I’ve been thinking a lot about projection lately, especially since many of my engaged and newlywed clients and eCourse participants have been perseverating on the thought, “I don’t love him/her.” This is such an important and complex topic that I’ve written about it several times on this blog (including one of my “Alanis and the eCourse posts“) and have devoted an entire lesson in the Conscious Weddings eCourse to it, but let me say it more clearly here: Projection is a defense or an addiction against feeling the natural fear and grief associate with a transition and the anxiety, self-doubt, and old traumas around love of your wounded self. As one of the women on the eCourse forum said so poignantly in her recent post: “But I also know from my own experience that its so much easier to stay in the projection state than to deal with the real grief.”
It might sound strange to think of projection as an addiction, but in order for this to make sense you need to understand the difference between a process addiction as opposed to a substance addiction. An addiction is anything that distracts or protects you from your painful feelings. We commonly think of addictions as related to substances like drugs, alcohol, or sugar. But process addictions, like spending, sex, television, planning and ruminating are just as rampant and difficult to address. Planning? Ruminating? Were you surprised to read these in the list of addictions? Planning is when you can’t top thinking about things you have to do (like planning a wedding). Ruminating is when you become so obsessed about a single thought that it successfully distracts or protects you from addressing the underlying emotional pain.
The phenomena of “bridezilla” that runs rampant in our culture is a woman who’s so addicted to planning her wedding that she avoids addressing the natural and normal fear and grief that accompany this major life transition. She obsesses so deeply about all of the items on her to-do list, the things she needs to buy, the place settings and the table arrangement that she becomes a warped version of herself who alienates everyone around her. She’s living in a state of control, tightness, and disconnection. She’s living with an addiction.
The same is true for the people who find their way to my work, except that instead of over-focusing on the planning, they’re over-focusing on their partner. Where bridezilla funnels her fear, grief and old wounds around love and intimacy onto her dress and flowers, the “conscious brides and grooms” funnel their difficult feelings onto their partner. They put their partner under a microscope until all they see are the so-called faults and flaws. They disregard the good times, diminish what works, and only focus on the reasons why they can’t possibly move forward with this person. Then they spin their thoughts into a spool of negativity until a single thought remains: I don’t really love him/her. And that’s when they find their way to my work.
So what’s the antidote? First of all, to recognize that every time you think the thought, “I don’t love him/her” you say to yourself, “I know this feels real but it’s a projection.” Then ask yourself, “What am I protecting myself from feeling right now?” If you can, spend some time with your inner self and ask yourself if there’s anything this hidden, often ignored part would like to share with you. Projections sound the alarm that there’s something inside of you that’s off-kilter and needs attention. If you hook into the projection and believe it as truth, you’ll fall down the rabbit hold of anxiety. This takes a Herculean effort as the projection sounds so convincing. But the more you challenge it and instead turn your attention inward, the less power the projection will hold.
Remember: You’re struggling NOT because you don’t love your partner, but because you love him/her more than you’ve ever loved anybody in your life. And this scares the you-know-what out of your hurt, scared, ego self, who simply doesn’t trust love because of what it’s seen, heard, and experienced. In fact, I’ve also come to understand that the depth of the childhood abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) informs the intensity of the projection once you’re in a real relationship with a safe person. The scared-hurt self is simply panicking because it doesn’t trust that love can be safe. It’s screaming at you in every way it can to get out now. And it often uses the line that will get you the most which, for many people, is, “I just don’t love him/her.”
Projection is one of the most difficult psychological states to deal with because it feels so real. The hardest part is peeling the projection off of your partner and getting, really getting, that it’s not about the other person. The wounded self will think of every reason in the book why your case is different (“Sheryl doesn’t really know what she’s talking about” or “But what if it IS about the other person”) but having worked with thousands of women and men over the years just like you, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that chances are quite high that you’re in a good relationship and that it truly isn’t about the other person.
Hang in there. Hold on. You will get through this. It take a real commitment to yourself, patience, and support, but if thousands of others have gotten through it and found their way to love, you can, too. I promise.