Beware of Projections

reflections

Have you ever heard that what you find irritating about other people are often your own shadows you don’t want to own? When we harbor disapproval or non-acceptance of ourselves, we can’t truly be understanding and accepting of others. Furthermore, we often project our own self-disapproval—even self-hate—onto others. It’s not just in being convinced that others hold the critical feelings we have of ourselves, but also in our self-criticism coloring the filter through which we experience others. There have been a number of reminders about this truth of late. Let me share a rather innocuous but poignant example.

No Patience for Amateurism

On this past Saturday, I played tennis with someone relatively new to playing doubles. Inexperienced with doubles strategy, she wasn’t comfortable at the net and didn’t know much about court positioning vis-à-vis her partner. Having her repeatedly back away from the net was unnerving. I kept having to run up to cover the net court after serving. I didn’t feel like I could count on her as a partner.

At one point, a high ball was coming over toward the back court, which would have been a natural forehand ground stroke for me. I yelled “me” to let her know I got the ball. However, she ignored me and proceeded to back up from the net on her side of the court to my half to try to hit an impossible double-handed backhand overhead. The ball was so high she was nowhere near able to touch it, let alone hit a good shot. She missed the ball, but I couldn’t get my racquet on it without fearing I’d hit her. So, we lost that point. Very unnecessarily. I lost it internally then. I thought to myself, “I work really hard all week, and I just want to have fun. I don’t have patience for this amateur stuff!” We proceeded to lose that set at 0-6.

projectionUnconscious Projections

Then, something happened when we switched partners for a new set. This inexperienced doubles player continued to commit the same faux pas, but she and her new partner did really well together. At one point, I heard her partner encouraging her, “No worries. You’re doing great.” Meanwhile, at one point, I was so hell bent on getting a ball that I ran over to my partner’s half court and missed it. In that instant, as I apologized profusely to my partner, I recognized I did the very thing I was mad at the other player for doing earlier!

I felt terribly ashamed. I could have been more patient and encouraging with the less experienced player. After all, it wasn’t even 2 years go that I myself felt like a fish out of water at the net and kept doing stupid things as a very green doubles player. I still make dumb mistakes left and right. I didn’t have patience for the less experienced player because I’ve never had much patience for myself either.

The truth is I’m competitive. I’ve never wanted to own that, as I judged competitiveness to be an undesirable quality. Instead, I want to be nice and supportive all the time. On Saturday, I wasn’t playing well myself. I was tired from a long week and had a hard time focusing that morning. I wasn’t meeting my own competitive expectations, which made me vulnerable to seeing only the things the other player wasn’t doing well—when, in fact, she hit a lot of good shots, just like I hit some good shots, too. I didn’t have the consciousness to keep in check the negativity bias in my brain. That meant only remembering all the unforced errors I made—and, by association, all the unforced errors made by the other player.

Spotting Our Shadows

shadow

Similar experiences have been happening off the tennis court to remind me to tame my over-achieving inner critic, to remember self-compassion and acceptance, and to be mindful of unconscious projections. Time and again, soon after I had a negative reaction to or evaluation of someone’s behavior or action, I’d do the very thing I judged as unacceptable or sub-par. It’s grossly unnerving to my inner critic, but my higher self recognizes that it’s simply the Universe conspiring to help me along in my commitment to live with high consciousness. That includes giving me opportunities to practice embracing the imperfections of being human—including not being nice, supportive and thoughtful all the time—and owning my shadows—including the competitiveness I’ve tried to stuff in the closet my whole life.

So, how do we spot our shadows and avoid projections on others? There are infinite shadows to consider, but here’s a starting list:

  1. Are you highly critical of others—and especially of yourself? Reflect on traits and parts of your personality you feel ashamed to own. Notice what triggers and annoys you about others. That would likely give you some clues.
  2. Do you find yourself being treated like a perpetual doormat/dumping ground? Reflect on ways in which you’re reluctant to stand up for yourself, perhaps due to feelings of unworthiness or not good enough. Notice how others’ treatment of you perpetuates these feelings.
  3. Do you find it difficult to deal with inconsistent people whose opinions and decisions seem to change at the drop of a hat? Reflect on why others’ changing positions threaten you. What do others’ seeming inconsistencies say about your fear of changing your own mind?

Pay attention to what irritates you about other people. It likely contains clues on what you don’t want to own about yourself. Ultimately, I believe that life gives us encounters that are meant to lead us to greater love, compassion, understanding and acceptance—first of ourselves and then of others, because we simply can’t give what we don’t have.

Now over to you: What do you think about triggers from others’ behavior being projections of our own lack of self-acceptance? What may you add to the list of 3 above as a shadow we commonly disown, even if unknowingly?

___________________

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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9 comments
ahhthesimplelife
ahhthesimplelife

Hello Alice, This post really resonates with me! Thank you!

Lori
Lori

Hi Alice! I love the shadow! Years ago I started a book group around The Dark Side of the Light Chasers! What irritates us about someone else is what needs to be addressed in us. I love how Anthony DeMello puts it, "You're not seeing them as they are. You're seeing them as you are."

Yikes!

I think we commonly disown the light shadow as well as the dark one.We can't be drawn to greatness in others unless it's in ourselves. There are more than a few ways the inner critic criticizes! When we reach lower than we could because we feel we never could reach as high as those we admire, isn't that the light shadow appearing? 

Lori 

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

I think we also spot shadows we don't want to create. As we see behaviors that bother us in others, we may strive even harder to avoid taking on each such "shadow." It helps us lead in better ways. In recognizing these shadows, we may realize we are at a tipping point to doing the same things and so it pulls us back to reality and puts us on a better path.

Great points, Alice, and ways to build and enhance our self-awareness. Thanks! Jon

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

This was another excellent post. Your weekly posts seem to resonate so closely with experiences I've been during the week, and they provide onderful solutions. Thank you.

Recently, I 've been experiencing some irritation and annoyance in a professional setting. As you explained in your post, such experiences reflect what is happening inside of us. After your reading you're post, I'm inspired to treat myself and others with far more compassion. Thank you, my friend.

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Owning our shadows... and stepping into the light with what we may have been too afraid to admit (out loud) before.  Some of the shadows that I've seen in myself and my clients are "better than" "smarter than" "less than" on and on.  We spot in others what we are most feeling about ourselves.  Your tennis story was really wonderful to highlight how human the experience is and it doesn't only happen at work - but in life.  Thanks, Alice!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Lori Hi Lori, I'm not familiar with that particular book, but what you said bout light shadow makes total sense. We most certainly have the qualities we admire in others. In fact, we notice these qualities because the same within us want to be developed. Thank you very much for adding the great DeMello reference here. Much appreciated!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Good point about what we don't want to take on, Jon. Some personalities have a strong tendency to mimic others. It takes consciousness to stop that automatic subconscious process and recognize we have a better/different choice to be. Thank you very much for sharing your insights!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas You're so welcome, Hiten. As you read in my tennis story above, there were clearly times when I behaved in ways that didn't make me proud. However, they're all part of being human. They're reminders that I can choose better. Thank you for joining the conversation.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Thanks for sharing the shadows you see in yourself and your clients, Alli. Yes, if we're willing, we can spot our shadows in any setting. We just need to be committed to shining the light on otherwise unconscious behavior. Always good to have you join the conversation, Alli!

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