That’s Men: Tendency to criticise is a reflection of our perception of ourselves
That guy thinks the world revolves around him, I said to myself recently.
Then, just in time, I remembered to add the words “just like me”. It’s a little trick I’ve been playing on myself lately since I read a book called Leap Before You Look: 72 Shortcuts for Getting Out of Your Mind and into the Moment, by Arjuna Ardagh. Usually, when I say it, I discover quickly that the behaviour I criticise in other people is really my own behaviour.
This isn’t a new idea. What’s new for me is actually applying it in practice just to see what happens. You might like to try it out on yourself.
According to Freud & Co, we see in other people the qualities that we cannot accept in ourselves but that actually belong to us. In psychotherapy jargon, this is called projection.
I recall some years ago telling colleagues, with disapproval, about a particular person who I had been told would object to any reasonable proposal just in order to hear the sound of his own voice.
I noticed a glance passing between my colleagues. Suddenly I realised that this was something that I also did. I felt ashamed and embarrassed but what I was after having was a moment of clarity. My projection had been laid bare: I had condemned another man for my own behaviour.
Examples abound: the person who promotes family values and who turns out to be having an affair; the promoter of financial rectitude who is revealed to be a devoted traveller on the gravy train; or the man who condemns homosexuality and who is revealed to be gay: indeed this has practically become a cliche.
That’s not all there is to it, though. The qualities that we cannot accept in ourselves are not always negative qualities.
Many of us are unable to acknowledge our own positive qualities, and I include myself in this number. So when you next find yourself admiring somebody perhaps you might consider if the qualities that you are admiring are, in fact, qualities that you yourself have but are unable to acknowledge.
I think this is very common. People seem to have an extraordinary difficulty in liking themselves and in finding things to admire in themselves.
Praise and condemnation
The trouble with acknowledging the reality of projection is that it upends the whole system of praise and condemnation we use to keep society together.
Where are we if we take it as given that those who, with great authority, condemn the sins of the others are most likely drawn to, and even committing, those sins themselves? I don’t know the answer to that.
I was listening the other day to people condemning certain bankers who took a cavalier attitude to the truth and to the future of the Irish people.
Those who condemned them spoke with great moral authority. But if the whole concept of projection is true, then these very people may be no better than the bankers they condemn. Scary? Uncomfortable? Even unacceptable? Yes, yes and yes.
But try it out on yourself. For a while, whenever you condemn or admire somebody in your head, add the phrase “Just like me” and see what happens.
Addendum: As I write this, a week or so ahead of when you read it, my mood has been lifted by news of outrage over gay men consorting on a beach in north Co Dublin. Apparently they are performing acts that are not usually performed on beaches in north Co Dublin.
What I especially liked about these reports was the news that on one occasion a party of German hitchhikers marched along the beach and the frolicking naked men had to scurry for cover.
There is something inexpressibly funny about the idea of all of these serious Germans trudging through scenes from Sodom and Gomorrah and of the partying Paddys having to find rocks to hide behind. It gives a whole new resonance to the phrase “the Germans are coming”.
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.