‘To be great is to be misunderstood.’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
An Essay on Self-Reliance
Misunderstood (aka Projection Protection Tips)
Have you ever felt completely misunderstood, misread or misjudged by someone? Perhaps even at a time when you were extending yourself and doing your best? Has anyone ever accused you of having ill intentions, denied your value, or negatively labeled you? These experiences can be very uncomfortable, especially if you start to doubt yourself or wonder if they are seeing something that you aren’t.
Feeling misunderstood often arises when someone is projecting on you. As discussed in the previous article, projection occurs as people deny the existence of unpleasant impulses in themselves while simultaneously attributing them to another person. Although irritating, being misunderstood presents a fantastic opportunity to articulate and strengthen your authentic voice.
Common Targets for Projection
Along with celebrities, who fans and haters scrutinize, glorify or condemn; Leaders, Visionaries, Innovators and Change-Makers are all targets. It is nearly a requirement for those who aim to shift a paradigm to be misunderstood at some point in their journey. Disrupting the status quo isn’t always welcomed.
Truth-Tellers are targets. As truth is spoken, people’s ‘stuff’ is illumined. Light can be shed into areas that some would rather not see. As a form of defense from the unpleasantness, denial and projection kick in as handy distractions.
Loved ones can also be targets. Because of the safety we feel with those closest to us, we are more likely to unconsciously project expectations, judgments and values onto children, parents, siblings, dear friends and romantic partners. When in play, those projections can feel like a prison.
Being misunderstood presents an opportunity to articulate and strengthen your authentic voice. Like a diamond, our personal truth has many facets. It changes as we grow and reveals new aspects of our Self. Recognizing and embracing those changes is crucial to remaining honest and authentic.
It is inauthentic to deny any aspect of our truth.
To be clear, being inauthentic isn’t wrong or bad. Whether it’s expressed in minor or major ways, inauthenticity just won’t create anything that lasts or fulfills our creative purpose.
‘Your need for acceptance, can make you invisible in this world.
Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form.
Risk being seen in all of your glory.’
– Jim Carrey
Not caring so much about what other people think is vital to strengthening our authentic voice. Facing rejection is a prerequisite to making a difference. Feel the fear of rejection and go/do/be anyway. Being misunderstood sometimes signals that you are on the path to reaching your highest purpose. People often undermine what they don’t understand because for many, new=threat. If you allow the fear of rejection to stop you, opportunity will be lost and not much will be gained.
5 phases of projection defense
- Disengage and take S P A C E. Say something along the lines of ‘Thank you for your perspective, I’m going to take some time to consider your points’. If you attempt to explain, defend or argue, the other person can focus on your reaction rather than on their own behavior. Lovingly disengage. Separate from the drama to minimize damage. When your dark side (or that of someone you love) is active, clarity is imperative. Sit out this round. Spend some time alone so you can pinpoint what triggered the reaction. Space, space, space.
- Observe. Reflect; rather than react. When you are triggered, make no decisions. Breathe and release judgment. Remind yourself that people don’t experience reality the same way that we do. Many factors affect both perception and the meanings we create. To coexist, we need to be armed with sharp awareness, compassion and clarity about how we want to be treated.
- Tune into your body. Your body is intelligent and has evolved throughout time to become a master communicator. Your emotions are messages. The purpose of anger for instance, is to alert you that a boundary has been crossed. Fear can point out danger or signal a need to prepare. Once you’ve received the emotional messages, focus down in your core (by your belly button) and allow yourself to feel–without any added interpretation. Moving your attention from your head to your gut will also allow you to confirm any understandings or insights you are receiving.
- Define boundaries. If you’ve followed steps one, two and three, either the other person will apologize, you’ll gain clarity into your behavior and you can apologize OR it will be clear that more space is required. When you identify another’s projections, establish boundaries to protect everyone involved. Boundaries are vital to honoring your self-worth. Deny the codependent urge to overlook problems without gaining awareness and defining your boundaries. Remember, we teach other people how to treat us.
- Put forth conditions for re-engagement. Be compassionate with yourself when you are ‘sitting a round out’. It can hurt to be misunderstood by those important to us. Remember, life and karma are wonderful teachers. Lessons and truths will be revealed in time. Be patient. Keep the lines of communication open so when one of you has gained clarity, both of you can receive the gifts of healing. Being vulnerable and honest in communication is an act of courage and generosity.
We are here to learn our lessons and be compassionate witnesses and helpers as others learn theirs. To live our authentic life and carry out our unique vision takes strength and patience. Mastery does not mean we have control over everything–it means we have control over the few things that really matter: ourselves and our reactions to what life presents us. Understanding is a great gift. To feel understood feels very much like love. Now is the perfect time to begin giving yourself and others the gift of love through understanding.