Can you think of a person or personality type you just can’t stand? Is it the arrogant, the selfish, the narcissist, the victim, the manipulator, the control freak, the dramatic, the know-it-all, the bubbly, the worrywart? Which of their traits do you react most adversely to?
Now think of your own flaws. Not the ones you point out when you say, “I’m not perfect”, but those flaws that other people say you have and you disregard because you’re: “so not like that.” They’re crazy, you think.
But wait …
Your mom has told you about that flaw. Your partner may have mentioned it. In fact, your best friend was upset about it the other day. Is there a possibility that your weaknesses may resemble the traits of the people that annoy you the most?
I’m sorry to break it to you, but you may be just like that person you cannot stand!
When we attribute to others the flaws that we cannot accept as our own, we are projecting.
Projection is a defense mechanism through which the human ego defends itself against unconscious qualities, thoughts, and motivations by denying their existence in themselves and finding them in another person. For example, I used to be bothered by people that wanted to control everything. Those that had an opinion about everything you did and wanted to change the plans all the time, just to be in command. Ugh. It was so annoying!
Then I became a wife… and a mother.
These two roles forced me to discover traits about myself I never imagined I had (nor did I want to have). My husband would often ask,
“Why do you always want to change what I’m suggesting?
Why can’t you just say, ‘Ok, my love?’”
Shocked, I’d say, “What do you mean? I’m just trying to help!”
When it came to parenting, I thought no one– not even my mom and my mother in law, who had raised four children each– knew how to make change, bathe, feed, or take care of my kids better than me. I didn’t like that they were trying to decide what to do with my children. My way was the right way.
Slowly, I began realizing that maybe my husband was right. I was just like the people I couldn’t stand:
A control freak.
Maybe my mom and mother-in-law were controlling too, but because I was projecting my tendency to want to be in control, I saw it magnified in them. I became resentful, passive-aggressive, and unpleasant. My harsh reactions and inability to assume responsibility pushed people away … even the person I love the most in the world: my husband.
And that’s when I crossed the line.
Nine years ago, my husband sat me down and told me he didn’t like being around me. He much preferred being alone with our baby girl. I complicated things. I made them unpleasant. I stressed him out. I may have even treated him as if he were inadequate as a dad (which seemed totally crazy, considering he taught me how to bathe and care for our firstborn). He said a couple more things that maybe I’ll share in another blog post. Regardless, my husband wasn’t trying to be hurtful. He spoke from his heart, which broke mine.
That’s when it really hit me: I had the very thing that I couldn’t stand in other people.
Was it worth controlling everything at the cost of hurting relationships with everyone I loved?
Not for me. I love my family too much and, if you know me, you know how obsessed I am with my husband.
I stopped projecting and started partaking.
When you engage in a defense mechanism of this sort, you protect yourself from what you’re not ready to assume. This is an unconscious choice, which is why most people cannot see themselves in the people they can’t stand. However, when you become aware of those qualities, you are empowered with the ability to control what was controlling you. You have the opportunity to become BETTER.
The beauty of projection is that, when you become mindful of it, you already understand how ugly that projected quality looks in others, what it feels like to be on the opposite end, and the adverse reactions those qualities cause. Seeing my controlling tendencies in others served as a mirror to help me realize how unpleasant my behavior was to those around me.
Identifying a projection is not an easy task. In fact, you may find yourself thinking while reading this that it doesn’t apply to you. You’re nothing like your mom, your co-worker, your mother-in-law, your partner, your peer, your ex, or your family member.
The thing is, you can be completely different to the person in question and still be projecting yourself. It’s even possible that the same trait you both share is exercised in totally disparate ways.
What exactly bothers your about them? What triggers you and pushes your buttons in such a way that you just can’t get over it? What makes your blood boil about them? It may not be apparent at the beginning, but when someone drives you absolutely insane; when they have the power to rob you of your peace, BEWARE! You may be projecting.
Soon enough, you’ll discover that you possess that very trait, motivation, or attitude that drives you crazy.
Unconscious behaviors are habits, not personality traits. It takes time and effort to change them, but the good news is that it’s up to you to deal with it once you’ve uncovered them. I had to work quite a bit to change my irrational need for control.
When I look back at what I did to overcome the challenges of my projection with control, I can identify 5 steps that enabled me to succeed. These will help guide your progress as you defeat projection and become a better person:
1) Listen when others point out to you (or give you cues) that you’re acting unreasonably.
2) Take control of your thought process by using reframing and redirection. This will allow you to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and exercise compassion by putting yourself in his/her shoes.
3) Reflect before reacting to avoid impulsive behaviors. Unilke animals, we have the power to respond, rather than react. Reflection will allow you to see how much of your reaction had to do with yourself and the way you filter information.
4) Assume responsibility for your part in everything that triggers your unwanted tendencies. Responsibility if power. If you had something to do with it, you can change it. If things just happen to you, you are playing the role of a victim, which is weakening.
5) Use your protective factors (your strengths) to help change your habits. For example, I used faith to trust that God (and others) can take care of things successfully, even when they don’t go about it my way. If your gift is with exercise, use that to cool down and reflect; if you enjoy reading or technology, search for self-help resources that may give you perspective; if you are a social butterfly, vent with people that are aligned with your values and make you a better person; if you’re an artist, draw out your feelings and modify them in your art, until they get closer to what you want to accomplish.
There’s a sixth step: REPEAT and persevere. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
I’ve incorporated these action steps and have gone from being a control freak and psycho mom to only being a little bit controlling (Crossing my fingers that my hubby and mother in law are not rolling their eyes right now).
Relinquishing control allowed me to release stress, learn different ways of accomplishing the same goal, relax, and allow myself to be guided. It also made me a better and more pleasant human being. Most importantly it saved and enhanced meaningful relationships in my life, including that with myself.
When you learn to love the people you cannot stand, you end up loving yourself for who you are.
I’m still a work in progress, but now I know where to look when I’m faced with a person that seems impossible to deal with!
“Often the only thing that can break down your natural egocentricity is discovering that the qualities you hate in others are acutally”within you. -Richard Rohr