It’s You, Not Me …
Do you Project in Relationships?
by Cathy Lumsden
Wife: “Honey, do you think I look fat in these pants?”
Husband: “No, not at all dear.”
Wife: “Yes you do, you just don’t want to admit it to me because you won’t get any sex!”
Classic projection. The female thinks she’s fat, therefore she believes her husband views her the same way.
What are projections?
Newman, Duff and Baumeister (1997) updated Freud’s description of projections. They proposed people attempt to suppress thoughts of their undesirable traits, which are then transferred onto other people. Projections manifest from your subconscious mind. They can occur in any type of relationship, with your children, spouse, boss or friends. Projections allow you to live with yourself better by shifting the focus to someone else: “It’s not me, it’s you!”
One type of projection is imagining someone thinks or feels something about you, which is actually what you feel or believe about yourself. One of my clients, Tom, often says his wife hates him. The reality is he hates himself, but projects these feelings onto his spouse. Consequently, he becomes depressed and withdrawn in their relationship. His wife doesn’t have a clue about why he gets moody. Most of us project at one time or another; some of us are better at it than others!
A good friend of mine was in a second marriage where her partner often told her she didn’t know how to be a wife and didn’t care about his children. He told her she was selfish. This was furthest from the truth. Unfortunately, this man was projecting; he was the selfish one. End result: after 10 years of this she eventually left. It was sad that he wasn’t able to see his behaviors because he did have a loving, caring part of his personality, and their marriage could have been awesome.
Sometimes when a relationship is new and you’re falling in love, you can project the perfect mate onto your partner. Rightfully so, as many of us are on our best behavior. As time goes on, though, it is inevitable your partner will fall off the pedestal because he or she is your projection. Many individuals become disillusioned because the people they fell in love with are not who they thought.
The beauty of being aware of your projections or emotional displacements is you can finally see, accept and shift yourself. This allows you to see partners for who they truly are, not how you wanted them to be or what you desired them to become. Acceptance creates an authentic genuine relationship.
Individuals who are divorced and getting back into the dating scene need to be aware of projections or they may end up signing another divorce agreement. When you believe a new person is going to make everything good for you, that’s projection. Another heads-up for single individuals looking for a partner is that people are drawn to romantic partners either similar to or the opposite of one of their parents and/or their last partner. For example, one of my clients tried for years, futilely, to convince her father she was valuable and deserved to be treated well. Fast forward 20 years and she is doing the same thing with her spouse – trying to get him to treat her properly. Unfortunately, she chose a man who couldn’t treat her with respect, just like her father.
What’s the simple remedy?
1 – Ask yourself this question, “Is this really about me?” Most likely it is about you. Sometimes it is about both of you.
2 – Another important question to ponder is, “What don’t I like about this person?” Voila, you will see your suppressed parts.
Projections are always in the mix when our emotions are strong. I rarely dislike people; however, I was sour on my friend’s husband. He was often gruff and unkind to her. When I asked myself what I disliked about him, I was able to see a quality in myself I had chosen not to see. We only had one common trait, thank goodness! This was tremendous insight for me and I was able to shift this trait in myself. In doing this, I then became more comfortable being around this man.
3 – Get to know yourself! Self-awareness is the cornerstone for a healthy relationship. It takes courage; however, it is invaluable. When you can catch yourself projecting, you can then own those hidden parts of your personality.
4 – Also consider that if someone is angrily criticizing you, they’re probably projecting. Sometimes constructive criticism is warranted and we need to reflect. However, if someone is emotionally angry or coming across as a know-it-all, it’s probably projection: they’re talking about themselves.
I’d like to finish with one of my favorite authors, Byron Katie:
“Since the beginning of time, people have been trying to change the world so that they can be happy. This hasn’t ever worked, because it approaches the problem backward. It’s like when there’s a piece of lint on a projector’s lens. We think there’s a flaw on the screen, and we try to change this person and that person, whomever the flaw appears on next. But it’s futile to try to change the projected images. Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering, and the beginning of a little joy in paradise.”