This is embarrassing to admit – even with a MA degree in Psychology I did not understand the power of projection.
I loved studying Psychology but honestly, I approached it the way Catholics approach the bible. The ideas/stories in the bible, according to Catholicism, are metaphorical. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Catholic claim that Noah actually built and Ark, or that the red sea really parted.
In contrast, my ex, who was raised Baptist, honestly believed that Noah built an arc. According to my ex Noah was able to do this because he lived to age 600, an age made possible because there was no pollution back them. True Story…according to my ex.
As far as I understood, Noah’s Arc and all the other stories in the bible are fables. They are written to teach us how to live, to demonstrate right from wrong, to provide a vivid picture of what might happen if we anger God. They are not to be taken literally.
This is how I viewed Projection. It was an idea. If it did happen it was subtle. Certainly it was not comparable to the way movies are projected on to a screen.
I guess I wasn’t paying attention, because projection is exactly the same as a movie being projected onto a screen. It is simple, it is clear and it is Real.
One of my most obvious examples was during my childhood, when my mother called me fat, even though I was 8 and clearly not fat. She felt fat, so she literally put that feeling on me. Not understanding this made me believe I was fat, and ultimately ended in me starving myself and developing a warped relationship with food.
I look back over my relationship with my ex narcissist and see example after example of projection. For example, he used to accuse me of not looking at him. It was really strange, because I looked at him every day. Many days I looked at him with disgust, but I always looked at him. He though, often went days without looking at me. I’m not really sure what his intent was in accusing me of this, but I do know it was an accusation he made whenever he was cheating on me. In not looking at him I was allegedly demonstrating my lack of love for him. Now that I understand Projection I realize that he was really saying he no longer looked at me because he did not love me.
Projection is a great example of Gaslighting. Whenever I tried to start a conversation regarding budgeting he would say “you are always emasculating me. Are you saying I can’t provide for my family?” A few things happened at these moments.
- We no longer needed to discuss budgeting, we needed to discuss my motives; my impression of him – gaslighting. The conversation was over, with me slinking way feeling intense shame.
- He was projecting his feelings of failure onto me. He was telling me (had I understood) that he felt like less of a man, because he couldn’t provide for his family the way he wanted to.
- Finally, he reinforced the idea that I was a bitch.
My clearest example of projection happened this weekend. Here’s the background:
My middle son lives with his dad. He hasn’t spoken to me since last May. I am “dead to him”, he said as he moved out. He lives with his dad because I kicked him out when he refused to get help for a myriad of issues. Last week he was in Florida, and he reached out to my parents – his grandparents. They met him for dinner, and he is doing really well. I was thrilled that he reached out to them. Perhaps it is a first step towards coming back to me.
My parents are having the whole family to Florida in May, to celebrate their 60th anniversary. Naturally my son is invited. I asked my parents if they thought he was going to come and here’s what they said:
“If he can stand to be in the same room as you”.
This took my breath away and shut down my brain. This is called disassociation. I’ve been doing it all my life, because I’ve always been around narcissist, or personality disordered individuals.
For the rest of the day I was bothered. I kept running the conversation around in my head, stopping when I got to that statement. It was particularly harsh because my parents knew how hard it was for me to kick my son out. They know how heartbroken I’ve been, not being in touch with him. I couldn’t figure out why they said it (I think it was my mother who said it) until I re-opened this blog and it hit me: that was pure projection from my mother.
My older brother has not spoken to my mother since a few weeks before the election. She has tried to reach out to him to no avail. When she remarked that my son doesn’t want to be in the same room with me she was really referring to the fact that her son won’t be in the same room as she. It really is that simple. Bizarre, but simple.
My mission for the next few months is to pay attention to my body. Why? Because my body knows when I’m being gaslighted, or someone is projecting their shit onto me. My body freezes and tenses up, and I go into a dissociative state. It is an immediate, visceral, intense reaction. It is my 1st clue that something is awry. I’ve spent most of my life thinking I was “over-reacting” or “too sensitive” or “a bitch”. Those messages created an incredible amount of shame. So when my body reacted to an interaction I automatically felt shame. Since I was so mired in a sense of shame I was no longer able to see that I was not the problem.
Now I know that my 1st clue is my body, and I’m going to listen to it. Maybe I’ll get better at identifying and dealing with toxic people.
It could happen, right??