“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another
human being not just with my hands but with my heart.” ―
I sit on the soft cushioned seat of the teal couch in my therapist’s office and let out a huge sigh of relief. Smiling back at me is Traci, an asian american woman in her late 30s with long jet black hair and a tattoo sleeve of flowers on her left arm.
“How are you?” she asks.
Looking around the room nervously as I always do when trying to find the right words to start my story, I narrow my focus on a yellow lamp. Traci sits with me silently until she sees tears waiting to burst out of my eyes.
“Just notice what’s coming up for you right now.” She says.
I start sobbing.
Almost all of my sessions starts out like this — I walk into Traci’s office smiling, Traci’s would take one look into my soul, and all of a sudden there are tears. Tears everywhere.
I saw her once a week for 14 weeks before moving back to Boston. Traci’s office has accents of teal, yellow, purple, and lots of crystals by the door. The big windows carried in natural light and made it especially poetic when I had sessions with her during golden hour. Her office became the safe space I didn’t know existed and didn’t realized I needed until I had it. This was my place to fire off feelings and burning questions about life, love, and family without fear of judgement.
Before Traci, my friends and partner were the ones who got stuck listening to my existential anxieties. With them, I was often met with well-intentioned interpretations or strategies for overcoming my fears. But that wasn’t what I wanted from them. Without the vocabulary, I couldn’t express in the right words what I needed. Instead, I resorted to respectfully nodding along whenever they gave me advice. And for some friends, depending on how they often respond to my worries, I hesitated to share anything with them completely.
Turns out, what I really needed from my friends or partner was for them to mirror my feelings. Mirroring is when someone repeats back to you the emotion or thought you expressed, sometimes word for word. Mirroring creates connection and the sense of being fully heard and understood. I didn’t know that was what I was looking for when I was emotionally offloading to my friends until my first session with Traci. Traci mirrored me after one of my ramblings about my life’s purpose and that action by her made me feel so incredibly heard. I didn’t want someone to just listen to me, I wanted to be heard.
I think a lot of people need to work on their mirroring skills, myself included. I can recall many instances where I withdrew information from certain friends or made assumptions about a connection with a friend simply because I received unsolicited advice instead of mirroring. I grew resentful sometimes from feeling so constantly misunderstood. Mirroring is a gateway to empathy and shows the other person that they are not alone in their thoughts or feelings. Now, it is really important for me to identity the friends who are great at mirroring and the ones who are great problem-solvers. This way, I can avoid going to a problem-solver when I expect mirroring and minimize any disappointments.
In my next post, notice how mirroring could have prevented my first meltdown: My first big meltdown at the age of 25.