“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
We all know somebody that gets under our skin. I’m not talking about the little things, like the time your coworker forgot to make the photocopies he promised or the relative that always calls you by the wrong name.
I mean the people who really bother us, deep down, and that sometimes we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is about them that we can’t stand.
Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, came up with a concept called “psychological projection” to describe the process of superimposing the qualities about ourselves that we don’t like or don’t accept onto the people around us.
The theory is that if you think your friend is self-centered and selfish and it continues to bother you, it’s very likely that you yourself are self-centered and selfish and either won’t admit it or don’t recognize it.
Personally, I’ve found this to be one of the most genius psychological concepts ever discovered, and highly accurate.
As a result of the ego, we all naturally resist acknowledging our flaws. In general, it’s much easier to praise ourselves for our accomplishments than to really take the time to figure out the areas we need to improve.
It’s easy to point fingers and call out what we don’t like in others, but it’s hard to call out our own flaws and misgivings.
So sometimes, we lie to ourselves. We justify. We convince ourselves that we are not selfish or competitive or overbearing. Our classmate is selfish, our coworker is competitive, our partner is overbearing. The problem lies elsewhere, not within.
Self-deception is a dangerous thing.
If we don’t address it, it begins to grow and spread within us. It becomes a poison to our psyche called denial, self-righteousness, or ignorance. It ruins relationships, opportunities, and ultimately, our own happiness.
It is a poison whose only antidote is brutal honesty and self-reflection.
I have been guilty of this many times. I’m sure everyone has, at some point or another, to varying degrees. There are certain telltale signs that the source of the problem is within.
1.You have a hard time admitting to your own flaws
This can be somewhat of a paradox, because if you have difficulty acknowledging your dark side, probably you have difficultly acknowledging your difficulty. Wait, what?
Those that are a little bit more self-aware probably know whether or not they fit into this category. Maybe you tend to take things personally when they shouldn’t be, or find yourself closed off and defensive when it comes to criticism.
Another way to test this is to ask yourself how often you really reflect on mistakes you’ve made. Chances are, if you are praising yourself far more often than trying to improve the weak areas, you have a hard time admitting your flaws.
In a nutshell, this is a cruel form of insecurity. It makes us worry what people will think of us, criticize ourselves for small things that don’t matter, and try to hide the big issues from others and ourselves.
If this is true for you, it’s possible that you may be guilty projecting all those suppressed qualities on those around you.
2. You are the only one who feels strongly bothered or even notices this person’s “flaw”
If your rantings are met with crickets and followed by “no? just me?” it may be a big indicator. Since projection is a manifestation of one’s own personal shortcomings, and everyone’s flaws are different, probably the things that bother you personally won’t ring true for everyone.
Of course, there is the chance that the reason for your annoyance is legitimate, or a mixture of both. More often than not, though, there is a strong projection influence.
After all, everyone has the right to be whoever they want to be. If the people around them don’t like it, the issue is with the observer, not the subject. If someone bothers you, instead of trying to change them, either learn to coexist or remove yourself from their influence.
If you start to realize that you are the only one who is consistently bothered, it may be time to do a little introspection. Is the problem really with you?
3. You have been described in the same way that you describe this person
It’s one thing if maybe you’re hypersensitive to certain habits of those around you, or you don’t take criticism well, but if this is also true it’s pretty much certain.
We often refuse to take to heart that which we do not want to hear. It’s easy to dismiss someone’s suggestions or advice, convincing ourselves that it doesn’t really apply to us.
If we refuse to listen, then turn around and redirect the message at someone else, doesn’t that make us hypocrites? On a basic level, projection is hypocrisy at its most subtle and dangerous level, because internally we deny that it even exists.
So turns out I do project my flaws on others…where do I go from here?
We start by being mindful and conscious. Before pointing a finger or complaining about someone’s behavior or attitudes, we should take a step back. Is it really worth complaining about? Do you really believe that they deserve the accusation you are making?
In the bigger picture, the world would be better off with a little less complaining and a little more kindness. We need to start putting ourselves in others’ shoes instead of telling them what’s best, getting to know each other before we judge, and finding things that we like rather than hate about each other.
At the same time, we need to be more honest with ourselves. We are not perfect. We are not polished Instagram photos or Facebook profiles. We are humans, and we have flaws.
The first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have one. Don’t be afraid to not be perfect. Learn to love yourself for everything that you are.
It’s only when we acknowledge our flaws that we can begin to grow.