One of the joys of growing up is the wisdom we gain from years of experience living life and interacting with other people. One of the interesting lessons I have learned about some, not all, people is the tendency to project their own guilt, shame, or personal concerns onto others. It took me awhile to catch on to this little trick; but, once I did, I was amazed at how many people I have known in my life who use projection as a relationship trick.
How do you know if you’re really the problem or if insults and accusations made by your ex (and others) are actually coming from a place of inadequacy or an attempt to cover up their own misdeeds?
Here are 3 ways you might catch someone projecting their issues onto you:
1.They make serious accusations against you that you know can’t be true. For a spell of about a year during my marriage, my ex became freakishly obsessed with my coming’s and going’s. He asked me if I was cheating on him, and I even caught him inspecting my clothes, as if looking for evidence.
I couldn’t figure out what I had done to trip his infidelity radar because I was only either at work or home and never went anywhere else without him. I didn’t spend much time on the internet, and this was before I even had a cell phone, so I honestly had no opportunity to sneak around. I was shocked and deeply hurt by his accusations, and confused as to why he would suggest such a thing.
He, on the other hand, had ample opportunity to cheat on me. He traveled a lot on business and had a lot of “meetings” and other things that kept him away from home.
15 years after we divorced I became acquainted with his second (now ex) wife who confided in me that he cheated on her throughout their marriage, which she only learned about through his cheating on me being exposed!
As it turned out, he went out of town while married to her and someone sent her a letter claiming to know that he was sleeping with one of their neighbors. When she confronted him about it, he confessed to cheating on me– with one of our neighbors- and tried to play it off as a mix-up between a past and current situation…the only problem was that he was currently cheating on her (with a neighbor)!
I found myself strangely not too surprised by this revelation. Perhaps part of me always knew. When I reflected back on our marriage and his strange behavior, I realized that his accusations and suspicious behavior was because he was lugging around a massive guilty conscious about his own actions! Perhaps he thought he could throw me off the scent of his own infidelity by attacking me? I’ll never know; but, this opened my eyes to the strange ways guilty people can act, and made me very grateful to no longer have him in my life!
2. They make odd insults against you. A friend of mine is treading water in a high-conflict divorce. Sometimes she barely keeps her head above water amidst some of the truly bizarre insults and statements her ex makes about her. After hearing some of their interactions, my theory about projecting behavior was confirmed; only, in this case, the ex will make comments about their own traits and try to make them fit the other person.
For example, my friend’s ex will often make last minute demands on her, then become very angry if my friend is unable to accommodate or complies, but requires the arrangements to be slightly different. An instance of this behavior was when her ex demanded (not asked) that she take care of the children the whole next week (when it was his scheduled week with the kids) because he did not have childcare for while he was at work.
My friend, while wanting to be with their children whenever she can, was put off by the fact that he had waited until the night before to lay on this demand, with no consideration for her schedule. When she dared say that she would have to review her schedule and let him know, he laid into her calling her selfish, immature, and made a snarky comment about how he wished her to be able to find happiness so that she wouldn’t be so uncooperative with him.
Whoa! How did a co-parenting interaction deteriorate so quickly from checking her schedule, as she had every right to do, to suddenly being accused of selfishness and immaturity if she might not be available to fulfill his request? After witnessing numerous of these interactions take place between them, it occurred to me that his tremendous sense of guilt and inadequacy for routinely not being available to his own kids was actually making him feel jealous of her relationship with the kids and remorseful because he is often at the gym or pursuing personal interests instead of taking advantage of time with his kids.
It’s as though the voice of reason inside of his head was wagging a finger at him for opting out of visitation time or even choosing a schedule that didn’t best accommodate parenting, but instead of owning his choices and dealing with the consequences, he took comfort in lashing out at his ex and trying to affix the blame on her.
3. They assume to know your motivations. A co-worker of mine has an ex who always wants to argue about money. Nearly every topic of conversation or fight that he starts circles back to finances. He will frequently lash out at her about how he refuses to pay for his share of a child’s sports fees or doctor co-pay because of any number of excuses, then blame her for all of his financial woes, post-divorce, even though she always pays her share of the children’s expenses.
At first I thought he was just bitter about being ordered to pay child support, even though it was a minimal amount. Then, I noted that my co-worker stated that he has always been very money-driven. He regularly complains about things he cannot do; but, then as soon as he has extra money he adopts a “king of the world” attitude and acts as though he’s accountable to no one and spends freely.
I found it odd that he would make statements such as “you only care about money” and voice concerns about other people trying to “get his money.” I realized that money makes her ex’s world go ‘round. So, even though financial matters are a serious source of conflict between exes, he is particularly sensitive, and ready to assume that money is all everyone else is interested in or after!
So, the next time someone accuses you of something outlandish, insults you, or assumes to know what you’re all about, ask yourself if it’s really you or them projecting their issues on you! You can learn a lot about what drives another person by the issues they are most concerned with or the insults they use!