CHARLESTON, W.Va. - "Just look at her - not a care in the world." "If only I had his [looks/job/money - fill in the blank] ...."
Go ahead, admit it. You've caught yourself making snap judgments like these about people around you or on television or in a magazine.
In these challenging times it can be particularly tempting to look at someone else and think he or she leads a charmed life. Outward appearances can be deceiving, though. We never know what someone else has gone through.
My mom and I were driving to Morgantown the other day and had a lot of time to talk.
We talked about how easy it is to jump to conclusions when we have just a little information. It reminded me of a story about a man who boarded a subway with his three children. The noisy kids were running up and down the subway car and climbing on the seats. The father just stared at the floor, making no attempt to discipline the children.
Other passengers were irritated. Finally, one woman asked the father, "What are you going to do about those children?" The man looked up and said, "I don't have a clue. You see, we've just come from the hospital where their mother just passed away."
Talk about a paradigm shift! The woman immediately shifted her focus from being angry to being compassionate. Other nearby passengers looked like they had egg on their faces.
This kind of "Center-of-the-Universe" thinking gets us into trouble a lot. When you don't get your phone call or e-mail returned promptly, do you berate the recipient? Even worse, do you start spinning scenarios about what happened to cause the delay?
Just like a movie projector, we often project our own thoughts and fears onto a situation, and end up running down a totally different path than the situation warrants. I've spent my fair share of energy doing this. Now I've asked those around me to call me out, so I can know when I'm doing it.
My husband, John, is quick to recognize this old habit and will say, "Linda, you're projecting." I'd like to think this old pattern of mine was born out of a desire to be organized and prepared for whatever outcome the situation takes, although I realize that's just a rationalization. I finally got tired of all the energy it consumed - with no apparent benefit. I backslide at times, but I am getting better at catching myself in the act.
Mom and I are working to keep our minds open and resist the temptation to create so many scenarios that could possibly occur. Right, Mom? After all, a little information can be dangerous.
The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, described projection as one of his original defense mechanisms, those behaviors we exhibit to protect ourselves from pain. When a person has uncomfortable thoughts or feelings they need to repress, they may project them onto other people.
Dr. Richard Niolon says that projection is something we all do. It is the act of taking something of ourselves and placing it outside of us - onto others. Sometimes we project positive aspects of ourselves, while other times we project negative aspects.
At times we project things we don't want to acknowledge about ourselves, so we turn it around and put it on others (i.e. "I didn't make a mistake; you're just so critical of everything I do!")
The problem with projecting negative aspects of ourselves is that we still suffer under them. In the example above, instead of feeling inadequate (our true feeling), we suffer with the feeling that everyone is critical of us. While we escape feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, we nonetheless still feel uneasy. The more energy you put into avoiding the realization that you have weaknesses, the more difficult it eventually is to face them.