Tag Archives: reciprocity

Projection

Projection is a defense mechanism used to displace the responsibility of one’s negative and unacknowledged feelings, behavior, beliefs and choices by attributing them to someone else.

The goal of projection is to create a distraction that helps avoid ownership and accountability. The victim becomes the focus, and is manipulated into taking responsibility for the abuser’s behavior, beliefs and feelings.

For example, an obviously angry parent confronts and accuses their child of hating them. The child, in fact, loves the parent, feels disliked by the parent, and walks away feeling ashamed and guilty for hating their parent, even though that’s not their feeling. For the moment, the parent has successfully displaced their own self-hatred onto the child.

Another example is a friend talking to another friend about her experience of a chaotic yet transformative life event that’s picked her up and set her down in a different place. The speaker is accused of being negative and making her friend feel stressed and upset, in spite of the speaker’s attempts to be clear about the exhilaration and joy of her experience. The speaker walks away with her friend’s displaced inability to deal with change and loss of control, her own joy forgotten.

Projection is a common defense mechanism, and most of us use it to one degree or another. It’s not necessarily a Big Evil. On the other hand, projection can be a subtle and cruel blame shifting game of power-over, and some people who employ this tactic intend to win at any cost. Their victim and the world at large are blamed for everything that’s wrong or feels bad. The projector is an innocent victim of the machinations and manipulations of others, the general unfairness of the world and bad luck.

People who use projection as a weapon can have a devastating effect in our lives, but I’ve been even more devastated by my own use of projection, and this is a skill the culture has actively and systematically taught me to perfect.

I’ve been brainwashed since I was a child to believe that all people share my desire for peace, compassion and cooperation. I’ve been led to believe that all others share my empathy, my thirst to learn and grow and my priorities for healthy connection. I’ve been taught the Golden Rule, the application of which ensures being treated with love and kindness. We treat people the way we want to be treated, and voila!

Furthermore, as a female, it’s my responsibility to be a representative of all these values. If I fail to exemplify peace, empathy, loyalty and kindness towards others, I fail to be a good daughter, wife, lover, friend, mother and woman.

It’s also my job to be the keeper and carrier of feelings the people around me don’t want to deal with.  It’s what I’m for.

No one ever suggested to me how dangerous it is to project my own value system onto another person…

No one ever suggested to me how dangerous it is to project my own value system onto another person, and I only just discovered this for myself recently. As it gradually dawned on me, I struggled for a time to find an alternative way to look at the people around me. If I don’t approach others with all my naïve projections, then what? I don’t want to assume everyone is destructive and dangerous, either!

Then it occurred to me that our approach to strangers (or even those we think we know) needn’t be either/or, friend or foe. A stranger is a stranger. An unknown. It’s not necessary or useful to project anything onto a stranger. The Golden Rule still applies and I still conduct myself authentically and respectfully and pay attention as I interact with an unknown person. I’m learning not to manufacture stories, make assumptions or project. I inquire, listen, watch and take responsibility for my own feelings and behavior.

Projection is a complex technique and can be very hard to see when it’s lurking under the bed. However, in this house we’re skilled at pulling all sorts of monsters out from under the bed (metaphorically, of course) and letting the cat sniff at them. Once identified, projection is perfectly manageable.

Projection, like gaslighting and mice, leaves tell-tale signs.

  • Any conversation about a challenging issue (money, parenting, fidelity, keeping one’s word, the nature of the relationship, why you got hit) winds up being about why it’s all your fault.
  • You’re accused of something (a feeling, lying, cheating, stealing, being demanding, interrupting) that’s not true.
  • In spite of your best efforts, communication isn’t successful. You can’t get your point of view heard and you feel chronically disempowered.
  • After an interaction, you feel ashamed and guilty.
  • No matter what you do, you seem to be continually hurting someone you care about.
  • You don’t experience reciprocity; the more loyalty, understanding, empathy, love, gratitude and forgiveness you extend, the more drained and alone you feel.
  • You feel like a disappointment, a failure and a burden.
  • You’re always bleeding; you had no idea what a terrible person you are.
  • You feel manipulated, used, disliked and angry, which increases your guilt and shame.
  • You feel confused, baffled and bewildered. Every time you turn around you seem to get sucker punched, literally or figuratively.
  • You don’t feel safe.
  • Your trust is damaged.
  • Your boundaries are chronically violated.
  • Your priorities, feelings and values are disregarded, if not brutalized.
  • Your needs are not met.

