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  • Tony Georgiadis

It's not me. It's them.

Do you ever feel wronged by everyone around you? Do you ever find yourself criticising others for behaviours that might not directly impact you?

There can be genuine cases where we are mistreated, where our personal boundaries are violated, and we feel others don't consider our feelings enough. Setting firm boundaries, expressing our feelings in non-violent ways, and knowing we have a choice are a few things that can help in situations like these.

However, in today's post, I will discuss the complexities of how we assign responsibility in our interactions with others, and examine some of the ways our perception can skew our judgements.

Blaming others unreasonably

We might often find ourselves blaming others and talking negatively about them, expressing our frustration towards them or about them to others, for reasons that might have no real impact on us.

A manager that keeps assigning tasks to us might become "a bad manager" who does not consider our already full workload.

A partner might become "a bad partner" who is always too emotional and self-centred because they keep expressing their feelings and needs to us.

We might be annoyed with a colleague who is overambitious and high-performing; we might think to ourselves, "All they care about is work."

A close friend who started responding with "no" to our requests to meet might quickly become someone to push away since they "don't care about us anymore."

Perhaps someone who is different from us in terms of colour, ethnicity, sexuality, cultural background, or religion might be thought of as a "bad person" or just trigger emotions of anger within us that we can't explain, often disproportionate to what has happened.

Here are a few things we can do and think about when something like this happens:

Self-reflect and notice within

When we notice feelings of frustration arising within us, particularly when triggered by the differences we perceive in others, it can be beneficial to pause and reflect. By taking a moment to identify the specific behaviours or characteristics in others that unsettle us, we engage in the process of helpful introspection: What is it about their actions or traits that elicits such a strong emotional response within us?

This introspection serves as the initial step towards unraveling the complex web of our reactions. It invites us to delve deeper into our psyche, probing the underlying biases, preconceptions, and assumptions that color our perceptions. Through this process of self-examination, we gain insight into the root causes of our emotional reactions, paving the way for greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Criticise the thoughts

Criticising our thoughts is an essential aspect of understanding the projections we make as well as the underlying reasons. By examining our thoughts critically, we gain insight into our inner workings and can challenge limiting beliefs that may be holding us back.

This self-exploration can lead to greater understanding of how we relate to the aspects of ourselves that are reflected in the behaviours or characteristics we observe in others.

Do we resonate with the traits we see in others, or do they trigger discomfort or resistance within us? Are there parts of ourselves that we admire or aspire to emulate, and are there aspects that we reject or disown?

An example

Let's take the example of a close friend of ours who recently started rejecting our requests to meet. One option is to become curious, communicate our observation to them, and perhaps ask them what might be behind their recent rejecting responses. We might quickly realise that their change has nothing to do with us; they might have just been going through a lot recently, or simply might not want to socialise much at the moment. Instead, we might feel rejected ourselves, quickly draw a conclusion about our friend's behaviour and the reasoning behind it, and think that they betrayed our friendship, deeming them unworthy of our friendship.

In this example, it can be helpful to think to ourselves:

How do I relate to not responding with a "yes" when someone is asking something of me?

How do I feel about rejecting others' invitations to meet or saying "no" as a response?

Often, there lies a very interesting finding: we might realise that this is a blind spot within our own psyche; a behaviour that we feel very uncomfortable with, as if it should not belong to us—a strangely familiar behaviour or characteristic that needs to be pushed as far away as possible. In this particular example, we might realise that we find it unacceptable to reject people's invitations out of fear we'll lose them from our lives; perhaps a fear of abandonment. It is a part of ourselves that hasn't been honoured much and for reasons that are often not easy to identify. It may be for instance, because, growing up, it was unacceptable as a child to not conform to our environment and our parents' asks and needs because there could have potentially been consequences or punishment.

Defence mechanism of Projection: Getting rid of unacceptable behaviours and traits

When a behaviour or personality trait is strictly forbidden early in life by our caregivers, we might unconsciously suppress it, perceiving it as unsafe to express. We won't consciously think about it; we'll simply avoid doing what is forbidden. Yet, this part of ourselves does not cease to exist. The child who wanted to say "no" to an activity but was forced to comply because their parents thought it was a good idea will push the frustration down, since expressing it felt unsafe. Similarly, the child who was punished for being cheeky learned to associate danger with expressing their true nature.

As adults, we keep carrying these uncherished parts of ourselves with us, and we keep considering them as unwanted and unacceptable. When we then get exposed to something that reminisces this unacceptable behaviour or trait in others, we reject it the same way we have learned to do towards our own unacceptable part of ourselves.

Psychotherapists call this "projection"; an attribution of our own unwanted and unacceptable characteristics to others. Projections are a psychological defence, a coping mechanism that keeps us away from familiar emotional danger, as in our mind it's not us who own this unwanted behaviour or characteristic, it's others. Hence, we defend against the feelings that having a certain characteristic or behavior would bring up by denying that we have it altogether and attributing it to others.

Projecting onto others around us can often leave them confused; they might feel unfairly treated and in ways that are considerably disproportionate to what they did. In the long run, an inability to understand which unacceptable parts of ourselves we might be projecting onto others can lead to relationship turbulence and breakdowns, arguments, anger issues, and leave us with feelings of anxiety and distress.

Understanding projections through Psychotherapy and Counselling

Through psychotherapy and counselling, we can begin to reconnect with parts of ourselves that have been cut off and start to cherish them. This process may initially be challenging and may even involve grieving for having neglected these aspects of ourselves for so long. It's not uncommon to feel discomfort or resistance as we face these neglected parts, but with time and support, we can start to understand and accept them.

As we gradually embrace our multifaceted nature and unique characteristics, we come to terms with the diversity within ourselves and recognise the same complexity in those around us. This journey of self-discovery and acceptance can lead to a more compassionate and empathetic outlook on life, both towards ourselves and others.

So, the next time you find yourself strongly criticizing others, perhaps ask yourself:

What is it in the other that I see in myself?

This question can serve as a powerful tool for self-reflection and growth, helping us to understand our projections and ultimately fostering healthier, more authentic relationships. By acknowledging and integrating these previously disowned parts, we can develop a deeper, more harmonious sense of self and a greater appreciation for the rich mosaic of human experience.

Tony Georgiadis - Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor (MBACP)

Author: Tony Georgiadis - Therapist and Counsellor in London and Online

In person and Online Counselling and Therapy


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