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Mirror, mirror

Talking through a problem with a friend in the same situation can be a great source of comfort. But what if you make each other feel worse? Rachel Garnett examines the phenomenon of emotional mirroring

Lisa* and I met for coffee before going shopping. Lisa is also friends with Jen* and, when I arrived, they were talking intently. Both are single and surrounded by siblings and friends in couples. They told me they had again been trying to work out where all the decent, unattached men were, plus discussing dating and previous relationships. I assumed that, as it should be for friends, their conversations were cathartic and helpful for them both. I was wrong.

As Lisa and I braved the high street, she said, ‘Jen is worried that she’ll be alone in old age and I’m beginning to think that will happen to me, too.’ Jen’s ongoing anxiety, and their repeated exchanges, were having a negative effect on Lisa.

Groundhog day

Lisa and Jen were emotional mirroring. It’s unintentional and happens when friends have a similar issue, and get stuck talking about it, over and over again, in a negative way; unable to move on or find a solution. The problem goes back and forth and becomes larger, not smaller, as they take on the other’s worries and fears.

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