'k' - The Text that Launched a Thousand Fights
Psychological projection is a defence mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions.
In instances of projecting, the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.
In conflict, rather than focusing on circumstances and behaviours, one party will prematurely assume to understand how the other is feeling, based on their own machinations, resulting in false accusations or worst-case-scenario story-telling.
If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m a story-teller. I believe story-telling is one of humanity’s greatest tools for connection, and- with that being said- I also readily acknowledge the fact that story-telling is also my go-to when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, scared, angry or uncertain.
Depending on the situation, the time of the month, the nature of the relationship, my stress levels, etc etc etc, a ‘k’ received via text can provoke a whole range of internalized responses. Anything from- “Wow, rude.” To a- “I knew it- they’re mad at me-” I can go full-blown Stephen King with the narratives I spin and I’ll admit that gladly. Why? Because it means I’ve done a lot of work, and I’m proud of that (because it sucked and I hated it but I did it anyway). I’m not perfect and I never will be- I still stumble, and sometimes pull a spectacular face plant- but 8.5/10 times I catch myself. How?
When I realize I’m starting to spiral into a Hitchcockian internal script, I press pause. I focus on two things.
1.) What I know to be true
2.) Naming the feeling
If it turns out I don’t have enough details to turn fiction to fact, I move on to step #3.
3.) “What does this remind you of?”
Sometimes it turns out to be a reminder worth heeding: “They remind me of my ex…” but more often than not, when we can’t be specific, there’s some projection involved, and our projections tend to be tied to something that we’ve compartmentalized into the dark corners of our subconscious.
If you have a tendency to project, it might be time to shed some light upon what’s collecting cobwebs in the back of your psyche.
Projections can be tethered to our unresolved traumas (and it’s worth mentioning the fact that ‘little t’ traumas are very real; you don’t have to experience a life-threatening ordeal in order to experience trauma), insecurities, shame, limiting beliefs or insecure/avoidant attachment styles.
So many things can trigger us for many different reasons. Maybe your co-worker correcting you in a meeting reminded you of the bully that picked on you throughout grade school, or the way a caregiver would find a way to criticize even your best efforts, and upon reflection you realize that A. No one thinks you’re an idiot because you made an easily rectifiable mistake and B. Your co-worker wasn’t exhibiting any ill-will, they were simply pointing out an error. And that’s…it.
You can let it go.
If, upon further reflection, you realize that the way they went about making the correction crossed a line (maybe they did question your intelligence- “How did you miss that?”), that’s absolutely worth addressing, and steps 1 and 2 will still serve you well. The more specific you are, the more effective your feedback will be:
“I appreciate having my errors pointed out to me, but when you do so in a way that questions my professionalism- asking me how I could have missed it- rather than recognizing I’m a human capable of making mistakes, it embarrasses me in front of everyone. I trust that’s not your intention, so next time- and there will be a next time, ‘cause I’m human- I’ll ask that feedback doesn’t involve any personal slights.”
We’re all capable of projecting, because we’ve all grappled with shame, insecurity and bullsh*t. Our egos step in to defend the parts of ourselves that we believe, on some level, still requiring protecting. Those parts are the hurt parts, the neglected aspects of the self. That’s why it’s so important that the next time your ego gets its hackles up you turn inward in response.
That’s where your attention is truly needed.