Thank you for your responses to my last Mission Fortnight about the challenges of dealing with narcissists. Sadly, this type of personality is alive and well around the world. Many of you asked if there is a single dead giveaway that can alert us to this deal breaker. Actually, there is a fairly predictable common denominator for these troubling characterlogical problems. Consistently, every personality disorder is often tipped off by the individual’s use of an ancient defensive strategy called projection.
Thousands of years before psychology caught on to this dynamic and named it projection, Jesus described it beautifully: Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.… Matthew 7:3-5. (also see Luke 6:42) This chronic blindness to one’s own shortcomings while hyper-focusing on others still plays out with devastating spiritual and relational consequences.
We all know people who complain and accuse others of the very behaviors and attitudes that characterize their own lives. For example, often the people who grumble the loudest about how others are insensitive are themselves chronically uncaring and callus. They magnify others’ failure to provide support and care as they maintain their own self-focused and indifferent lifestyles. As a rule, the more persistent the accusations and indignation, the more the projected qualities are true of the grumblers. I recently interviewed a young man who had been fired after recurrent violations of corporate policy. This person resentfully complained about how unfair and improper the organization had handled his case. As he nitpicked about how he was terminated, he was completely oblivious to his own glaringly unethical and immoral behavior that led to the administrative action in the first place. His massive log of liability seemed to distort his perception of the molecule of wrong in his boss’ eye.
Projectors rely on the fact of everyone’s fallibility. We have all made mistakes, done wrong, and failed in dozens of ways. So, when the projector makes an accusation, most of us recognize we may deserve some blame. Mature people own responsibility for their failures and create a plan to make it right. Personality damaged people use others imperfections as license to remain as they are. The message is clear: “Someone did wrong and wounded me therefore I am under no obligation to do right or to receive negative feedback.” Trying to prove to projectors they have a problem is like convincing people they snore. They’ve never heard themselves snore so the feedback can’t be true. But expect to hear them describe others intolerable snoring in detail. Don’t be surprised when they re-gift those Breathe Right strips back to you. After all, you’re the one with the dadgum snoring problem.
Well, DANG…it’s fortnight. Pop out that log and go have a great one.