mirroring

I’d like to invite you to consider a time when you have experienced an intense emotion. Perhaps you’d been looking forward to something for a long time, and then it got cancelled. Maybe you’d really hurt yourself, couldn’t find what you wanted, or couldn’t seem to do the thing you needed the right way. Consider emotions such as shame, embarrassment, anger, anxiety, confusion, guilt, or sadness.

Next, consider who was there with you at the time. Or were you alone? If there were others present in this difficult time for you, what did they do? Did you feel understood? Were they helpful, supportive? Did they listen to you? Did they hear you?

And then let me ask you, when facing these really big and challenging emotions – what did you want from another person? What could they have done to showed they cared? To show that they were there for you? And that they could see and hear you.

Use the power of mirroring and empathy

The processes of mirroring, and showing empathy can greatly assist in emotionally connecting and being with another. Within our brain, and specifically our emotional brain, mirror neurons enable us to understand another person’s emotions, and vice-versa, to demonstrate true empathy allows that other to feel seen, heard and understood.

It is no secret, that feeling safe and connected are the most important aspects to feel grounded and to be able to move towards regulation. But how do we reach out to someone in a distressing situation, how do we let them know we care, and we want to help? What about our children? When their big emotions take over, and we want to save them from this painful and dysregulating experience!?

Unfortunately, we cannot control another person’s experience. We cannot plan a fool-proof pathway for them so that they will never experience hurt, pain, or complex emotions. Using the power of mirroring, we can show them we understand them.

We can be there.

Be there for them to let them know you see them and hear them. Being there, is about more than just physically showing up. It’s about being emotionally attuned, available and showing them you understand; this is mirroring. Using our skills to emotionally connect and be present with another, including demonstrating empathy and mirroring the emotional expression, can help them to regulate through connection. Connection to others in the face of big emotions, enables that individual to become grounded to the present. The feelings become manageable when they are shared, and allows one permission to feel and know that what they’re feeling is accepted. It supports them towards a journey of connecting to their sensations, identifying the feeling and knowing what it means.

But for a child, this can take time.

They are only at the beginning of their journey after all! They will experience these overwhelming emotions and complex feelings much more frequently and intensely – especially when they do not have the support of another. In times of stress, change, inconsistency, and challenge – these big emotions will flood them. They need someone to create a shared sense of safety even amongst the chaos. They need others to help contain, and re-organise their emotions. Not to save them from the problem they face, or to take the emotions completely away. But they need someone to be there.

Focus on co-regulation

Emotional regulation is probably the most common goal for children being referred to professional support. But I like to focus on co-regulation. Because it is in a safe relationship with a reliable and regulating other, that a child can connect to self, others and the world around them.

“The ability to self-regulate, is built on ongoing experiences of co-regulation. Yet even as we develop self-regulating capacities, the need for social interaction and co-regulation remains throughout our lifetime” (Dana, 2020, p.28).

Tell them what you see

Mirroring, and empathising with another’s emotions can be as simple as starting with what you see happening on the physical surface for example:

  • Your eyes don’t seem to have your usual bright spark
  • Your hands are really squeezing tight
  • Your legs are all twisted
  • Your body is shaking
  • Your eyes can’t stay still right now

You can just notice and verbalise what you see, to demonstrate your presence. Alongside this, mirroring the movements, actions, and facial expressions you can see. For example, if the child is furious, you may also frown in mirroring their facial expressions, or you may tighten your jaw, clench your hands, cross your arms, or stomp your feet. This is not to mimic them, or be condescending, but to share that emotion and know what is going on for them. To meet them where they are. You do this gently and with consideration.

The next step is naming the emotions.

