don’t deserve this/them/etc — I hope they lose it.’) because they believe that by ‘taking’ something away, it increases their abundance (it’s actually the opposite: this mindset causes *more* scarcity in the person holding those thoughts/pursuing those behaviors).
We can sense this intention energetically by how we ‘feel’ (restricted/confined/nauseous etc) which goes beyond simply feeling triggered (a trigger feels like a ‘poke from the inside’ whereas a harmful intention feels like a ‘poke from the outside’)
*Boundaries are key for this type of mirror — compassionate distance (so not anger or vengefulness) is best. Confronting or discussing this is of no use as they lack self-awareness; once their core wounds are healing they may make those shifts on their own**
A few things to note: “bad mirrors” tend to have *different* wounds compared to ourselves. For instance, a bad mirror triggered by envy in another is more likely if the ‘subject’ of the envy does not have scarcity as a wound.
Case study on this distinction:
Lena is a [conventionally] beautiful woman who is intelligent and dynamic, passionate and confident. She enjoys a healthy relationship, fulfilling work, and a beautiful home, and generally has an ‘abundant’ mindset. Her own wounding (and opportunity to heal) may be around the value of ‘freedom,’ and feeling triggered by individuals who attempt to control/suppress/confine her. This may manifest in various ways: rebelling against the rules, becoming upset if a friend makes a suggestion to ‘change’ in a way that seems confining, and so forth. Her ‘good mirrors’ are those who intend to help her integrate, even if their suggestions can be triggering (and thus invitations to evolve/heal). For example, if a friend invites her to a journalling workshop — Lena may, if unintegrated, interpret it as a controlling exercise to change an existing routine, even if the friend has only compassionate intentions.
On the other hand ‘bad mirrors’ are those that *may* outwardly express a desire to control (e.g. comments like “you should be more like…[confining/small]”) but more often than not the deeper issue here may be an entirely different wound such as scarcity, which, to use the same example, runs against Lena’s ‘abundant mindset.’ Her ‘bad mirrors’ may be triggered by: Lena’s confidence, beauty, relationship, home, profession, and so forth, which can come through as aggressive attacks (directed to her about her home, by someone who is ashamed of their living situation), passive-aggressive comments (about her appearance, by someone ashamed of their weight/physical appearance) or gossip (directed to others about relationship, by someone ashamed of their own relationship), sabotage (directed about her work performance, by someone threatened by her abilities).
Even if some of these comments come across as ‘controlling’ (e.g. ‘you should [cut your hair, move, do fewer presentations, etc]’ the deeper motivation here is envy(scarcity mindset). As such, even if Lena is aware and able to set boundaries, often the longer-term solution is compassionate distance, which may or may not invite the other into self-reflection and their own healing.
From a rational point of view, Lena may have trouble understanding the scarcity mindset/envy by others simply because it isn’t reflective of her own conditioning (and similarly others may have trouble understanding triggers around freedom/control). So, any attempts to rationalize or “understand” the behavior of ‘bad mirrors’ are rarely effective, and deference to boundary setting and/or distance remains central. This helps explain the common question 'why would they behave this way?' -- it's challenging to understand behavior that is an outgrowth of a wound we have no lived experience with (it appears 'irrational').
These are individuals who have unique knowledge and/or experience (rational and spiritual) that allows us to expand our own lived experience and understanding of consciousness, our purpose, life, etc. They may have ‘more’ knowledge or experience or ‘deeper’ knowledge or experience (so age/life stage matters but only to a degree — it’s more linked to our ‘soul’s evolutionary stage’ which is different from human age/earth age).
We recognize teachers because we feel energized, peaceful, inspired and more curious about the world. We don’t feel triggered around them either — we simply feel more connected to ourselves and the universe.
These are individuals who are, intentionally or not, able to amplify our desires and goals in life. This can be rationally (they simply ‘have’ the ‘things we want and need’ and can ‘provide’ them to us), spiritually (they are skilled at bringing forth their own desires/manifestations, and amplify ours in the process), or a mix of both. They help us see and feel what’s possible.
We recognize expanders because we feel inspired and excited but also ‘clear and confident’ about our desires. It’s a sense that ‘they want that thing for me too! they believe it as much as I do.’
One final point:
Good mirrors can also have expansive qualities and teacher qualities (and likely transform onto one or the other over time). While uncommon, it is possible for an expander or teacher to 'regress' into a good mirror (if we begin to feel triggered again/a new wounding experience leads to a new trigger) or a harmful 'bad' mirror. Example of a regression into a bad mirror:
~a formerly 'abundant' person who experiences financial and/or professional hardship, a re-wounding of a scarcity mindset, and envy
~a formerly 'secure' person who experiences relationship struggles (infidelity, a realization of a lack of alignment) and a re-wounding that results in envy/jealousy of another's relationship
~a formerly 'secure' person who experiences a shift in their appearance (e.g. weight loss) that has not resulted in a desired outcome (more confidence) and a re-wounding around learned helplessness (can lead to envy or obsessive/controlling behaviors around this wound)
So when it comes to our energy and boundaries, we must trust ourselves (use rationality but also how we ‘feel’ — and recognize and honor this). Choose wisely.