At some point in our lives, we have been the victims of projection. What is projection? Projection is a coping mechanism we use when our ego feels fragile. We do this by disengaging from the characteristics in ourselves we deem unattractive and then attribute these characteristics to another person. As human beings, we seek to cope with our insecurities by projecting onto others. Frequently, we are unaware of this behavior since avoiding focus on ourselves is the very reason we project.
Here’s an example: Let’s say recently you have been feeling guilty about not spending enough time with your mother. You’ve been wondering if you have been selfish. Your sister calls. You tell your sister that she has been acting selfish lately because she hasn’t spent much time with mom. In other words, the selfish characteristics you see in yourself are too painful to admit to. You decide to give the characteristics to your sister as your way to cope. Taking the focus off yourself and placing it onto your sister helps you to avoid dealing with the feelings you may have about your mother, your own selfish behavior, etc.
When we are the victims of the projections of others, we can react in a number of ways. One of these ways is a counter-projection. A counter-projection is the act of the victim projecting back at the projector as a way to cope. This is usually expressed as an explanation or retaliation.
Why would a victim respond with counter-projection? The victim could be coping with the frustration of being the victim or could be battling the fact that the projection could be triggering experiences of psychological trauma that is lying dormant in the victim.
So what is the best way to deal with the projections of others? As difficult as it may be, the best way to handle being the victim is to ignore the behavior of the projector. Entertaining the behavior will keep the behavior alive. The projector will continue to ignore their feelings and will continue focusing on others. Ignoring the projector will only leave the projector alone with their feelings to deal with.
It is very difficult not to take the bait of projection. It becomes easier if you realize that despite the fact that these projections may be directed toward you, they truly say nothing about you and your character.
Establishing clear and concise boundaries for yourself is an essential part to living a happy and successful life. It is through relationships we learn about ourselves and what our personal boundaries are. As children we struggle to develop our individuality and begin to establish boundaries. Our childhood provides us with a guide of what is acceptable treatment from others and what is not. In my practice, I have encountered individuals who have been raised in what most would describe as a healthy environment. They come from supportive families who foster growth and encourage self-worth. Others I have encountered were the exact opposite, raised in abusive and unsupportive domestic environments. And just as both of these clients’ domestic situations were drastically different; so were their personal boundaries.
I began to notice that the more abused client struggled more often with loose or soft boundaries. In other words, they were willing to endure more pain in a relationship than an otherwise healthier person. The possibility of abuse was always a concern for the abused person, even despite working on their self-worth and self-esteem and becoming successful at creating change in their lives. Once our brains have been exposed to trauma, we simply can’t unsee or undo it. We may recover from the experience but the experience will always be a part of us. An abused person may set solid personal boundaries but they will always struggle with the possibility that these boundaries may be compromised. This can be compared to the recovering alcoholic who struggles with alcohol. The recovering alcoholic knows he wants to stay clean but struggles with the fact that it is possible to drink again. Over time this problem can improve but will never be completely gone.
A person who has encountered trauma may be more challenged to stay true to their strong established post-recovery boundaries when faced with a similar triggering trauma.
This is something I call bendable-boundaries. Boundaries are bendable based on how well you are able to respond to a person or situation that challenges your limits. Are you able to exert what is expected of others when they are involved with triggering a previous trauma? So as I begin to close, I have one question for you. How bendable are your boundaries?