Projecting our own problems onto others

Anyone who has spent much time in introspection has probably realized that we are most critical of other people that are the most like us. We see something in ourselves that we hate – something we put a lot of effort into to overcome, and when we see this same thing in another person, we are quick to jump on it. It’s the thing about them that bothers us the most. We may be able to easily brush off other annoying or offensive things that person does, but if it’s one of our own issues too, rather than feel sympathetic, we are more likely to find fault.

In his book Simply Christian, N.T. Wright brings this up at points out how it can pollute our charity and good intentions:

I remember the shock when I saw an old “cowboys and Indians” movie and realized that when I was young, I – like most of my contemporaries – would have gone along unquestioningly with the assumption that cowboys where basically good and Indians basically bad. The world has woken up to the reality of racial prejudice since then; but getting rid of it is like squashing the air out of a balloon. You deal with one corner only to find it popping up somewhere else. The world got together over apartheid and said, “This won’t do”; but at least some of the moral energy came from what the psychologists call projection – that is, condemning someone else for something we are doing ourselves. Rebuking someone on the other side of the world (while ignoring the same problems back home) is very convenient, and it provides a deep but spurious sense of moral satisfaction. (p.7)