Projecting Our Own Issues

This week’s meditation is a follow-up on an earlier one that had to do with “beaking up” with images of ourselves that we know no longer serve our highest good. The truth is that we all have “issues”, in other words, things about ourselves that we don’t like, or traits we find undesirable. Most of us realize that we are not perfect and that it is natural to have unpleasant thoughts, motivations, desires, or feelings. However, when we do not acknowledge these things, we might find ourselves ascribing these attributes to someone else, judging others as angry, jealous, or insecure. From what I recall of my psych class in college, this kind of fault-finding is called “projection.”
When we ourselves become the target of projections, it is frustrating and even annoying, especially when we know full well that we are not the cause of someone else’s distress. Even people who are well aware of their issues might find that certain subjects can bring up unexpected reactions or projections. For example, if I am feeling financially spread thin, seeing my friend in a new Lincoln might cause me to see him as extravagant. If I am feeling overweight or out of shape, I might take every opportunity with my friends to underscore the importance of eating right and getting adequate exercise. Or, if I am prone to being dissembling or opaque with others, I might wax eloquent on how I simply cannot tolerate dishonesty. It’s always easier to perceive our flaws and sins manifested outside ourselves!
When it comes to being mindful about what comes out of our own mouths (I am always telling my students, “Just because it’s in your garage, you don’t have to open the garage doors!”) it is quite another story when dealing with others. Yes, we can try to avoid the ones we know are projecting their issues onto us, but not always. We can, however, learn to lovingly deflect some projections through mindfulness and gentler language. I remember many occasions with my own family members, many of whom were not always nurturing, when I had to bite my tongue and simply maintain silence. Other times, I took a “time out” and considered that there are people who probably think that I have annoying flaws–and that allowed me a moment of gratitude for the friends who loved me regardless of my limitations. As Christians, we follow Jesus by picking up our cross every day and moving forward. We are never on our own, however, as the Light of God envelopes us at all times. That same Light of God surrounds all creation and all people, even the annoying ones trying to compel us to take some share of their issues. There is comfort and grace in realizing that we can gently remind someone when s/he is being unreasonable, and we can choose to remain calm in the face of criticism. We all know that it is never fun to have someone else’s issues dumped onto our laps; we should also remember that it feels the same when we are the ones doing the dumping. When we take ownership of our thoughts, motivations, and issues, we are less likely to project our issues or disowned qualities onto others. This is precisely why, since the earliest years of the worshiping Christian community, the calling to mind of our failings has always been the first order of business when coming together to worship.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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