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Shengold, L. (1974). The Metaphor of the Mirror. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 22:97-115.

(1974). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 22:97-115

The Metaphor of the Mirror

Leonard Shengold, M.D.


The mirror is a metaphor for the mind, and therefore for its structures and functions—e.g., normal and pathological splits, reality testing, defenses (especially projection, introjection, denial, reversal). Inasmuch as images of the self and of objects can be presented in the mirror, most conflicts can be enacted there. All the main psychic dangers (ego disintegration, separation and the loss of love, castration, guilt) as well as the specific reassurances that aim toward counteracting them motivate mirror acts and fantasies. The mirror's magic, good and bad, stems from its linkage with the narcissistic period when identity and mind are formed through contact with the mother; the power of mirror magic is a continuation of parental and narcissistic omnipotence. The stress on the visual associated with the mirror is another link to narcissism (and therefore self and identity), but also specifically underlines voyeurism and exhibitionism, the primal scene, and castration. My emphasis in this paper has been on the mirror reflections of narcissistic and libidinal conflicts in those people who have established identity, but who regress as a result of traumatic overstimulation in childhood. In them, the presence of an unsynthesized introject acts as a "devil behind the glass" of the mind. Exorcism by analysis is needed to free them to think reflectively, playfully, meaningfully and to restore their sense of self.

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