I discussed in my last blog that reacting defensively is complicated. Let’s talk about this a bit more because these are challenges that occur in all relationships. As promised, I will explain the difference between being defensive and defending oneself in our relationships.
The challenge that all of us bring to our relationships:
There will be times when you will be stunned by something that your partner says to you. Perhaps you will find yourself on the receiving end of an accusation such as “you are selfish” or “you only think of yourself”. While the immediate and understandable reaction is to feel hurt, I’m going to try to help you move out of your hurt and move toward understanding something that all of us do in relationships.
During times of conflict, ask yourself if you or your partner are projecting. What is projecting? Projection occurs when we attribute attitudes or feelings to our partner that we are not ready to see within ourselves. Let me say more…
~ A spouse who is hostile might attribute this hostility to their spouse and say he or she has an anger management problem when in reality it is the accusing spouse who has the anger problem. He or she is not ready to see this within him or herself; therefore, this spouse imposes it on their partner.
~ A spouse accuses his or her partner of being selfish when in reality the accusing partner has challenges in being giving.
~ A spouse who accuses his or her partner of being irresponsible by stating “you blame me for everything” when in reality it is the partner who tends to blame and struggle to accept personal responsibility.
“It is important to remember that all of us project in relationships”
I wrote about my own struggle with projection in my blog about Humble Pie!! It is equally important to remember that when we project it is because we are frightened to see these things within ourselves. We fear feeling the shame that resides within us regarding our vulnerabilities, or flaws (as many refer to them). I prefer the word ‘humanness’.
The painful impact of projection:
The challenge of projection is that when you are on the receiving end – it hurts. And while the accusing person may not recognize it – it ultimately hurts them as well. I’ll explain…
All of us need and deserve to feel understood and, when on the receiving end, projection can leave you feeling ‘not’ understood. In the example of the hostile spouse – and keep in mind that projection is often expressed during conflict – a spouse may simply be expressing frustration about a legitimate concern. However, if in response to their concern they find themselves on the receiving end of an accusation such as “you have an anger management problem”, they will be left feeling not understood by their partner, especially if the accused person prides himself or herself on being a calm and rational person.
Perhaps the most painful aspect of being on the receiving end of projection is “not feeling seen for who we are as a person”. Hurt is intensified when the unfair accusations are from your loved one. If we are unfairly accused of something that is not remotely who we are – it’s a painful experience to not be seen.
In addition, if you are projecting, it is hurtful to you because you are not seeing yourself with light and love. I love this mantra:
“What you don’t own – owns you”
When we shine a light on our humanness, we can learn to manage whatever challenges we endure. For example, if you struggle with hostility, you can examine the reasons for it. Does this come from a place of hurt? And if you are simply a person who is a bit more impatient for various reasons – you can feel empowered by owning it. If you own it – it hurts less. It’s far easier to say “I can be impatient at times” as opposed to having someone criticize you for being impatient. Also, if you own it, you can do your best to control it. When we deny these aspects of ourselves, we have no control – meaning that if you don’t acknowledge you have a tendency toward hostility, you won’t understand it and, if you don’t understand, you can’t work toward personal growth.
Defending (self-awareness) vs. Defensive:
What can you do when you’re on the receiving end of projection? Self-awareness is most important; it will help you to know the difference between defending and being defensive. For example, if someone accused me of being an insensitive person, I would immediately know that it was not accurate. I would think, or even say, “this doesn’t sound at all like me”.
When you are on the receiving end of projection in a relationship, it can be very confusing. This is why self-awareness is so important! Although self-awareness is a life-long process (because we are always growing and changing), knowing the core of who you are is a great beginning.
It will take work to move even partially out of our hurt and shift toward self-examination regarding what someone is saying about you – however, this is the process of knowing the difference between projection and what is a fair observation about you.
People who are open to personal growth find it even more challenging when on the receiving end of projection because, well, they are open to personal growth!! When you are open to personal growth, you are open to feedback from others. Yet, if you are on the receiving end of an attack or accusation – there is no reason to be open. If you are on the receiving end of a concern presented with love – this is a different story. One can always be more open to feedback about the challenges that we bring to a relationship when it is presented to us with love.
One more important thought:
When you recognize that you are on the receiving end of projection – keep in mind that this is not information to use ‘against’ your partner during an argument. You might tuck it away in your mind and, given the right opportunity, you might share your observations when your partner is open to hearing your thoughts. Regarding the ‘hostility’ example that I shared, you might say something like: “I noticed that you seem to feel impatient or agitated at times, and I’m wondering if we could talk about it. I want to understand what you go through and why.” HOWEVER, keep in mind that sometimes it does not matter how gently we share our observations with our partner, he or she may respond defensively. Remember – there is most likely hidden shame. But planting seeds is still a good idea.
Always remember, the stronger you are in self-awareness, the harder it is for someone to project his or her challenges onto you.
* * * * *
If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!
And you can keep up with my writing on relationships, random thoughts and more by subscribing here.
One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. It’s not easy to do, I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section. And, if you would like me to blog about a specific topic – let me know!
If you think this blog will help a friend, please share it with them or share it on Facebook and Twitter!
Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit: Dragunsk Usf@flicker.comShare