Projection, anger, and emotional distancing.


Last week my therapist asked me how I’d feel about coming to meet him in another office downtown on a different night. Feeling slightly panicked by this (I hate change), I told him that no, that would not work for me. All week I’ve played that short conversation over and over again in my mind, imagining that my saying “No, I don’t want to do that” made him angry. I imagined I saw an angry look on his face, and decided to bring that up in tonight’s session.

I assured him that I didn’t think he was really angry, and I realized I was probably just imagining things, but that all week I had been obsessing over being “displeasing” to him and maybe even making him dislike me (which turns out not to be the case at all, but I’ve always been a codependent people pleaser).

I found myself doing what I always do whenever I imagine someone’s upset or angry with me: I emotionally shut them out. I’ve gotten good at this, WAY too good at this. It’s why I find it so hard to connect with anyone, because the moment things aren’t perfect (and they will never be perfect) and I imagine any anger or negative emotions toward me at all, I tune out and convince myself I just don’t care what they think (even though a part of me is aware I do care, very much).

I started talking about all this, and then my therapist asked me something that made my jaw drop.  He asked me if the real problem was that I was angry at HIM for daring to suggest we change our time and place (it turns out we don’t have to). It was like being splashed awake with a bucket of ice water because suddenly I could SEE.  It was so obvious! I realized that I HAD been angry at him, but not able to own my anger, and so instead I imagined that HE was angry! (He wasn’t). I never realized I used projection as a defense mechanism before, but I do, all the time! Once I could see the mechanics of how projection manifested in me, I couldn’t believe that I never saw it before. Suddenly, everything made sense.  It was like having lived your whole life seeing everything backwards, inside out and upside down, and finally seeing the world the right way or the first time.

This changes everything, because now whenever I start getting paranoid or worrying about the harsh or negative judgment of others, I can simply ask myself if the reactions and emotions I’m imagining are really real, or if they’re actually my own emotions that I’m trying not to own.

I’m thrilled because this is another skill I can put in my mindfulness toolbox. I would not have been able to see this at all if I were not already pretty good at mentally stepping outside myself and seeing myself as others might see me.


2 thoughts on “Projection, anger, and emotional distancing.

  1. This was awesome and well said. We all project to some extent, that is the nature of our interactions with one another. The key there is being aware of it and understanding how it works, which you’ve just demonstrated perfectly. If you’ve grown up with narcissists, that part of us that can identify what is “us” versus other people gets wounded, broken. I call this being trapped in a hall of mirrors. You’re doing some good work, because right after you begin to own your own feelings, you learn how to refuse to own anyone else’s. That creates a kind of safety and security that many of us were deprived of when we were young. Once we get through all of that, we’re unstoppable 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you. Rather than being upset about this discovery, I’m excited, because it means I’m a step closer to, as you have said, not owning the feelings of others anymore, and only owning my own. Once I can do that, it makes taking the risk of connecting with other people that much easier. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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