Sometimes I wonder about people that write lists and come up with checkboxes of criteria to walk you through stopping a habit. They make it sound so easy. Do A, B, and C and voila! Cured. It makes me wonder if they’ve ever dealt with those issues personally or if they’re on the outside looking in and coming up with things they think would work from the perspective of an unaffected mind.
The thing about projection is that most people don’t even realize they’re doing it, when they’re in the midst of doing it. They may realize it later or in retrospect but by that point it’s usually too late and the projecting has already occurred and likely the consequences have already been suffered.
So don’t let those checklists fool you. It’s not a simple matter of following a few boxes down a page. There is hope though. There are some things you can do to put yourself on a path of least projection.
As with most things, it begins with raising your own self-awareness. This is often difficult, especially if you’re like me and have a dissociative problem where you don’t always feel connected to yourself. For me, Therapist recommends that I write everyday; keep a journal. When I enter into a situation that causes any kind of feelings for me, good or bad, it’s important that I write them down and contemplate them. If you can identify what you’re feeling, you can begin to recognize why you’re feeling it. It may sound silly to those of you that don’t deal with this, but it’s pretty common for me to not know what I’m feeling about something. It’s a blank spot where my emotions should be. This happens most when I’ve passed the point of being emotionally overwhelmed, so theoretically, you’d want to start recognizing your emotions before you reach this point the next time. If you can identify what you feel, you can own it, let yourself experience it, and hold onto it. When you can hold onto your emotions you are less likely to project them onto others and can soothe yourself.
It’s like a game of psychological catch with a baseball of molten emotion. It’s too hot and uncomfortable for you to hold onto so you throw it at someone else where it’s easier to process.
This doesn’t help you deal though, and it hurts the person you’re smacking in the face with a baseball.
When you begin to recognize what feelings and behaviors belong to you, you can own them. In owning them you raise your self-awareness and your own personal power over your emotions. The problem with projecting is that it takes those emotions out of your own hands, it makes things feel out of control because you’re seeing things in other people, and other people aren’t controllable. That lack of control creates an intense amount of unbearable vulnerability. Vulnerable is the last thing we need to feel more of. When we are able to recognize and own our own emotions, they become things we can take control of which puts the power back in our own hands.
Like I said, this isn’t something that happens quickly. It takes time and some personal effort, but it’s possible.
The other thing that is important to learn, is relating. With Borderline Personality Disorder that relational ability is severely impaired. To relate it takes two things: 1. Being open to looking at your own feelings, and 2. Being vulnerable enough to let others begin to know you in a consistent and authentic way. We all know this is an experiment in trial and error and often a painful one, but eventually, connecting to those emotions, even the painful ones, allows us to develop a better sense of people and relationships. Which helps us choose healthier, less painful ones. When we keep throwing our emotions outside of ourselves, keep projecting our problems onto other people, of course we’re going to keep seeing the same problems with everyone and continue to make poor choices in the people we keep close.
So how do you start? Well, pick a negative relationship in your life. Is there someone at work or at home you don’t get along with? Do you feel like someone is out to get you? Try to figure out where that tension began. Here are some steps you can use:
(1) Who are you projecting on? Write down one person in your life you are judging harshly.
(2) What are the things that you tell yourself about them? What is the quality in them you most judge. Write it down.
(3) Identify how you display that quality, even if it is in a completely different way. If you can’t see how you display that quality now, allow yourself to see how you could display it in the future, the circumstances that could bring rise to that quality.
(4) Once you realize that you are capable of displaying the quality that you see in the person you’ve been judging, notice if your heart softens and if the judgmental voice in your mind quiets as you wake up from the trance of projection.
It might not be a perfect plan, and it might not completely cure you of projection right away, but it’s definitely a start. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. The hardest part is taking an honest look at ourselves. And I mean anyone, not just those of us with BPD. Everyone has false or idealized perceptions of themselves. Taking a good honest look at our motivations and inner workings isn’t always the most pleasant journey. But it’s a meaningful one. And in the end, an empowering one.