Have you ever had that disconcerting experience of being accused of something you haven’t done and it turns out that the person is in essence, working up a case against you because they have done something to you (that you don’t know about yet) or they feel guilty about something that they’ve kept hidden (possibly including from themselves)? It’s as if they need to create a situation so that they can feel justified in having done what they’ve done.
Ah! The joy of projection!
A friend was at a group dinner with her husband and several couples and spent time talking to her friend’s husband. One of the women spread a rumour afterwards that my friend was having an affair. I laughed at the time and said, “I’d lay bets she’s having her own affair”, and lo and behold, it all came out a few months later that she was.
I experienced projection when a relative claimed that I had an issue with her even though I didn’t. Her ‘evidence’ was to take situations and re-cast them as a personal attack. As an example, my 5-year old was a bit moody after school one day and rather than it being that it’s because she’s five and worn out from a busy day at school and possibly a bit ‘hangry’ (hungry + angry), it became, “Natalie must have told her to be funny with me because she has a problem with me”. Quite a leap, and she apologised for the “misunderstanding”. OK, I thought, but I wondered what was really behind this. Then it all came out about how weeks before, she’d said some inappropriate stuff behind my back to my mother of all people (HE-LLO!) and all while smiling to my face and making out that she was cool with me. The ‘secret’ and those feelings she was masking found a way to show themselves and so they were ‘relieved’ by creating these situations and projecting. This also happens when celebrities, politicians etc., try to change the story by inserting themselves into it, only they’re re-cast as a victim, or by smearing someone else, or throwing in another story to distract from the real issue.
Many of us have projected at some point in our lives. It’s something that we do unconsciously and when we’re out of touch with how we feel and are not as self-aware as we could be, or we’re going out of our way to suppress and repress our emotions, we relocate our feelings in others. We carry on as if they share our feelings, so, “I feel this way so you feel this way too”, or we attempt to distance ourselves from what we deem to be uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, so, “I don’t want to admit that I feel this way so now I’m going to say that you do”.
We also engage in projection when we make judgements about people that aren’t based on very much. Even if we haven’t had personal experience of it, we might for instance, decide that somebody is really uppity or unfriendly or whatever, and then be surprised when they’re not that way at all.
Sure, sometimes projection is the ‘positive’ one which can result in the whole Betting On Potential stemming from our desires and us then projecting our ideals onto a person so that we can realise and experience our desires, but projection invariably can, particularly when we’re on the receiving end of it, cause us to have that whole mind effery feeling. It’s like, What the frick is this person talking about? Are we living on the same planet or talking about the same thing?
It’s particularly unpleasant when it’s ongoing because we don’t know how to make the problem go away. We end up defending ourselves, explaining and re-explaining, reassuring, being super mindful of our behaviour to keep the peace, and all that it does is temporarily reassure that person against their doubts and then the moment that those feelings and thoughts that they’re hiding away start to poke out, it starts up again. They might pick fights or have one of those disproportionate responses that alerts us to the fact that there’s something else going on behind the scenes. Many BR readers have found themselves on the receiving end of anger that hasn’t been directed to the appropriate person and so it’s projected on to them. We can feel quite wounded and confused when this happens.
When someone is projecting because it’s really about how they feel and/or what they’ve done, we get accused of stuff that’s often completely out of left field, or innocent stuff gets twisted around to suit the story that’s already in their head. They often don’t want to budge from the story!
That’s really when we know that projection is crossing into that damaging territory because as humans, we’re all guilty of making judgements but it’s more than a step too far when a person is unable to distinguish between what they think/did and what you think/did. It’s too much when they’re not open to another version of events.
They’ve made up their mind and to back away from it is to bring down the story that’s protecting them from their true feelings and thoughts.
This is why it’s important for us to know ourselves and to be able to discern where we end and others begin. When we don’t, we’re inclined to be Blame Absorbers, quick to take ownership of other people’s feelings and behaviour. Owning our own and letting others own theirs won’t stop us from feeling peeved and hurt when we get accused of stuff but it does mean that after the initial response to the injustice of it all, we have that moment where it’s, Freeze. Whoa- wait a flippin’ second, and we focus on the facts and not letting them unload their stuff on us.
We can ask ourselves, “What’s really going on here?”
Somebody who values their relationship with us and is willing to tune into and recognise their feelings will be able to step back, get some perspective, and face what’s really going on. What we find annoying in others often points to something that we also need to address within ourselves, not because that will fix their behaviour but because it’s awareness about maintaining our integrity on the things we claim to value.
Someone who is afraid of their feelings or who is the type who when they’re in the wrong, they dig themselves into a bigger hole, will get wound up by the presentation of facts or keep trying to bulldoze with the same or even worse claims. It’s at this point when we have to stop engaging. We can say our piece and as bloody infuriating as it is to be accused of stuff and even have our character called into question, we have to let the chips fall where they may. The more we try to convince is actually the more suspicion we create in people who are basically looking for a reason to have an issue.
What projection also teaches us (aside from the absolute criticalness of knowing ourselves) is about how a person thinks, what they may be dealing with (which may give us an opportunity to be compassionate in recognition), or how we are perceived. In olden times (pre-BR), I would make other people’s stuff about me and so of course I’d feel horribly wounded, but now, sure I’m still going to get upset but I temper it with compassion and healthy boundaries.
Say it with me: That’s not mine. It’s theirs and I’m sending it right back!
Sometimes we learn that a person doesn’t really know us at all or that how we see the ‘connection’ isn’t accurate, or sometimes, when we know ourselves and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, it also presents an opportunity to learn about how we’re seen and that in itself, when we’re able to discern any useful information within that, can be used to help us grow.