I often tell a story about two women who I was seeing in therapy at the same time.
This story could only happen in a fairly small town therapist’s office.
It tell it to people who are struggling with seeing themselves negatively, hearing an inner voice that’s constantly telling them they are less than the others around them.
It’s about the power of projection, which is what our minds “put on” or “project” onto someone else.
Jane takes her daughter to school every morning. She rushes her in, because they are always late. She knows everyone’s name, and is constantly calling out “hello’s” to everyone, asking how people’s mothers are or how the soccer game went. Jane is secretly highly insecure. She is tall and overweight, always looks like she just got up, because she never takes time for herself. She hides her insecurity by being gregarious and “all about other people,” yet she is well-liked because of it. People feel cared about by her.
Jane confides in me. “There’s a woman, I think her name is Lois. She comes in to the school every morning, holding her child’s hand. They are calmly talking to each other, as she walks him into his classroom. She looks like she’s been meditating all morning, she’s just so serene. Her child knows she cares about him. I’m afraid my daughter thinks I care more about everyone else than her. Why can’t I be more like Lois?”
Switch to another session the next week.
Another female patient.
“I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere. When I take my son to school, for example, I clutch his hand tightly, and all I can do is talk to him. I keep my head down and after I deposit him in his classroom, I walk as quickly as I can out of the building. There’s a lady there that always looks so friendly. She’s talking to everyone. I want to be like her.”
“Lois, how long have you been this anxious?”
I so wished I could tell them they were talking about one another. Obviously I could not. But I did find a way to talk about projection. I did find a way to talk about what good things they were creating, even though they could only see the bad or the vulnerability in themselves.
But I have my own story to tell.
I was asked one year to join a masters level acting class. At the time, I had not taken acting since high school. And I was in my mid-40’s.
That’s a long time.
The other students had been in multiple shows. I had…. not.
But I screwed up my courage, and attended a couple of classes. I tried to make conversation with the students, all of whom were very nice, but were 15 to 20 years my junior. They seemed so comfortable in their skins, loose and funny on stage. I told myself that I was their worst nightmare — the person who had gotten out of the music business and become something else. The person they didn’t want to be “when they grew up.”
I called my friend, the professor, the following Monday morning.
“Amy, I’m not going to come anymore. I’m really intimidated.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“Do you know that I have all the grad students over to my house on Sunday evenings?”
“You know what they were saying about you last night?”
“That you are intimidating…”
I gasped. Me? Intimidating? I’m not intimidating!!!
I had to laugh. That whole projection thing was at work.
I kept on going to class.
If you struggle with feeling bad about yourself, or inferior in some way, please consider that you may be projecting things onto others that aren’t accurate. Seeing them as having far more confidence than they have truly, for example.
We all have vulnerabilities. Some of us admit them. Some don’t. If you do, you can work on them, try to better them.
Try this exercise. Ask ten or more of your friends (you can tell them a therapist asked you to do this…) to think about one word that describes you, and send it to you. Ask them to please give it some thought — you’re working on yourself. You may be surprised about what comes back.
It’s time for you to believe in yourself. Acknowledge your strengths.
It’s time to see the you that others see.
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