If the child is ready, you can then give a go at moving into naming the emotions, for example:

  • Your eyes look really concerned/sad/worried
  • Your hands are feeling really mad
  • Your legs look worried twisting all up like that
  • Your shaking body makes me think you’re feeling scared
  • Your eyes are moving quickly. I’m wondering if something’s upset you

Children need to have permission to feel, and to express their emotions. To reach boundaries and know they are safe. Children need to have adult role models who will show up, and be there. You do not need to ‘fix’ the problem. But to meet them where they’re at, and to help them to feel seen, heard and safe. And the good news too – is that you don’t have to get this ‘right’ 100% of the time. Interrupted attunement is bound to happen, we’re only human – but the importance here is to recognise when ruptures occur. For example were you trying to listen to your child but then you got a text message and that distracted you? Be honest, and then focus on the repair. Or most commonly, you might attempt to connect to their emotion – and you might get it wrong! That’s okay, acknowledge that, and stay close by. Let them know you’re here with them. That they are safe. Have patience, stay curious and open to their feelings and needs – these might be different from what you need or assume.

When they feel connected and safe, then, and only then, can regulation occur.

For more support in practicing and developing your capacity for co-regulation, empathy and mirroring, you can book in a parent coaching appointment with one of our therapists. Contact us today for a free 10-minute consultation. Learn more about how we can support you and your family by submitting an enquiry here.

About the author – Phoebe Godfrey 

Phoebe takes a holistic approach to working with a child and their family so that they can have a deeper understanding and connection in working together as the Team Around the Child. Phoebe offers Play Therapy, Filial Therapy and Learn to Play, and also works as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist. She has specialised interests in working with children with atypical development and/or additional needs within this space. Through her patience and passion, Phoebe works with families to grow within their emotional connectedness, to bring about more positive energy and moments in everyday life, by simply re-focusing current thought processes and judgements towards new perspectives and insight. Learn more about Phoebe and book an appointment here.

 

References:

Dana, D. (2020). Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 client-centered practices. New York: W.W Norton & Company. 

Porges, S. W. (2009). Reciprocal influences between body and brain in the perception and expression of affect: A polyvagal perspective. In D. Fosha, D. J. Siegal & M.F. Solomon (Eds), The power of emotion: Affective neuroscience, development, clinical practice. New York: Norton.

 

I’d like to invite you to consider a time when you have experienced an intense emotion. Perhaps you’d been looking forward to something for a long time, and then it got cancelled. Maybe you’d really hurt yourself, couldn’t find what you wanted, or couldn’t seem to do the thing you needed the right way. Consider emotions such as shame, embarrassment, anger, anxiety, confusion, guilt, or sadness.

Next, consider who was there with you at the time. Or were you alone? If there were others present in this difficult time for you, what did they do? Did you feel understood? Were they helpful, supportive? Did they listen to you? Did they hear you?

And then let me ask you, when facing these really big and challenging emotions – what did you want from another person? What could they have done to showed they cared? To show that they were there for you? And that they could see and hear you.

Use the power of mirroring and empathy

The processes of mirroring, and showing empathy can greatly assist in emotionally connecting and being with another. Within our brain, and specifically our emotional brain, mirror neurons enable us to understand another person’s emotions, and vice-versa, to demonstrate true empathy allows that other to feel seen, heard and understood.

It is no secret, that feeling safe and connected are the most important aspects to feel grounded and to be able to move towards regulation. But how do we reach out to someone in a distressing situation, how do we let them know we care, and we want to help? What about our children? When their big emotions take over, and we want to save them from this painful and dysregulating experience!?

Unfortunately, we cannot control another person’s experience. We cannot plan a fool-proof pathway for them so that they will never experience hurt, pain, or complex emotions. Using the power of mirroring, we can show them we understand them.

We can be there.

Be there for them to let them know you see them and hear them. Being there, is about more than just physically showing up. It’s about being emotionally attuned, available and showing them you understand; this is mirroring. Using our skills to emotionally connect and be present with another, including demonstrating empathy and mirroring the emotional expression, can help them to regulate through connection. Connection to others in the face of big emotions, enables that individual to become grounded to the present. The feelings become manageable when they are shared, and allows one permission to feel and know that what they’re feeling is accepted. It supports them towards a journey of connecting to their sensations, identifying the feeling and knowing what it means.

