(THE BOOK) Chapter 33: Superpowers

No, I can’t read your mind.

No, I can’t predict the future.

No, that doesn’t stop me from trying.

Welcome to the wonderful world of projection.

The classic definition of projection is the unconscious misattribution of unwanted parts of the self onto others.  This can apply to qualities, thoughts or feelings.

 Say I think I’m fat.  You and I meet for the first time.  My first thought as we shake hands is I bet she thinks I’m fat.  Projection.

 Or say I really dislike you.  It’s a short step from there to imagining that you dislike me.  Projection.

 I think of projection as amateur mindreading, because that’s how it tends to appear in therapy.

 A group member who’s habitually late comes in fifteen minutes after group has started.  She sits down, looks around at the other members and finds a woman who’s frowning.  “Go ahead, say it” she blurts.  “I’m late again.  I’m selfish, I’m disruptive, you all hate me, and I should drop out of group.  Say it.”  “Actually,” the frowner replies, “I just realized I have to pee.”      

Another common form of projection is fortunetelling.  That’s where we project our thoughts – our fears, mainly – onto the future, and end up convinced that we know what’s going to happen.  We know we’ll fail that test, blow the audition, lose the argument.  We just know.

A young man with low self-esteem goes to ask his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry his daughter.  Driving over he is tortured by fears that Dad will find him unsuitable and his request will be denied.  By the time he reaches the house he’s begun resent this imagined rejection.  He walks up to older man and said “Go to hell.  I wouldn’t marry her if you paid me.”  Projection. 

The two examples above illustrate the sorts of problems projection can cause.  Projection blurs our boundaries, to where we confuse an internal problem (anxiety) with an external one (actual judgment or rejection by others).  Then we act as if they were one and the same.  We end up reacting to something that hasn’t happened yet.

People who rely too heavily on their superpowers tend to live lives beset by imaginary enemies and crises, fighting unnecessary battles both in their heads and out in the world.



8 responses to “(THE BOOK) Chapter 33: Superpowers

  • alexis

    That’s for sure! another way to attempt to be in control. [ I’m getting the picture!]

  • svmcelligott

    What about people who are constantly imagining the worst case scenario and who live in constant fear and negativity based on past disappointments? How do you cope with a spouse who does this? It’s like living with a volcano waiting for it to erupt and spout negativity on to all in his path 😩

    • Steve Hauptman

      That’s what I described in Chapter 33: Superpowers and will touch on again in the upcoming Chapter 35: Gumchewing. It’s a common symptom of control addiction, and a particularly painful one, since it can spoil just about everything good in a person’s life.

      I agree with Alexis that someone so afflicted should seek therapy. As for this someone’s spouse, you’re in the same situation as the spouse of any other addict — being hurt by a problem that’s not yours to solve, and so tempted to control what you cannot control. I’d recommend therapy to you too, if you’re not already there.

      Also consider a self-help 12 Step program like Codependents Anonymous or Al-Anon, one that will teach you detachment and to take better care of yourself. The first of the 12 Steps is “Admitted we were powerless over [i.e., cannot control] X, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The paradox is that (a) by admitting you have no control, you feel more in control, and (b) by admitting your life has become unmanageable, you become better able to cope.

      Good luck.

  • alexis

    I’m looking at svmcelligott’s question; that’s fairly universal, if more intense in this marriage. I always tell people who struggle with their past: “get some therapy so that you can put these memories where they belong–in the past–instead of messing up the present!” Our history needs to be put in its proper place, not a constant emotional trigger in the here and now.

  • alexis

    Oh, right, Steve! I left out the other spouse! who has to be dealing with the emotional mine-field of their partner. I do think al-anon-type support is helpful, here–or family therapy.

  • svmcelligott

    I love the paradox of admitting you have no control over a situation which allows you to feel a sense of control within yourself – makes sense to me. This is the best tactic when physically removing yourself from an environment with a controlling person is not an option. Also,the ‘off Center’ technique works really well, albeit challenging.

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