“Oh you’re just projecting,” is what people say to me whenever I point out their flaws. Was my pointing out their flaws unsolicited? Of course it was. Did they say I was projecting so the unsolicited discussion about their flaws could grind to a halt? I used to think so…but I’ve heard it so much recently that I have started to wonder…
Am I projecting?
Since the concept of psychological projection has permeated the collective consciousness to the point where any old loon can pull the term out of their back pocket to kibosh any criticism that makes them uncomfortable, let’s define it.
Projection occurs when there is something too painful to bear or accept. We block it out or disavow it. We unconsciously disown awareness of that experience. And since parts of the human psyche don’t simply disappear, no matter how hard we may try, these painful feelings we don’t want to accept in ourselves tend to appear inside of somebody else.
As the laymen say: the pot calling the kettle black.
As far as psychological defence mechanisms go, there are few better than projection because of its practical applications. Think back to when you were an infant. Screaming and crying at the top of your lungs with no understanding of your own experience. All you could do was make other people around you feel uncomfortable with your wails until someone did something about it. This is a practical application of projection and without it, we’d all be dead.
And as we get older, we learn that this skill can not just be used for basic survival. Projecting can help us cope with the scariest thing about life: our flaws. We lie, we justify, we convince ourselves that we are not loathsomely selfish and overbearing. Everyone else is. We’re not grouchy, everyone else simply takes great pleasure in being as irritable as can be.
However, projection can be troublesome because when it’s thrown back in our faces, we can’t help but pause to ponder…”AM I PROJECTING?”…thus seceding the discussion as the loser. Thankfully, there is a way to never losing an unsolicited criticism session in this manner ever again. Know the difference between when you really are projecting and when people are simply trying to weasel their way out of accepting unpleasant truths about themselves.
How do you know when you’re projecting? There are three telltale signs that you are projecting.
1. You have a hard time admitting your own flaws.
Me? Flaws? No. Never.
Maybe some people like to say they reflect on mistakes they’ve made. Personally, I prefer to pour praise all over myself because its sticky like honey. Honey. I can’t describe. How good it feels inside.
If you fit that description, you’re either Mariah Carey or projecting.
2. You are the only one who notices this person’s “flaw”
Can’t you see that So-and-so is manipulative? No? Just me?
Since projection is a manifestation of one’s own personal shortcomings, and everyone’s flaws are different, the thing that bothers you about So-and-so won’t ring true for others.
That is not in anyway shape or form an admonishment of being annoyed with people. Nor do I mean to suggest that you should doubt yourself when you notice someone’s flaws. Because believe me, they flawed. You should always be pursuing a way to expose their flaws to the rest of your social group, family, coworkers, whatever in the nicest possible way. It’s called: “being inquisitive.”
If the group does not reach a consensus on your evaluation, then you’re probably projecting.
3. You have been described in the same way
If you’re ragging on someone for their flaws and you use a turn of phrase that makes you suddenly travel back in time and relive a moment wherein you were described in the same way…well, then, yeah.
You a projector.
Before accusing someone of being flawed, which really isn’t such a big deal since we all are, it’s always good to take a step back and ponder why this bothers us. Is it really worth complaining about? Do you really believe that they deserve the accusation you are making? Or is it because you see something loathsome about yourself in another?
Acknowledgement of our flaws is what makes us grow. But if we wholeheartedly know that we are not projecting and we are accused of doing so, then I suppose that all we can do is light their houses on fire because I’d like to see any of you accuse me of projecting when you ain’t got no roof over your head.