But for a child, this can take time.

They are only at the beginning of their journey after all! They will experience these overwhelming emotions and complex feelings much more frequently and intensely – especially when they do not have the support of another. In times of stress, change, inconsistency, and challenge – these big emotions will flood them. They need someone to create a shared sense of safety even amongst the chaos. They need others to help contain, and re-organise their emotions. Not to save them from the problem they face, or to take the emotions completely away. But they need someone to be there.

Focus on co-regulation

Emotional regulation is probably the most common goal for children being referred to professional support. But I like to focus on co-regulation. Because it is in a safe relationship with a reliable and regulating other, that a child can connect to self, others and the world around them.

“The ability to self-regulate, is built on ongoing experiences of co-regulation. Yet even as we develop self-regulating capacities, the need for social interaction and co-regulation remains throughout our lifetime” (Dana, 2020, p.28).

Tell them what you see

Mirroring, and empathising with another’s emotions can be as simple as starting with what you see happening on the physical surface for example:

  • Your eyes don’t seem to have your usual bright spark
  • Your hands are really squeezing tight
  • Your legs are all twisted
  • Your body is shaking
  • Your eyes can’t stay still right now

You can just notice and verbalise what you see, to demonstrate your presence. Alongside this, mirroring the movements, actions, and facial expressions you can see. For example, if the child is furious, you may also frown in mirroring their facial expressions, or you may tighten your jaw, clench your hands, cross your arms, or stomp your feet. This is not to mimic them, or be condescending, but to share that emotion and know what is going on for them. To meet them where they are. You do this gently and with consideration.

The next step is naming the emotions.

If the child is ready, you can then give a go at moving into naming the emotions, for example:

  • Your eyes look really concerned/sad/worried
  • Your hands are feeling really mad
  • Your legs look worried twisting all up like that
  • Your shaking body makes me think you’re feeling scared
  • Your eyes are moving quickly. I’m wondering if something’s upset you

Children need to have permission to feel, and to express their emotions. To reach boundaries and know they are safe. Children need to have adult role models who will show up, and be there. You do not need to ‘fix’ the problem. But to meet them where they’re at, and to help them to feel seen, heard and safe. And the good news too – is that you don’t have to get this ‘right’ 100% of the time. Interrupted attunement is bound to happen, we’re only human – but the importance here is to recognise when ruptures occur. For example were you trying to listen to your child but then you got a text message and that distracted you? Be honest, and then focus on the repair. Or most commonly, you might attempt to connect to their emotion – and you might get it wrong! That’s okay, acknowledge that, and stay close by. Let them know you’re here with them. That they are safe. Have patience, stay curious and open to their feelings and needs – these might be different from what you need or assume.

When they feel connected and safe, then, and only then, can regulation occur.

For more support in practicing and developing your capacity for co-regulation, empathy and mirroring, you can book in a parent coaching appointment with one of our therapists. Contact us today for a free 10-minute consultation. Learn more about how we can support you and your family by submitting an enquiry here.

About the author – Phoebe Godfrey 

Phoebe takes a holistic approach to working with a child and their family so that they can have a deeper understanding and connection in working together as the Team Around the Child. Pheobe offers Play Therapy, Filial Therapy and Learn to Play, and also works as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist. She has specialised interests in working with children with atypical development and/or additional needs within this space. Through her patience and passion, Phoebe works with families to grow within their emotional connectedness, to bring about more positive energy and moments in everyday life, by simply re-focusing current thought processes and judgements towards new perspectives and insight. Learn more about Phoebe or book an appointment here.

References:

Dana, D. (2020). Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 client-centered practices. New York: W.W Norton & Company. 

Porges, S. W. (2009). Reciprocal influences between body and brain in the perception and expression of affect: A polyvagal perspective. In D. Fosha, D. J. Siegal & M.F. Solomon (Eds), The power of emotion: Affective neuroscience, development, clinical practice. New York: Norton.

 

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