Jean-Paul Sartre, a reputable philosopher, once stated that hell is other people. Do you feel that way, like you see hell and rage in other people? I do. And I am struggling to find ways to avoid lashing out especially towards my family and significant others. There are just moments when I think of past hurts, and someone comes over to talk to me about anything, and I find him annoying or irritating. What’s worst, I can’t help but shout at him and say, “Can you please get out of my face?”
I’d like to think that all of us have experienced feeling this way. Often, a coworker distracts us from whatever we’re focusing on perhaps just to invite us for a snack, but you told him to go away. Or your mom’s bossy nature pushes you to snap and bang your door behind her. And then you think to yourself, “I will never find peace until they change who they are.”
These thoughts we have about other people and how they are the cause of our misery are often wrong. According to psychologists, we attribute the qualities we hate in ourselves to other people, and then those people distract us and make us mad when they bluntly tell us what traits we’re trying to hide. As Katie Hurley, LCSW explains, “Negative stereotypes about people with mental illness often involve the perception that people with mental illness are dangerous.”
Some of us (yes, I included), in our efforts to deny a trait that we don’t like about ourselves, dare to tell others, “I am not like that, and never will I be,” so that attention is repelled towards the other person. And yet when that person gives up and disowns that particular trait, some other person will come into your life and trigger you with that trait. It will almost always be like that until you learn to acknowledge that you want so much to reject that trait in yourself! Psychotherapist Joseph Burgo describes this as one’s innate affinity towards integration.
I am sharing what I have learned through research and online articles about stopping projection off its tracks and preventing it from destroying our new and old relationships. Here are some tips on how to combat this devious defense mechanism.
Innate Traits We Need To Overcome
- Ego. We sometimes tend to think that we’re almost always perfect in our ways, which has its disadvantages. This is why when someone challenges our views, we get angry and often blame other people for causing us to feel that way, when in fact we did that to ourselves. Ben Martin, Psy.D. used to say, “Anger is typically an attempt to control the actions or behaviors of others to get our needs and wants met by others. Anger is the result of frustration when you do not get what you need, want, or expect from life or others. Anger is essentially a control tactic”
- Habit. The habit of blaming other people for making us feel what we don’t want to feel is difficult to stop. We may have been projecting for so long to a person or a group; this pattern may be so embedded that it becomes a natural defense against anything unpleasant for us.
- Decreased Awareness. I, for one, was not conscious that I was actually projecting my rage and worry towards my husband. I just noticed it not so long ago, when I felt signs like stress, tension, and mental preoccupation.
- Fatigue. When we are over-worked and exhausted, we easily succumb to our temper and emotions, which is why we are inclined to project how we feel onto other people.
- Emotional Resistance. The entire point of projection is to unburden ourselves of our anxiety, grief, anger, and shame onto other people. Thus, it is typical that we try not to acknowledge these feelings and what we have done to destroy our relationships. Of course, when we finally do, we don’t take the projection back simply because it hurts. “Our society tells us that if you talk about your issues, express your feelings, or even verbalize you have a mental health disorder, you must be “weak.”,” says Ryan Parks, M.Ed, LPCC.
- Dehumanization. It is the process of assigning a symbol to the person we are projecting into. We don’t see him wholly as a person, but as the mean boss or the clingy jerk. They become a representation of the things you hate.
Tips In Stopping Projection
- Be Calm. When you feel the temper starting to swallow your mind and body, take a few breaths, four counts to inhale and eights to exhale. This has been a proven method of calming oneself down.
- Don’t Be Too Preoccupied. The projection has features that separate it from simple annoyance or irritation. The most obvious is focusing too much on the other person, with accompanying beliefs that you are and will never be that other person. There’s so much self-justification in projection.
- Look Inside You. Projection is technically turning towards another person, or turning outward. And the best cure for this quality is practicing self-awareness. Connect with your inner self and how you can fight negativity. This will help control your obsession towards your target person and instead shift your attention to better things.
- Be Real. Psychotherapist Burgo agrees that problematic individuals may have the same negative traits that you disown yourself from. However, we frequently project what is real. For instance, if you are a nagger, you will tend to project it towards someone who is a nagger. Only that being a nagger is not their only trait. They have other traits too, some positive.
- Show Empathy. When you’re empathic, you try to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes, imagine living his life. This way, you might be able to stop thinking of him as someone who is out there to destroy you, but perhaps like, you, he is also struggling to be the best person despite the challenges.