The Picky Series: Part II - Projection

The Picky Series: Part II - Projection

When someone says, "You're too picky" what they really mean is, "What you value most ranks low in my value set," at best.

And then, there's the worst: projection.

Projection is a psychological theory whereby an individual believes they see attributes in others that they've suppressed, rejected, or disowned within themselves as a defense mechanism.

As it relates to you, it may strike you as odd that someone would go into defense-mode based on your desire for certain characteristics in a partner. 

Pain, fear, and disappointment are what they might be defending.

I'm not sure if it's possible to want a relationship without having a vision for your mate, so I'm writing from the position that everyone who has ever wanted a relationship also had a catalog of attributes they were hoping to find in a partner, even with the realization that none of us can ever represent every single item in the catalog.

Given that, let's consider the person who experienced or witnessed relationship shortfalls.

Perhaps is was cheating, a lack of affection, manipulation, physical violence, or chronic disinterest and absence. This person who started with a positive vision and high expectations for their relationships formed new beliefs around their actual experiences (or the experiences of others).

The presence of their new beliefs--that all men cheat or that women are gold-diggers, for example--may be an indication of suppression.

Maybe they've suppressed their desire for the relationship they want or the ideal mate. Maybe they've suppressed their inclination to trust or hope for ethereal bliss. They had a catalog once upon a time, just like you have now, but pain, fear, and disappointment led them to tuck away any desire to seek those attributes. 

What you are seconds away from finding out is that you are face-to-face with this person talking about what you hope for and they are about to inform you that you are too picky in 3, 2, 1...

You're not picky. You're a reflection of the things they used to want or believe in on which they've given up. And to be fair, sometimes that's the reality of acceptance in relationships (outside of abuse, of course), that you will not get everything on your list, just as you won't represent a fully realized list for your partner, no matter how wonderful you are. But as you speak to this person, your standards represent a part of themselves they suppressed, rejected, and disowned, and it's painful to be confronted with those parts again. What do we do when faced with pain? We defend against it.

A few years back I shared a story with a group of co-workers about a date I'd been on. My date told me he had to step out of the restaurant to retrieve his wallet which he'd left in his car; he'd be right back. The trip should've taken 3 minutes, but 15 minutes passed. At 20 minutes, I had already settled in my mind how I'd get back home. After more time passed, I confirmed my hunch by calling him to ask if he'd left the restaurant. He had.

As it turned out, he'd left his wallet at home and was embarrassed to admit it, so instead of being honest about the mishap, he thought he could speed home, pick up his wallet, and get back to the restaurant before I realized he'd been gone for so long. He eventually returned, but the damage was done. 

After recounting the story, one person said that I was just too picky.

What happened was such an egregious breach of etiquette and trust (in my mind) that to ignore the bad behavior, but criticize my offense to it was nonsensical. Nevertheless, I thought about it and grew deeply self-assured that her feelings reflected her belief system. I gave myself permission to continue correctly seeing good and bad behavior for what it was. Case closed.

You never really know why people are motivated to say the things they say, but I find it fascinating how people move to stifle other's hopes and standards. 

Starting at childhood, we suppress so much as a part of our socialization that projection is a part of our lives. Right away, our beliefs form. Our beliefs are the result of thoughts we think (or are trained to think) over and over and, sometimes, we get it wrong.

When we think it's wrong to trust, for instance, we suppress trusting. When we think what we want is impossible, we suppress imagination. And when confronted with a person who embodies the attributes we disassociated with, we react to it in the same way we reacted to our own attributes--we try to extinguish them. It's subtle and disguised as concern, but we might say, "That's too much house for just three people. You're wasting money." Projection.

Know this: we all do it.

If you recognize that someone is projecting onto you, don't let that be an excuse to not pause to look within, even if for a second. And remember, the other person is often speaking from their pains and disappointments, so it's not about you. 

In the last part of The Picky Series, find out what you can do to eradicate the label "picky" from your life.

Until then, and always, believe in what you want. 


Photo credit: AndreasS via Compfight