Mental Health

Nothing Other People Do Is About You

How my therapist convinced me to question the judgmental voices in my head.

By Anonymous, as told to Anna Goldfarb
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My Therapist Says is Elite Daily’s column rounding up life-changing therapeutic advice. In this edition, a 25-year-old tells writer Anna Goldfarb how therapy helped her realize how often she was projecting her own feelings onto other people.

I started therapy in 2017 when I found myself in a difficult situation with a close family member. I just felt completely out of control in our relationship. I knew I needed professional guidance to make sense of what was happening.

As I developed a close relationship with my therapist, I felt comfortable asking her questions about how and why we do things as humans. In particular, I was interested in why I’d get so heated when other people did or said things that would irritate me.

There was this one person I knew — I don't even know why she bothered me, but she did. I just remember feeling annoyed that she was so insecure with herself. So I asked my therapist why I tended to notice other people's insecurities. She said, “Most of the time when you notice things about other people, that's an indicator that it's something you’re feeling. So instead of me feeling that uncomfortable feeling of I'm insecure, I'm putting that on to someone else.”

That was the first time I learned about the psychological concept of projection and — not to be dramatic — but it blew my mind wide open.

That was the first time I learned about the psychological concept of projection and — not to be dramatic — but it blew my mind wide open. Learning about this made me completely re-examine the thoughts that I had about other people. Before, I’d take my thoughts at face value. If I thought someone was ugly, I considered that a fact. But now when I’d make an unkind judgment like that, I would go back and ask myself, “Why do I think that? Why do I care what she looks like? Where did that thought even come from?”

At first, it made me uncomfortable to examine my thoughts like this. It’s difficult digging deep like that: Why was my insecurity triggered by this other person? Did I feel ugly? What was it about the other person that caused something to bubble up in me?

My therapist really helped me check in with myself and think about why I care what other people are doing so much. From then on, I’ve worked on becoming more introspective and investigating where the judgmental voices in my head were coming from.

I feel like everybody projects their feelings and attitudes on others, but not a lot of people know why they feel compelled to do that. Certainly, nobody explained the concept of projection to me when I was growing up. My therapist taught me to look inside myself rather than look out (and down) at others. She helped me realize that nothing other people do is about you. If someone comes up to me and says something critical, it's not a reflection on me. It's about them because happy, nice people typically don't go around calling people names or being rude.

If someone comes up to me and says something critical, it's not a reflection on me. It's about them.

I started therapy in the hopes of learning how to deal with a difficult person in my life, but I ended up learning so much about what makes me tick. Now, when someone triggers something in me, I make it a point to sit with those uncomfortable feelings instead of immediately reacting to them. I tell myself to take deep breaths. I remind myself that I don’t have to respond immediately to every comment or situation. This is huge progress for me! I used to be a very reactive person.

We are all doing the best we can at the time with the knowledge we have. Like, I'm sure if I knew back in the day that I was projecting my insecurities onto some poor girl, I wouldn't have done that. I thought she was the problem, when it was really my issue the whole time! Sometimes it's so hard to witness that, but once you have the awareness of what’s going on, then it becomes easier to adjust your behavior.