Only if you’re a psychopath are you exempt. Otherwise you’re not getting away with it. If you do bad, you know it (even if no one finds out). There goes your self-esteem and self-love… You may feel like saying, “Life sucks and people are mean” when in fact it’s you – you’re unhappy and resentful - is the bad and the good. As you look for a connection to a power outside of self and walk the right path, you find a way out. You are shown a better way and you won’t find the need to blame anyone for anything. They say, “The truth will set you free.”
Projection refers to the process of displacing an image onto an object, usually a screen, where it can be seen. Sigmund Freud introduced this term for a similar psychological mechanism – where we disown a part of self and project it onto someone else where we can “see” it. Often it is about denying unacceptable parts of ourselves and blaming the OTHER person for it. It doesn’t work - we end up resenting the other person for disliking what we have done. This process happens unbeknownst to us.
What’s the purpose of distorting reality like that? Projection is defined as ego-defense mechanism, where we lie to ourselves. We change our perceptions in order to protect our self-image and feel better about ourselves. Then we try to forget about these feelings, thoughts, motivations, or desires and convince ourselves that the “enemy” is outside, and that we can fight or flee.
For example: Nina was an emotionally neglected child. As an adult she remains needy for attention and approval. She envies her big sister, seeing her as strong and loved. She tells people that her sister is the one who envies her (Nina) for her superior beauty.
Jack fears not being good enough at his job and criticizes his boss for being incompetent.
Joe has aggressive impulses and says, “People are mean.”
John has a history of molesting boys as a priest, and publicly attacks pedophiles.
Kay has a history of stealing, and states that her colleague is not to be trusted with money.
Jim raped a teenage girl and claims that she “asked for it”.
Sue has been unfaithful. Now she distrusts her husband’s fidelity.
Dan is scared and goes along with the guys who are bullying a classmate. He makes fun of him for being “a pussy.”
Jill is scared about her alcoholism and laughs about a celebrity who is shown drunk on TV.
These examples show that projection and resentments go together, that we find fault with others when we disown a seemingly unacceptable part of self. It can be about our own behavior, an unresolved issue, or insecurity about handling a task. As long as we deny the truth we are stuck. While projecting blame, we inhibit our own learning and healing. When experiences are not processed, growth, maturation, and transformation remain impossible. As we victimize others with a self-righteous and punitive attitude, we inadvertently pay the price… we keep on repeating mistakes, while resenting some more or less random scapegoat. It makes no sense, really.
In recovery we learn about humility and acceptance, which helps, but the ultimate liberation is captured through forgiveness. As long as you indulge in projection and blame, you don’t get it. What you are is what you see. When you catch yourself resorting to judging and blaming someone, try replacing their name with the letter “I” and see what happens…
The truth gives you the power. Recovery is about raising one’s awareness and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Psychotherapy (especially CBT) and the practice of mindfulness can be of great help. The idea is to identify and differentiate thoughts, feelings, and actions, and gradually improve insight and clarity. Twelve-Step work can help to take a good look at one’s own actions, make amends, relieve resentments, and move on. Hope is introduced, new options become doable, and consequently the mood improves. Liberation from faulty mental constructs is an empowering and encouraging process. The alternative? Living a lie.