What you See is What You Got

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One of my favorite self-help authors is Martha Beck, whose humor and humanity make even tough truths palatable. In a recent post, she introduced the “you spot it, you got it” phenomenon, which she says occurs when we do things that are in opposition to our own value systems. It’s more common than you think. People swear they’re opposed to some sort of behavior, but they seem to do it themselves all the time. “I never gossip, but you’ve GOT to hear what happened…” When these kinds of phrases are uttered by someone who suffers from the same problem, it can be confusing. It can even make you crazy.

It’s called projection, a theory in psychology in which we humans defend ourselves against our own impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in ourselves while attributing them to others. And once you tell yourself it doesn’t exist (whatever it is) you tend to see it everywhere.

Psychologist Daniel Wegner calls this the “ironic monitoring process.” Martha Beck says, “When we try to repress awareness of anything, we activate a mind imp that zeroes in on every memory and every experience related to the forbidden subject.”

So pay attention to all the judgmental things you’re saying or thinking about other people. What drives you most crazy is probably what you have as well.  Here is Martha Beck’s plan for helping you own your issue sand turn them into an opportunity for personal growth.

First, she says, rant away.  Write down every judgmental, nasty thing you’re thinking about other people.  Categorize it any way you like. Focus on one person who drives you crazy, or on the traits you see everywhere that make you furious. What do you hate about that coworker? What should your roommate do to become a better person?  Let it all hang out on paper.

Next, take a look at your side of the behavior. If “My husband never listens to anything I say” feels true, try on saying “I never listen to anything my husband says.” Of course not; you’re too busy telling him all the things he needs to know.  Hmmmm…

Another take on this exercise is looking for the part you play in the trait you hate.  “My coworker is always late with her assignments. That’s not MY issue; I work hard never to be late.” Might that be so you can cover for her and help out at the last minute?  Sometimes we wind up supporting the very habit we hate in others, making it possible for them to continue on – with our permission, and sometimes, with active help from us.

Do you see a pattern of behavior that’s making you crazy?  See if you can find it in yourself.

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