Abusers and personality disordered people who employ projection invariably give themselves away, right in plain sight, because at some point they project onto others something so bizarre the victim and/or onlookers have an Aha! moment and recognize the manipulation. For example, someone with sexual boundary issues accuses someone else of an assault that never happened. A thief projects stealing onto someone with scrupulous integrity. A liar accuses an obviously honest person of lying. A rageholic accuses everyone else of being angry while they put their fist through a wall.

Another common projection is “You don’t care!” when in fact we care so much we feel terminally ill, and we still can’t make it work.

Shame and guilt have enormous isolating power. One of the best defenses against projection is to verify someone’s stated perception of you and your behavior. I had a boyfriend who accused me of “always interrupting.” I was crushed. It was a heated, angry accusation that blew up out of nowhere, and he’d never given me that feedback before. I’ve studied good communication techniques for a long time, and communication is something I care about doing well. Furthermore, I frequently had the experience that he interrupted me, but I tolerated it because I loved him.

My choice (after I stopped crying) was to ask other people in my life if they had this experience with me and get a reality check. I had a couple of close girlfriends whom I knew would tell me the truth. If it was true, I wanted to know so I could change that behavior.

They thought I was nuts. One of my best friends, who had years of experience of me in groups as well as one on one, said she appreciated the way I always held space for others to speak.

I didn’t cry anymore and I immediately dumped that projection. Not long after that the relationship also ended.

Another good defense against projection is to name the behavior and refuse the projection. There’s no need to fight, raise your voice, cry, argue, persuade, explain, justify or throw something. Those are all distractions from the fact that the abuser is employing a toxic tactic that’s about them, not you. Let them escalate—it’s their game. You’re don’t have to play.

“No. That’s not how I feel. That’s a projection.”

“No. That’s not what I did. That’s a projection.”

“No. That’s not what I said. That’s a projection.”

Stand your ground, look them in the eye and refuse to get distracted from their behavior, no matter how juicy the bait they dangle. Hang up, disconnect, block, delete, walk away, disengage. If you can’t get away from them, repeat a simple statement like the ones above as many times as you need to.

Projection can be abusive and toxic. It’s essential that we recognize it, both when we employ it and when others use it against us. Good boundaries go a long way to disabling projection, and so does the work of authenticity. We can’t control the behavior of others, but we can learn to recognize and excavate our own projections and take responsibility for our choices and feelings, which makes us far less vulnerable to this tactic.

Check out my Good Girl Rebellion page for this week’s antitoxin to life-threatening niceness.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Tolerance

I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:

“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’

I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.

At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.

I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.

As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion  that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.

I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s blog, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)

After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!

Ick.

This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.

I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive that you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.

I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.

That’s all fine, if it works for you.

It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.

I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.

It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.

I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about—authenticity, compassion, power with rather than power over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.

Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.

Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.

Nobody is entitled to tolerance.

Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Pseudo Self

A reader asked me, after my last post, what the difference is between engaging in reciprocity and people pleasing. This is a great question, and it gave me the subject for this week’s blog.

First, I want to answer that question.

Reciprocity minus authenticity equals people pleasing.

If we’re engaged with others authentically, we naturally have things to offer out of our true selves. At its best, reciprocity is a dance between real people with real-person strengths, weaknesses and needs.

People pleasing is an indirect plea for love, acceptance, approval or attention. It’s all about trying to get something back, not about giving out of the abundance of true self. We people pleasers don’t believe we have anything authentic to give that anyone wants, so we watch and listen carefully and try to play a role that we think will please.

The opposition to authenticity is pseudo self. I really explored pseudo self when I went through life coaching ( http://ourdailycrime.com/ready-for-a-change/ ), but a Google search will provide you with the history and background of the term. Wiki has a good page about it.

