Do you want to be fixed or be free? The Defense of Projectizing, Part 4
Updated: Apr 20
Thus far in this series about projectizing, a deeper form of perfectionism, showing up in a tendency to anxiously fix ourselves, we discussed how important it is to refrain from making ourselves a project to be fixed or a problem to solve, rather than a person worthy of love and compassion. We also explored Sarah’s story, a woman desiring marriage and how she makes herself a project, as we dive deep into her story of shame around her singleness and confusion around her faith.
Last week we identified how projectizing can show up through chronic overthinking and that overthinking is way to control, and control is rooted in fear. We overthink because we are afraid and feel out of control either situationally or relationally.
In today’s post, we will explore helpful ways to overcome toxic thinking patterns and how to break free from our tendency to obsessively fix ourselves.
Making Yourself a Project to Fix
Clients who struggle with projectizing always ask, “How do I fix this?” or “Why do I do this?” They say, “I just want to know why, so I can fix it.” Understanding why we do the things we do is important; however, in these cases, the healing process it takes to get there is hijacked by their need to know right away.
As previously stated, knowledge in and of itself does not bring freedom. Healing begins with facing your pain. Your pain contains truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)
Once my clients are aware they are projectizing, they ask, “So how can I fix that?” We have a good laugh because they realize they are making their defense mechanism of fixing themselves a project to fix too! Their laughing shows progress because they are learning all the ways they try to projectized themselves every time a new problem emerges.
The following are signs of projectizing leading to suffering:
Regretting the past or fearing the future
Rooted in shame: “It must be my fault” and “I must have done something wrong
Driven by fear of feelings, abandonment, rejection, or failure
Obsessively overthinking leading to mental torment
Why questions driven by desperation to solve the issue
What-if statements fueled by anxiety (i.e., What if I cannot pay my bills? What if my spouse leaves me? What if I never belong? What if I never have children?)
Isolating and/or feeling lonely within relationships
General sense of foreboding: Expecting worse case scenarios and a feeling of doom and gloom
Anxious most of the time and/or experiencing bouts of depression
Easily prone to stress and developing addictive behaviors (i.e., drinking, shopping, exercise, food, TV, social media)
The following are signs of overcoming projectizing, leading to healing and freedom:
Accept the reality of difficult relationships and situations rather than escape and avoid them
Make a choice to stay in the present moment vs peering into the future and ruminating on the past
Acknowledge the truth that happiness is not contingent upon a pain-free life or problem-free life
Have self-compassion: You are person worthy of love and compassion, not a problem to be solved
Share your story: Vulnerably and authentically open you up to receive comfort from others and know you are not alone
Feel your feelings: Experience painful emotions instead of ignoring them
Face your fears: Gain the confidence to cope with challenging circumstances
Embrace your true self and accept your imperfections, failures, and limitations as part of your story
The Fear of Feelings
What my clients are experiencing alongside their projectizing defense is fear. They are afraid of feeling their pain and not having an answer to make it go away. What they do not realize is that making themselves a project to fix is causing them tremendous pain.
Their issues appear so big and scary because they feel this responsibility to fix it, which feels lonely and impossible to heal on their own. They seek to control by projectizing themselves and removing their heart and emotions from the equation.
For that reason, they want to have an intellectual conversation in therapy. They love homework and they want tools. I work with them so they understand what projectizing is and how the way they are thinking is complicated and chaotic because they are attacking themselves.
Projectizing deepens our suffering from already difficult situations and relationships. We want to fix problems instead of facing our fears and feeling our feelings. Those struggling with making themselves a project to fix carry a tremendous burden of what to do with the pain itself.
The burden of responsibility to fix their pain is what they are avoiding, because it is mentally exhausting and isolating. This is due to the vast amounts of thought life and emotional energy needed for demanding a reason why and then fixing it, alone.
I’ve discovered this defense of projectizing occurs beyond our conscious awareness and often develops in childhood, whether it involves rejection, abuse, neglect, or finding no validation or comfort in pain from our caregivers. As a result, we develop an unconscious vow that all pain is our fault. We believe on a deep level we must have done something wrong, which is why making ourselves a project to fix is ultimately rooted in shame.
Many clients come to me after receiving no help or relief from previous counseling experiences. They have gained a plethora of tools but continue to remain stuck. Unfortunately, many therapists do not realize there is a strong defense of projectizing that is operating beneath the surface of the client’s presenting problems, such as depression and anxiety.
The Question of Shame: What’s Wrong with Me?
Most often we experienced childhood pain or trauma from our caregivers and felt shame that it was our fault, hence pain equates to shame, which becomes a foundational false belief into adulthood. We avoid the painful emotions of a difficult situation or relationship because we believe the lie that we did something wrong, we suffer by obsessively operating in fix-it mode and end up in an isolated, confused, anxious bubble of toxic overthinking.
Do you find yourself thinking, I wish things would go back to the way they were so I can be happy or normal again? Perhaps you have yet to experience the truth that happiness is not contingent upon a pain-free or problem-free life.
Before this truth can set you free, let's identify which lies are holding you captive.
Another common pattern that shows up when we make ourselves a project to fix is the lie we tell ourselves that, when something is hard, we make it mean something is wrong with us. We seek help, thinking something is wrong with us when the lies we are believing are wrong. Therefore, we try to fix what is wrong instead of facing what is hard. For example, accepting the reality of things beyond our control, facing our deepest fears, and feeling our painful emotions.
What if what is “wrong” within us points us to what is right? What if we stop running away from our pain and turn around to embrace it even if it’s scary? Facing our fears gives us the courage to face the deepest truths of our lives so we can be healed and live free.
It is important to remember: Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s wrong
Next week I will share my story of overcoming chronic migraines and how the psychological term for projectizing came about from my personal experience that led me to identify this defense mechanism and brought me to a place of healing and self-acceptance.
**The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 8 (When You Become A Cuckoo, Making Yourself a Project to Fix) of Andrea’s book,The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior
The photo accompanying this article was sourced from Unsplash and is in the public domain.