I don’t know if it is just because I turned forty, or rather a life time of built up situations that has just finally come to head… but I am so over having others project their insecurities on me. I guess it is one of those moments in life we start drawing lines and setting boundaries.
That is not to say that we can just go around cutting people out of our life, or that there isn’t a measure of responsibility that we have. If I know a person is highly sensitive, I could do a better job of softening my words to them or approach them differently. There are things we can all improve or do better at.
What I have noticed though, is that within the Christian circles, projection of insecurities happens most when we dare to correct or rebuke someone. In my experience I have learned that defensiveness is almost always a sign of conviction in the heart. But rather than be willing to consider it, and potentially have to deal with it, instead it is easier to project it on to others as their problem.
Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.
I think it can also be trying to down play our own sin by accusing someone else. One of my children is a pro at this. The second she gets in trouble for anything, she tries to deflect our attention on to her sister. Her goal is to distract us from holding her accountable, and instead focus on the wrongs of her sister. We can do this when instead of considering our own sin, we instead try to make the person who brought it to our attention look or feel bad about themselves. When we cast blame on them. The goal is to make ourselves less guilty, or at least equally guilty so we are not alone.
Adam did this with Eve. Instead of saying, “Yes, I ate the fruit”… Adam instead said “That woman you made deceived me”. He blamed Eve. He even blamed God indirectly. But he wasn’t owning his actions. He became defensive and tried to pass the buck. Human sin nature propels us to try and deflect from correction, because if we accept correction we have to take full ownership and potentially have to admit this wrong or make amends. So much easier to justify how we were right and the other person was in the wrong.
It is so much easier to be the corrector than the one corrected, to rebuke than to be rebuked.
Relationships between believers should be ones where we spur one another on to good things, iron sharpens iron, accountability of one another. We shouldn’t take it as a personal attack when someone catches something less than stellar about ourselves, but instead consider their words or observation. Perhaps they are right, and they could also be wrong. If we immediately act in defensiveness, then we haven’t given it any consideration.
If we take some time to reflect on their words we may realize they were correct, they misunderstood our intentions and we can clarify them, or that the person is entirely wrong & disregard their words completely (or confront if appropriate). Another thing to consider, is that when we respond in defensiveness we are reacting on our emotions. Emotions are not always a trustworthy thermometer of a situation, whereas giving some space to consider it can bring clarity. A friend of mine always advises people dealing with conflict to “sleep on it” because it’s creating space to process before we react, and then we can respond with our hearts in a better place.
If we feel wounded (whether it was the persons intention or not) we enter a vacuum inside our own minds. We are not capable of seeing or hearing the other person accurately, nor are we capable of sharing our thoughts clearly either. Everything becomes a jumble of emotions, assumptions, accusations, and we can even be tempted to wound in return.
The Scriptures tell us that wise counsel is a good thing, we shouldn’t withdraw from it but embrace it. Test it to see if it is true, is this person seeing something that I am not? It is entirely possible that the other person is missing information or doesn’t know you well enough, and then we know it’s safe to dismiss their correction. Even that becomes an opportunity to learn, so that in the future we may choose to be more considerate about how our actions or words will be received by those whom were are new in relationship with.
Recently, I had two examples of this situation… with two varying responses.
The Teachable One:
I was meeting with a woman who was interested in writing and speaking, and looking for some pointers. As we were talking through her testimony, she began to include specific details about another person. I stopped her, and pointed out that she was sharing information that wasn’t hers to share. She was startled by my abruptness, but she didn’t say anything and continued to listen. I shared with her that she has to remember that her job is only to share her story, her details. I continued on by pointing out you never know who is in the audience that may know you or that person, and you may be sharing information that was entrusted to you but not meant for public knowledge. As writers and speakers, we have a responsibility to the information we are entrusted with. Which means before we share anyone’s details we must get their permission. Otherwise we leave it out.
She was a woman who is teachable. Teachable people are ones where you can bring these things to light, and even if at first they are a bit taken back, instead of reacting they consider the information and weigh it. At this point, the woman could have said “I have already asked permission to share this”, and I would have leaned back and continued to listen to her. In this case, she sat for a moment and considered my words. She responded that she hadn’t considered that, would be more mindful, and thanked me for drawing her attention to it. I told her that if I ever caught her doing it, I was going to stop her. This was not about me being right, but rather about me helping draw her attention to it so that she was aware of it. The more aware we are, the better. My pointing out this moment didn’t tarnish our relationship but added value to it. She knew that I was helping her, trying to support her, and guide her with wisdom.
We have to remember that leaders (Pastors, Speakers, Writers, Ministry Leaders, Teachers, etc) are held to a higher standard. We must be careful with our words, actions, and behaviors. We should be thankful that someone brings it to our attention and provides wise counsel. That does not mean we can’t have personal conversations about our preferences on how that counsel is given. In the above example, she could have told me that I was rude for interrupting her and the next time I should wait until she is done and then include it in my feedback. Totally acceptable response, and one that I would have honored.
The Defensive Ones:
In another recent situation, I drew attention to something I found problematic. This was with another believer and particularly about how certain information was being handled. My intentions were to make her (and those involved) consider their words/actions & how they could be perceived. One person immediately met it with defensiveness, and instead of addressing the topic & continuing the conversation… the response was to hurl accusations at me behind closed doors.
Instead of asking me why I felt the way I did, or how I came to that conclusion… my character was put into question. A direct comment for consideration was responded to with a personal attack. Unwillingness to even consider my words and instead an assault on character. What is so difficult is that once we find ourselves in that defensive posture, we become incapable of clarity and discernment. We don’t like how we feel about ourselves in that moment, so we project it onto the other person and make it their problem not ours.
In doing so we build up a wall between ourselves and that other person, keeping us from connection and thwarting reconciliation. The worst part of this, for the defensive person, is that it will color all future interactions with that person. You will no longer be able to see them as a good willed person, instead you will keep them at a distance in order to avoid having to deal with the issue. Painting others as your enemy so that you don’t ever have accountability; but also making sure you don’t have to deal with your own insecurities either.
To Correct and Be Corrected:
Years ago, I wrote a series about correction. The first half of the series was about how to Biblically correct someone; walking through the why, when, and how of it all. The second half was about how to receive correction. This is an area that we probably haven’t spent enough time on in the church and Bible studies, which is why so many are eager to correct others but less open to receive correction. We teach about telling “truth in love” but forget to teach how to receive “truth in love”.
In that piece, I wrote quite a bit about hearing what the person is saying, considering it, praying to God to reveal if there is any truth to those words or not, and seeking guidance on how to move forward.
I love Psalm 26:2, where David prays: “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…”
We need the Lord to come in and reveal if there is truth, if there is something I need to learn, if there is a behavior I need to correct, or if I am blameless. But, I stand in the way of the Lord’s testing when I fly off the handle and respond versus taking a moment to let my emotions settle and then bring it to the Lord to examine.
If we are going to correct someone, we need to pray about doing so first. If we have been corrected, we need to pray before we respond. Sometimes that means we must first take a little time to allow the Lord’s examination of our heart to reveal His findings to us. Then when we respond, we know we are doing so with clear vision and His guidance.