My youngest son came to me this morning, complaining about a disagreement he had with his older brother. He was upset about it because the things his older brother said to him about him were mean and hurtful.
It bothered me also to hear that one son could be like that toward another son, but I also know that in my household that my boys hold this mentality about their siblings, regardless of birth order or pecking order: “No one kicks my brother but me.” I smile at that sentiment a little because it’s funny and it’s true.
Nevertheless, my youngest was injured emotionally and I have to agree that the things his brother said were ugly.
So I set my youngest down and talked to him about projection.
“I have said some really unkind things about other people. I have believed them. I have even said those things to the people. Sometimes, I’ve hid behind a symbol or an event to say those things and yet try to blame it on the context, the ‘where I was’ or the ‘what I was doing’ or my state of mind. Like if I had a headache or was busy, but the reality is that I was like a stereo speaker, or a movie projector of that thought, image, opinion, sentiment or belief that I HAD ABOUT MYSELF that I hurled on to that other person, my target.” I said to my youngest, who was doing his best to pay attention. It was a lot of words.
He rubbed his eyes and sighed.
“Because I felt that way about myself first.” I added.
Then it started to make sense.
“You know when I say, ‘you can’t give what you don’t have?'” I asked.
“It’s the same with projection. If you don’t have love or kindness, then you can’t project, like a speaker projects sound, that love or kindness.”
I started to lose him again.
“How’s this? When you feel good about yourself or what you’re experiencing, you share nice thoughts. You share thoughts or behaviors that are like copies, or the song in the speaker with a person…”
“So, when you feel bad about yourself or what you’re experiencing, you share not-nice thoughts. You share the copies of your bad feelings in the form of bad behaviors or a bad song coming out of the speakers, or bad pictures coming out of the movie projector. It’s like you blame your bad behavior on that person when you’re the one with the bad mood… the bad feelings are inside to begin with…”
He nodded and stared a little blankly and said, “So when you’re tired and you say mean things or are super fast and not nice about things, it’s not at me, even though it feels like it, but it’s because you don’t feel nice inside?”
“YES!” I shouted and surprised him. “Yes. Let’s stay on the idea that it’s me, because sometimes it is. It’s because I don’t feel nice inside. Sometimes you can be with me and I’m tired, or stressed, or sick, or that I feel really angry about something else … What I sometimes don’t do, when I project, is separate my feelings inside — whatever they are — from the person I project onto, in this example, you.”
“So projecting is like vomiting. That’s where ‘projectile vomiting’ comes from?”
“Yes. Projecting is like vomiting. Great analogy. It’s like the feelings are so bad inside that person, your brother in this case, that he vomited his emotions all over you.”
“Yup. It is. So … then what?”
I liked where this was going.
“Well, if you’re a target of projection, like if you were barfed on, you can stay there and get stinky, cold and crusty and feel bad, probably worse that the person who barfed on you, because …”
“Because when you barf, you always feel better…” he said. “But it can get other people sick, because it’s contagious… and I usually feel really empty inside after I barf, like I hurt in a different way…”
My son’s a genius.
“Right! You likely feel worse than the barfer, and are stinky. You can stay there and be angry at the person who barfed on you, and like you said, spread the barf and be mean to another person, or… you can get up and change your clothes and feel a bit sorry for the person who’s feeling so bad, they had to project their bad feelings on to you. Or you don’t have to feel sorry. And that new pain? That’s because after barfing, or projecting, that person is still sick or weak. The “yuck” is still there. But, if you feel sorry for them, chances are you might end up feeling bad with them, which is their point usually. It’s like they feel so ugly, they want you to feel ugly too, so they’re not alone…”
I started to lose him again.
“But they don’t want you around … why would they want you around? You said ‘so they’re not alone?‘ So when my brother does this to me again, I can get up and walk away…”
“That ‘so they’re not alone’ is a figure of speech and it’s confusing. Yes. You can get up and walk away. But will you? Sometimes people want to get back and do something nasty to the person who made them feel bad. That’s a natural feeling, revenge, and it reminds me of the different pain we have after we barf, but … one of the things I like to say to myself, when I’m feeling very vengeful, is that I’m lucky I’m not her… the person who barfed on me…”
And that’s the truth.
He didn’t answer me, about whether he’d get back at his brother, or take the high road. He’s eleven. I don’t have huge aspirations for him in that vein, but I hope to plant a seed.
Eleven?! It can be hard to practice this level of self-awareness at 47!
So much of our pain and its projections comes from a place very deep inside, very old, very real so much so that one confrontation with Truth (a rejection, a situation where you perceive a comment as a threat because maybe it’s close to Truth…?) can feel like an actual threat; as though everything is riding on our survival (read: fight to the death) of that moment.
Viktor Frankl said,
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Man’s Search for Meaning
I like to call that space, a breath. A breath that slows things down and lets us come to a place of calm and acceptance that things ARE NOT life and death. Rather that breath can mean the difference between having a life and living a life.
I’ve used my blog as a platform to have my say about things that bug me, and I will absolutely submit that I’ve projected my pain on it. It’s my catharsis. In those instances, my use of my blog is emblematic of the fact that I feel I’ve run into a brick wall, that I’m just at a point where I feel as though my message has run into a cognitive dissonance machine and that I need to process it. The funny part (to me) is that there is SO MUCH I don’t share here. However, I will also submit that I can meditate more on the point of my blog, that it needn’t be a platform because I feel unheard or worse, voiceless. If people think what I write is about them, or they don’t like what I’ve shared, that’s … well, their ego; it’s tickled a notion in them and…that’s not my problem. My dad has a saying, “If people react to what you’ve said, that means you got to them. Either way, it’s about them.” My distant relative, a priest, had a saying for that, “You’re not mad at what you’re mad at.”
So my son turned to me and he said, “You’re a great mom. I think I get it. It’s like now, I feel good inside for talking about this and I want to share it with you. Will you be my date to Starbucks today? I would like to buy you a coffee and a scone with my birthday money.”
How to refuse that?!
So we went. Here’s our “us-ie” from the date:
one of the best dates i’ve ever had. we talked about minecraft and Christmas and legos and Little Big Planet and sugar cookies.
So try to not see your moments of hurt and frustrations as things or places where you have no choice but to fire an invective at someone OR a thing where you have to wear the stinky wet barfy clothes.
Try to see them as lessons, teachers, messengers from your deeper, inner self to address a feeling of __________ from long ago. And then, try to “listen” to it; try to hear its lesson. Try to be OK with it. Feelings are just sensations. There is no threat.