Essentially, pseudo self is a survival mask that many of us start making as very young children. The construction of pseudo self is so deeply rooted in pain and fear that by the time we’re adults we can no longer tell the difference between the mask and our authentic selves, and the mask has all the power.

This kind of pseudo self is not like the superficial mask we all wear occasionally for social occasions, work occasions and family reunions. For the most part, we know that mask is a mask. Everyone around us wears one, too. Those masks are called manners and social skills (at least in polite conversation).

The survival pseudo self is a much darker mask. Think man in the iron mask. We create it and don it to survive, but over the years it becomes so much a part of us we can’t tell the difference between our flesh and the iron. It tortures us, but we don’t know how to take it off, and if we did know, how could we dare to do it?

Our culture in the United States is deeply committed to keeping that mask firmly in place because our culture is based in capitalism and conditional love, and the foundation of capitalism and conditional love is the belief that we need to be different than we are.  We need to buy things to be. To be what? Fill in the blank. Just to be. What do you want most? Love? Sex? Money? Power? Whatever it is, a half hour of commercial television will help you start a list of the things you need to buy to achieve it. Everything on that list is another rivet in the iron mask of pseudo self.

We are so brainwashed by this as parents, teachers, partners and human beings that we unconsciously perpetuate a paradigm of conditional love. We relate to one another through competition, power over, and all the things we need to be okay. We withhold love, affection, friendship and the “like” button. We’ve created a culture of pseudo self.

Being does not arise out of buying. We’re all born with the power to be. We have access to that power all our lives. Nothing can take it away from us, but we can be trained to surrender it. We are trained to surrender it, and we do.

Many of us are actively taught from childhood to create a pseudo self. Telling little boys not to cry or play with dolls, telling little girls to be “nice,” telling women to sit down and shut up, telling anyone they should say, believe, eat, vote for, wear, be interested in, or want anything is supporting construction of pseudo self.

However, the pseudo self can be challenged. The iron mask can be broken down and removed. There are people who show us the way to authentic self, but it’s a stony path, because it means challenging the foundations of our culture and beliefs. It means challenging a lifetime of behavior and the expectations of others. It means breaking rules, and most people are not tolerant of those who break rules.

The blog I wrote last week is an example of challenging pseudo self. Think about this. I’m a perfectly ordinary middle aged woman living in central Maine. My stats show I have about one hundred readers. Not even half of those readers know me or have ever met me, and I don’t know them. Only one or two readers have actually commented on the blog, and I have seven subscribers, most of whom are not friends or family.

Yet it took every bit of courage I had to post that blog. I broke just about every rule I’ve lived my life by when I did so. I challenged what I was taught about being attractive, being intelligent, being kind, being nice, being a peacemaker, being womanly. All this because I dropped the mask and expressed my frustration, my anger and my passion and used the word “fuck.” Repeatedly. In front of around one hundred people, most of whom are strangers.

I had a sick stomach and crying jags. I felt panicked and anxious. I didn’t sleep well. I haven’t been able to sit still or relax. For three days, I couldn’t even log on and look at stats and so forth, or do any behind-the-scenes work on the blog.

Letting the iron mask of my pseudo self slip was horrifying, but I also noticed a feeling of relief. The rebel in me celebrated. I dared. I allowed myself to be. I wrote the real truth about how I feel. Everything on the blog is written from the heart, but only the civilized half! The last blog came from a different part of me, the strong survivor part, the primal female part, and that’s the best part of who I am. It’s also the least socially acceptable.

I usually feel like a mess. My life often feels like a cluster fuck, to use my favorite expression.  If that’s too much for you, then substitute car crash, train wreck, or something you feel is more appropriate! I try really, really hard in life and my intentions are wonderful, but I’m not perfect. Not a perfect daughter, mother, sister, friend or partner. Not a perfect writer, blogger or anything else. But I am. I’m someone real. I refuse to live the rest of my life in my iron mask.

At the end of the day, when I’m dead and over, I don’t want a wake, a funeral, a party or a nice obituary. I want someone to be able to say:

“Damn, that woman was real!”

For more on pseudo self, check out this link: http://www.becomingwhoyouare.net/true-selffalse-self-part-2-the-false-self/

I’ve also updated my resources page.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted