Simple and Direct

The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.” – Dr. Scott Peck

We were at a community swimming pool the other day when we walked by a grown-up forcefully saying to a boy who looked about 12 years-old, “Stop talking. All I hear from you is blaming others, saying how they made you do what you do instead of taking responsibility. Stop talking.”

It was easy to have great sympathy for both of them. The grown-up who also had 3 other children younger than the boy with her and the boy who looked stunned to have a grown-up yelling in his face.

Thinking about it, it reminds me of the quote for this post, a great line from psychiatrist and author, Dr. Scott Peck, “The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.

We all personalize or project. When we personalize, we think that everything happens has to do with us. If the boy at the swimming pool personalized, perhaps he thought that the grown-up’s mood was his fault. And when we project, we take our feelings and color everything around us.  In the swimming pool scenario, the grown-up could have been tired and frustrated after the effort to get four children dried off and changed after swimming so she projected that frustration onto the boy.

Dr. Peck wrote that we all exist on a continuum between neurotic and character disordered. When we are neurotic, as I tend to be, we take too much responsibility for things and when we are character disordered, we take too little. We see it all through our lens and then it’s a struggle to find a way to just own our part.

It’s a hard thing to teach to my kids since I’m still working it out myself. But I’ve been practicing just being direct – not embellishing either why it happened or owning too much or the scenario. When I step on the cat’s paw when she is winding her way around my ankles as I feed her, I try to model just saying “I’m sorry I stepped on your paw” instead of “I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault” or “you made me do it, you shouldn’t have been underfoot.”

At the swimming pool, I walked by the intense scene and then went out the double doors just past them. I’ll never know if the boy was able to say, “I’m sorry I did that” and the woman to say, “I’m sorry I took my frustration out on you” but I hope so.


“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey

My five-year-old daughter was sitting at the kitchen table doing her remote Kindergarten class the other day. To do the work, she needed the packet the school had sent home plus scissors and glue. I found the packet for her and then she couldn’t find her scissors and glue because she hadn’t put them back where they belong. She said to me, “You are making me have the worst day.”

Psychology Today defines the term projection as the “process of displacing one’s feeling onto a different person, animal or object.” We project our feelings onto someone or something else as a defense mechanism. Instead of owning our own BS, we can turn the issue into something else in an effort to protect our own egos.

I think of the time I found out about my husband’s infidelities. One of his friends, who was also my business partner, invited me out to lunch which was odd since we had never had a meal without my husband there too. When I arrived the sense of foreboding was amplified enormously because the friend had chosen a table in a closed section and also ordered me a beer. It was almost a relief when he started telling me of the infidelities because the build-up was so intense. But then I had to go home and tell my husband that I knew. He wasn’t home so I called my brother and four of my closest friends and then went out to dinner with my two best girlfriends. I finally saw my husband and asked, “Have you ever been unfaithful to me?” He answered “no” but seeing that I knew something, he then asked, “Who told you?” Then the next question he asked was, “Who else knows?”

The next months were a master class in projection. That is the perfect word for it. There is a source that is running the show but whenever you try to look for it, you are redirected to the pictures showing on the big screen. Any time the infidelities came up, he expressed his rage that his friend betrayed him (and yes, I saw the irony). Any time he got uncomfortable, he blamed me for revealing his secret. It made it so that we never could talk about the real problems. The message communicated was not that he was sorry, but just that he was sorry that I found out. By flipping the conversation to who I told, it made me the person who had been hurtful.

In a truly honest discourse, we would have been able to discuss not only the root issues but also my shortcomings as well. But if he was going to deflect, there was no way I was going to step forward either. I’m so grateful that marriage ended so I never wonder whether it could have been saved – but I do wonder if we could have cleaned and bandaged the wounds a lot faster had we not lingered in the defensive woods for so long. As it was, it took me many more years of my own work, reading, listening to others, and primarily having to sit with myself in meditation for me to finally own my part in the destruction. Projection might work as a defense but it does not work to heal and grow.

So I find it fascinating when I see the little examples of where my daughter projects. She moves past it and back to her happy place so quickly that it’s just a flash but when it’s calm, I try to guide her back to where it’s safe so we can remove our defenses and own our feelings and mistakes. It’s the only way we can take down the screen and really see what kind of day it is.