Own Your Own. Let Others Own Theirs.
Ah! The joy of projection. Projection is a confusing, complex experience. Projection is being told you are something, but that something doesn’t resonate or feel like it belongs to you. Projection is when the accusation of you being/doing something is actually what the person accusing you of is being/doing themselves. Projection is when said person can’t/won’t own their stuff, so they project that which feels intolerable to them outwards and straight onto you. Projection is an unconscious process, but a very real experience.
Many of us have been a projector and/or been projected onto at one time or another. It can occur when we are not as self-aware as we could be, or we’re going out of our way to suppress and repress our emotions. We project intolerable feelings outwards and relocate those feelings in others. It is the only way we can recognise them, but in doing so, we do not own what is ours. Instead, we attribute them as belonging to the other. Why does this happen? It can be an attempt to distance ourselves from our own uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Projection invariably can (especially when we’re on the receiving end of it) cause us to have that whole feeling that our mind is being messed with. It can feel like, What is this person talking about? Am I missing something? Are we talking about the same thing?
Projection is particularly heinous when ongoing because we may feel powerless in making the problem go away. We may end up defending ourselves, explaining and re-explaining, justifying, reassuring and trying to keep the peace. All this does is temporarily reassure the other and diffuse the situation. The thing is that it does not go away. When the other begins to feel bad again and needs to project, 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.
When someone is projecting, it is really about how they feel and/or what they’ve done. We may receive a comment completely out of left field, or innocent events are twisted around to suit the story that’s already in their head. They often don’t want to budge from the story that they tell themselves. This is really when we know that projection is crossing into that damaging territory because it’s 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 is so important for us to know ourselves, stand firm in that 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 angry and hurt but it does mean that after the initial response to the injustice of it all, we have that moment where we focus on the facts and not letting them unload their stuff on us.
It is at this moment that we stop and we can ask ourselves, “What’s really going on here?”
Somebody who values their relationship with us and is willing to recognise their feelings will be able to 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.
It’s at this point when we have to stop engaging. Ultimately, we have to let the chips fall where they may and ponder on what you might really be trying to control here? Projection also teaches us about how a person thinks, what they may be dealing with (which may give us an opportunity to be compassionate), or how we are perceived. Once upon a time, I would make other people’s stuff about me and feel horribly wounded. Nowadays, yes I do feel the projection but it is tempered with compassion and healthier boundaries. I know myself very well and am comfortable to say: That’s not mine. It’s theirs and I’m sending it right back.