My spunky father-in-law, Skip, often points out, for no apparent reason whatsoever, “The people who irritate you the most are the ones with traits you can’t stand in yourself.” Right he is. (But why is he so inclined to say this in my presence? Hmmm.) This bit of wisdom is not just Skip’s theory. It’s the defense mechanism of projection. This happens when we deny undesirable attributes in ourselves and ascribe them to others. Appalling! Who would do such a thing? I could say, you, but then I’d have to take a look at myself.
Understanding projection has pretty much ruined my career as a critic. I simply can’t judge someone else without first looking at myself. You know the old phrase, “When you point the finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you?” This phenomenon is everywhere you look, once it’s on your radar. Recently on American Idol, Ryan Seacrest barbed Jimmy Iovine for being short. But how tall is Seacrest? He’s usually dwarfed even by the girls and regularly teased about his height. No offense to the sparkling-eyed host. I’m vertically challenged myself.
When we realize this tendency, we can keep it in check. For personal growth, try viewing others as a mirror. When someone, say, talks too much in your estimation, consider when you might flap your jaw too liberally yourself. Use your annoyance as an opportunity to self-reflect and improve upon your already fabulous self. Part of maturity is owning our stuff and working on it. Alternatively, you can view it as a spiritual exercise and practice non-judgment. When we’re able to accept others as they are, we give ourselves permission to accept ourselves as well– flaws and all.
Author and lecturer Byron Katie has created a brilliant method for inquiry called “The Work.” I highly recommend her book, Loving What Is. In it, you’ll find a few exercises that can totally transform your perspective, your story and your life. For example, she instructs us to take a statement or grievance and “Turn it around.” So, if you say, “Allison avoids me,” consider the reverse: “I avoid Allison.” Is it true? Maybe you’re waiting for her to call first? Then Katie suggests you turn it around again, on yourself. “I avoid me.” Before dismissing this idea, ponder it. Are there ways in which you expect Allison to fulfill you when you could do it for yourself? Are you somehow failing to show up for yourself? This line of questioning is fodder for personal growth of the highest order.
I picture you joking, “So it’s all about me, after all?” Of course! So check yourself out before you school someone else. And shine on, you funky-short-person-freak. (“Turn it around, Faith….”).