From my book, Marriage Minutes… available on Amazon.com
Marriage Minute # 148 Mirror, Hero, and Twin
We depended on our parents and other caregivers for several things, and hopefully they finished much of their job. But, some patterns of unfinished business rightly continue throughout our life, and we begin to look for similar things in other relationships. Let’s take a look at these things. For a background I am thankful to Ikar Kalogjera and his colleagues at the Milwaukee Group for the advancement of Self-Psychology. (Writing in, The Disordered Couple, edited by Jon Carlson and Len Sperry)
Many theorists about childhood assert that we need, among other things, some early psychological experience with three “things”, a mirror, a hero, and a twin. First, we need to “see” ourselves in our parents. They need to reflect pride (not just theirs, but our own pride) in our accomplishments, and the ability to accommodate with growth (not shame) when we find that we need to change. This is where we first learn to enjoy physical and mental activities, and pursue goals. Later, we can continue to “mirror” with our own experience, and with selected individuals in friendships and/or mentoring relationships. Without “mirroring”, we may find ourselves feeling empty, inadequate, and in constant need of reassurance.
Secondly, we need a hero. The hero of our childhood is often one, or hopefully both, parents. Idealizing gives us a sense of consistency, security, and a sort of optimism about values and purpose. We learn to regulate ourselves, soothe and calm ourselves, and pursue ideals with commitment. (This is not the same as being driven by guilt or fear of a “giant”. It is the drawing power of a hero.) Later, we find heroes in our adult life. Healthy relationships with God, and with other people, provide more idealizing influence. A marriage needs the mutual admiration, the wonder, the curiosity, and the security of this experience.
Third, the child needs a twin. This isn’t about whether or not we ought to be our child’s friend. This is about whether we encourage our children, and help them see that they can also become the “hero” they have seen demonstrated. Will we be heirs of the good giants who raised us? Can we be heirs of God? Will we be able to be a “hero” to others and live as a contributing person in the world? Can we successfully become a person with “empathy, creativeness, humor, wisdom, and acceptance of one’s transience”? (p. 218) After all, a hero that I cannot become “like” is a useless hero in the long run. Marriage, similarly, should be a relationship where we support each other’s growth, and thereby our own. Sadly, many marriages are places where people try to make themselves superior by making the other inferior. Personhood, realized, needs twinship.
In fact, personhood needs all three of these things, the mirror, the hero, and the twin. To be able to say, “I am loved and worth love, I can value and understand love, and I can love and be lovable.” These three needs may also be understood as the needs to be seen, valued, and joined with in building the relationship.
A warning is in order. The Narcissistic person will horribly abuse this whole issue. They will demand a mirror, but they won’t be one for others. They will claim to be a giant, but will do all they can to deny any peerage, nor will they have any heroes but themselves. They will refuse twinship, because that would mean their personhood might depend upon relationship, and upon growth, cure, change, and mutuality.
The one who chooses to love, finds personhood, and makes it available.