Tag Archives: projection

Let me tell you what you’re really like

If we seek out a professional person, the probability is that we want them to tell us how they think things really are. That will include measurements of ourselves. We may also turn to friends, family and colleagues for feedback on how we’re doing. We might invite criticism. We’re allowed to do that. We’re also allowed to speak plainly if someone asks us to.

Misjudge, and an unsolicited compliment can be creepy, patronising, or even a put down. I’ve blogged about that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/swimming-metaphorically-with-the-social-jellyfish/

However, what’s interesting to me at the moment is what happens when people feel the need to give unsolicited criticism. ‘Let me tell you what you’re really like’ is seldom the prelude to a compliment.

Shit happens. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Most of us are dealing with this kind of thing in small ways on a daily basis. It’s important to identify what went wrong, it may be relevant to identify who was responsible or what could be changed to improve things.  When we’re focused on action, choices, behaviour even, we’re talking about things that can change. It’s not terrible to be told that something needs to be better or could be worked on. We’re all flawed and human and we all need to be able to talk to each other about these things.

However, it’s a very different business when we want to tell the other person who they are. You are this, you are that… It’s not a big problem with compliments – you are lovely, you are kind, you are considerate, you are generous, you are brilliant – most people don’t object to hearing things like this. You are useless, you are horrible, you are stupid, you are creepy – no one wants to hear this.  I’m not convinced it’s a helpful thing to do, either.

Firstly it makes the problem intrinsic, it doesn’t invite change or tell the person much about how they could change. ‘When you do this I find it difficult’ is more useful. ‘When you say X I feel Y’ can be a place to start a process. But when we say ‘you are’ in critical ways, it comes across as judgement and rejection. If you are terrible, how can there be scope for change?

If we talk about how we experience each other, there’s room to talk about why. Projection and historical baggage can so easily be part of the mix. We may use words in different ways, or have triggers or anxieties. If we can share what we experience, we can negotiate with each other, and learn to co-operate more effectively.

‘You are’ statements can be a form of power over. The person speaking has given themselves a status, an entitlement to label and categories the other person, to judge them, and to say what is going on. It puts all the responsibility for the situation onto the other person. It denies even the possibility of a problem being collective, not individual.

It’s not something I often do, but it is something I’ve done in states of rage on a few occasions. For me, it marks the end of a dialogue. It’s something that doesn’t come up often in my life, but that I’d like to handle more effectively. On the whole I think the only ‘you are’ statement I want to use henceforth in a critical way should go ‘you are not someone I can continue interacting with’ – give or take.

The desire to make someone understand an uncomfortable truth can, at the time, come from a place of wanting justice, recognition, or fair treatment. But in practice, when I’ve got to this point with someone, it’s because those things were entirely absent. There’s nothing I can say that will change anything. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in dropping a truth-bomb like this before walking away, but how much good that really does anyone – myself included – I am uncertain.


Holding up mirrors

We all hold up mirrors for each other, and use other people as mirrors. Often it’s not conscious, and often we have no idea whether the reflections we see are clear and true, or alarmingly distorted. Here are the methods I’ve been able to identify, there are probably others.

We project, and then see in the other person things we don’t like about ourselves. We don’t know that we’ve made the other person into our mirror, so we may well try to punish them for how uncomfortable the likeness makes us feel.

We assume that everyone is just like us and would naturally mirror our feelings and thought processes. When they fail to be this kind of mirror, we can get confused, upset and even angry.

We see things that, when other people do them, look terrible, tragic or otherwise uncomfortable. We may not be able to see it that way when we do all the same things to ourselves, but if we can recognise the mirroring in this situation, both parties can help and heal each other.

We can hold up mirrors made of compliments, encouragement, love and support so that the person we are showing the reflection to sees themselves in the best possible way. This can help them have faith in themselves to be that person, and more.

We see the worst in what a person does – all the flaws and inadequacies, all the scope for ghastly motives, and we reflect that back to them. We show them the worst of themselves, and undermine their sense of self with it, or make them angry and defensive. In reflecting and expecting the worst, we can push a person towards being and doing the worst that they can.

We can have beliefs about what it means to be the other sort of person – as Pagans we can still be hit with crazy ideas about what Paganism means. It can be disconcerting to be reflected back as the other person’s prejudices and unfounded assumptions. (Examples – you are not thin and therefore you are lazy. You are poor and therefore talentless. You are lgbt and therefore predatory etc).

If we’re really paying attention we can hold up mirrors that simply reflect back something true about how the other person is, but this is the least likely outcome, I suspect.

We won’t always be conscious of what we’re doing, but the more alert we can be to the idea of playing with reflections rather than reality, the more scope for spotting it we get, and in turn that means not having it take over.


The problems of positive thinking

I see a lot of pieces online about how we can improve our lives with more positive thinking. Practice gratitude. When you are angry with someone, look at how you are projecting your negativity onto them. Minimise your problems. Love everybody. Now, if the only problems in your life exist because you’re a miserable, negative sort of person who projects this onto others, feels no gratitude and has no love in their heart, this may in fact work. In some situations, it can get you killed.

The trouble with glib positive thinking prompts, is that they do not have any nuance, or any capacity for detail. They also make you wholly responsible for your life experience. Yes, you can change any experience by changing how you feel about it. If you are being bullied at work, or beaten at home, you can make this easier to bear by feeling grateful for even having a job or a partner. You can tell yourself that it’s not so bad, and that you are creating the problem by projecting your negativity. You can love them unconditionally. This will destroy you, one way or another.

Then there are the positive thinking ideas that reassure us that we’ve chosen this life-experience for a reason. There is something we must learn. And ‘God’ would not have given us more than we can deal with. Fantastic, not only is you life awful, but you chose this before you were born, and your deity thinks you can take it. Again, people who stay in dangerous situations can and do end up dead. Every time I read an assertion that the challenges are here for us to find loving answers to, I want to scream. Some people, if you stay around and love them, will take you apart, metaphorically, literally… Sometimes the only lesson to learn is how to get out as safely and quickly as possible. It’s worth being very careful about this one, because leaving a dangerous situation can trigger rage, and statistically you are most likely to die at the point when you try to escape. Help and a good plan are essential.

New Age fluff is fine if the biggest problems in your life are that can’t have everything you desire, your ego is not stroked enough, and you have no idea how to be satisfied with what you’ve got. If your problems are first world issues of excess luxury and too much advertising then yes, those positive thinking prompts may be good for you, and won’t do any harm. If you go to bed afraid of the person who lies next to you, then lying there in the darkness trying to figure out why you are projecting this negative emotion onto them, will keep you there, and keep you hurting and frightened. If you’re being shouted at, if your days are a barrage of criticism, mockery, and humiliation, if there are normal things you do not dare do because you fear the consequences… stay away from the New Age noises. You do not need more love and patience. You do not need to accept that you chose this life course and have work to do. You do not need to buy into the idea that it is somehow your life’s purpose to deal with a person who makes you want to die.

Every time you read some statement about changing your thinking to improve your life, please, please add a mental footnote: This only applies if you are not dealing with a psychopath. This is only true if you are not surrounded by assholes, by petty, mean-hearted gits, or by those who enjoy knocking other people down.