This was first published on ksl.com
My spouse and I fight all the time because he takes everything I say as an insult and gets offended too easy. I keep trying to show him he is filtering what I say and making it negative. He is projecting his issues and fears onto me. The problem is that he cannot see this. He thinks what he sees is real and I’m the problem. I honestly don’t know if I can keep doing this, if I can’t get him to see things more accurately. Do you have any advice?
Ask your spouse if he would be willing to read this article and understand your motivation in writing me was only a desire for him to be happier and for your marriage to work. I will explain in simple terms how we all, at times, create unnecessary and even self-inflicted suffering through projection and how to stop.
Basically we suffer, get upset and behave badly quite often, because we are not seeing the world accurately. We see and experience life through a thought-created filter made of our past beliefs, fears and stories. We subconsciously project these beliefs, fears and stories onto everything and everyone around us, and we all do this at times.
We project our faults and weaknesses onto others too, which is why a bully who is scared at home likes to make other kids scared at school. It’s why the husband who doesn’t trust his wife is also disloyal to her on some level. It is why controlling people tend to hate controlling people and when you are afraid you aren’t good enough, you will see rejection and insults in others, even when they aren't there.
If you see offenses, bad behavior and mean people everywhere you look, it is probably because you are coming to every situation already feeling inadequate, walked on or threatened. This is just a universal law: You see the world as you are. Whatever conflict, fear or pain you have inside you, it will filter and distort what you see.
Rory Mackay, an fabulous English writer, said, “The problem is when our thoughts, interpretations and projections cause us to suffer. This happens when we interpret reality in painful, self-limiting, dysfunctional and destructive ways. When we have a limiting self-image and think of ourselves as being worthless and inadequate little worms, or have a distorted view of the world and the nature reality, we suffer immensely.”
He says there are two realities we experience.
1) The unbiased objective reality — what is actually happening around you. This reality is shared with others and is the same for everyone.
2) The thought-created reality — a reality you see because of the thoughts and beliefs you have projected onto the unbiased reality, creating a private reality only you experience. This thought-created reality is made of faulty scripts, stories and fear-based programming, much of which was created when you were a child. All of us see the world as a thought-created reality, to some degree every day.
To make matters worse, we believe this thought-created reality is the unbiased reality. We believe what we think we are experiencing is real.
When your spouse says something about your behavior at a party, your mind will instantly filter what she said through all your subconscious programming, beliefs, fears and stories you have previously created about yourself and her. The way you experience the comment could also be affected by your mood, which creates yet another filter that affects how you experience this comment. Hence, you are not really experiencing what she said, you are experiencing your thought-created version of what she said.
It is highly likely what she really said, if seen through the unbiased reality, was neutral and didn’t mean what you thought it meant. Your thinking (or what you thought about what she said) is causing your suffering — not what she said. The comment itself didn’t mean anything, because nothing means anything until your thinking applies meaning to it.
(This doesn’t let your spouse off the hook for actual rude comments, of course. Sometimes your spouse says something unbiasedly offensive, but even then you will still add meaning to it and determine the amount of pain you experience around it, because words can’t diminish you without your approval.)
Whenever a comment hurts you, step back and write what happened on paper in a completely non-biased way, being objective and unemotional about it. Strip away the meaning and emotion and just write what happened as factually and accurate as possible. This means "He insulted my cooking and doesn't appreciate anything I do" might become "His taste buds didn't like this one meal, which has nothing to do with my value as a person or his love for me."
If you feel a real insult happened, then maybe a conversation needs to happen about this issue so it won’t happen again. Just make sure you have that conversation from a place of equality (seeing the other person as the same as you). In other words, don't talk down to them.
There are two worksheets on my website which would help you with this. The Mutually Validating Conversations Worksheet would help you handle feedback conversations with your spouse the right way, and the To Be or Not to Be Upset Worksheet would help you step back and avoid projection. I recommend you get both.
You also need to do some work on your self-esteem and the subconscious fears you have about failure and not being good enough. The Course in Miracles states, “Every response you make, is determined by what you think you are.”
Each of us has a deep subconscious fear we might not be good enough. This fear of failure or inadequacy gets projected onto everything we experience. We may even subconsciously project this fear onto God and believe he doesn’t think we're good enough either.
When you feel deprived, vulnerable, cheated, unworthy or rejected, you project those feelings onto others and believe they are taking from you or insulting you. If you feel this way often, you must understand this problem is an internal one, not an external one, and your attacking others will not fix it.
The truth is you are perfect, totally forgiven, good enough and loved (even though you are a struggling student in the classroom of life with much more to learn). Life is a classroom not a test, so you have nothing to fear. When you don’t own this idea as truth though, you become a bundle of fear, which causes you to attack others and feel attacked all the time.
As a life coach, I believe the first and most important thing you have to do, to create better results in your life, is to correct this core fundamental belief that your value is in question, which creates the fear you might not be good enough. When you change what you think you are, it will change all your subconscious reactions and projections, which will change your behavior.
If you struggle with low self-esteem, fear of failure, or you just have tremendous stress and worry about life, you need to get some professional help immediately to correct your fundamental beliefs about yourself. You must find an expert who knows how to do this specifically. This is the most powerful, life changing thing you can do for yourself and your family.
Nothing would make a bigger difference.
I also explain how to make this fundamental change in your thinking, in my book "Choosing Clarity." It would help you to see your world and your value more accurately and suffer less. You might want to get one for your spouse.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.