The Hypocrisy of Projection

A website visitor writes, “I have a friend who projects her shortcomings and personality faults onto others; holding them accountable for those actions or inactions. For example, she’s always late, yet she expresses anger when others are late. Why does she do this? Is it because she’s more sensitive to her faults when they are reflected in those around her?”

The contemporary self-help industry recoils at “judgmental” terms such as hypocrite. This has been deemed to be a moral evaluation, and therefore invalid. Perhaps if we called it “Narcissistic Hysterical Hypocrisy Disorder” (NHHD for short?), it would become acceptable – especially if the drug companies could do a cute TV ad about it. Bottom line? Some people are indeed hypocrites. There. I said it.

A hypocrite subscribes to a standard, holds others to that standard, but doesn’t hold herself to that standard. She either doesn’t recognize that it applies as much to her as to others, or she simply denies that she’s not living up to it. “What do you mean I’m late? I’m never late,” says the hypocrite who demands that you be on time. Or, “That’s different. When I’m late, it’s because … [insert flimsy excuse here].”

There are several reasons for hypocrisy. One is an unwillingness to admit error. Some people just can’t tolerate that they might be wrong. “Gee, I guess you’re right. I’m late sometimes too” is a sound you’ll never hear from them. If they ever admitted it, it would collapse their whole system of responses and behaviors. After all, the world is a place where they are perfect while others disappoint them.

Hypocrisy can also stem from anger. Many people go through life resentful, but not at anyone or anything in particular. It may have started in childhood, but often the origin is not all that specific. It may be that everyone else’s life goes smoothly while theirs is difficult. They are convinced that everything should be “fair,” and that pain and distress should be more evenly distributed by … well, by whomever is responsible for distributing these sorts of things. Of course the expectation is impossible, and the perception that others have it easier is usually false. But resentment still dominates their consciousness, and can easily justify hypocrisy. Deep down they feel, “Why should I have to be on time? I’ve had it so hard. Everyone else has it easier, so at least they can be on time for me.” Of course, it isn’t just about lateness; it’s about anything they expect others to do that they don’t expect of themselves.

Projection is a term from Freudian psychology that refers to something subconscious. Yes, it’s entirely possible that people are applying unfair or double standards outside of their conscious awareness. But being conscious is not the key. The key is that they are still holding you to a standard to which they do not hold themselves. When all is said and done, they’re probably aware of what they’re doing. It’s just that they don’t think it’s unfair, either because their perfectionism won’t allow them to, or because they feel that the least you owe to them is to adhere to their double standard.

This can become annoying and tiring. I see every day how it can chip away at, and ultimately destroy good will in marriages, friendships and family relationships. But we continue to buy the mistaken nonsense that people should not be judged or held accountable for their contradictions. The healthy alternative is to push aside all this faulty thinking and the associated drivel doled out by self-proclaimed social superiors on daytime TV talk shows.

Call hypocrisy by its proper name and treat it accordingly – in yourself and in others. The resentment and entitlement that can erode your relationships will disappear. There are few better ways to bring positive change and genuine peace to your life.



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