We humans have an innate tendency to engage in two activities that are less than helpful to our emotional health: Personalizing and Projecting.
When you indulge the mistaken notion that whatever happens in the world always has something to do with you that is personalizing. For example, you see a friend at the supermarket and she barely says ‘Hello’.
You immediately assume that she’s upset with you or you’ve done something to make her mad. It doesn’t even cross your mind that she may be having an extraordinarily difficult day or is perhaps exhausted and has no energy for small talk. You take it personally – always!
Projecting is just the opposite. That’s when we take things that happen to us and impose them on everyone else around us. My mother was afraid of dogs; she went out of her way to keep me away from dogs; she never asked me if I liked dogs. She didn’t so of course, I didn’t. That’s projecting.
The bottom line is that we all fall prey to these two mistakes. I don’t know anyone who is so mature, so wise and so perfect that they never personalize or never project. What matters is that we should recognize when we’re doing it, admit it to ourselves (and to others, if needed) and thereby protect a relationship that might otherwise be damaged.
My neighbor’s little girl knocked over half a carton of milk. She immediately cried out, “The table moved and it fell.” Her mother was thinking, “She was careless.”
We’ve all spilled the milk in one way or another. All we need to do is simply say, “I spilled the milk. I’m sorry. Can I help clean it up?”