Our modern world is filled with distractions of many different kinds, from emails, social media and text messages to pop-up banners and advertisements at every turn. These distractions tend to be well-known and generally recognised as harmful to our health and emotional wellbeing. However another less obvious distraction often remains hidden beneath our conscious awareness while silently eroding our wellbeing in an equally damaging way. This particularly subtle but compelling distraction is the tendency to focus on faults in other people rather than examine ourselves. When our focus is placed on faulting the actions, lives, and behaviours of others, we provide ourselves with a means of escape from noticing, owning, and ultimately addressing our own personal issues. Directing our focus towards others distracts us from examining our own thoughts, beliefs, and unconscious patterns of behaviour, which more reliably form the true root of much of our own suffering.
It is important for our wellbeing to learn to recognise this type of distraction and to increase our awareness of when we are engaging in it. I have detailed below some various ways that fault finding can manifest and have included some tips for avoiding these common pitfalls. When we learn to identify and free ourselves from finding fault in others, we gain the opportunity to direct our focus and awareness back onto ourselves. This provides us with the practice grounds for honing and developing our skills for introspection, an invaluable tool for identifying, addressing and ultimately transforming the very behaviours and beliefs that inhibit us from growing and finding happiness in our own lives.
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens. - Carl Jung
No one is perfect, including ourselves! If we focus on other people's lives, their problems or what we perceive to be their flaws, we distract ourselves from exploring, acknowledging, and owning our own personal issues. Judging others diverts our attention from our own issues at hand and simultaneously creates the illusion that we are superior or faultless in comparison to others.
Judgements often contain beliefs about how other people "should" be. Many of the judgements and should beliefs we uphold as adults were passed down to us in childhood by early authority figures in our families of origin, our culture, and society at large. In childhood we are not developmentally equipped to consciously evaluate these judgements or to purposefully weigh their validity and relevance, so internalise these early teachings as incontrovertible facts. However many of these judgements we were taught in childhood and carry with us into adulthood are largely subjective, quite often invalid, frequently unable to hold up to deliberate scrutiny, and quite possibly were not consciously evaluated by the very authority figures who passed them down to us in the first place.
Suggestions: If you find yourself judging the behaviours, choices, and actions of someone else, pause and ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Can you think of evidence that contradicts your judgements? Can you think of some positive qualities and aspects of the person you might be judging? Can you put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it might feel like to be them? Adopt a willingness and flexibility to expand your perspective of the other person to include as much evidence that contradicts your judgements as possible. All humans are multi-faceted and have a wide array of qualities and attributes. Train yourself to look for and focus on the more positive aspects of others, rather than focus on and judge their perceived weaker points.
Projection is a defence mechanism in which we see in others the parts of ourselves that we do not like, do not want to accept, have repressed and denied, or are not consciously aware of. These unknown aspects of ourselves are called shadows, and the less aware we are of our own shadows, the more we tend to perceive them in other people and external situations.
"You make me feel ____" statements often indicate that a projection is happening. These statements take uncomfortable emotions that exist within ourselves and project them externally onto someone else. However the location of our own emotions and their true roots and seeds exist solely within, and other people and external situations can only serve to trigger issues, traumas, beliefs, and emotions that ultimately reside inside of us. Displacing our emotions and shadows onto others by engaging in projection leaves the internal seeds and roots of our uncomfortable emotions to remain undiscovered within us and persist mostly intact. This prevents us from becoming aware of and integrating these emotions and shadows into our conscious awareness, which is the only true pathway to freeing ourselves of them and their influence in our lives.
Suggestions: In order to see other people and external situations clearly, you must learn to both recognise and take back your own projections. Begin to take note of the types of behaviours in others that trigger a strong emotional reaction in you, especially if people who exhibit these types of behaviours show up recurrently in your life. For example, are you consistently finding yourself surrounded by people you perceive of as too angry, too controlling, too needy, too selfish? Projections can occur for our disowned, positive aspects as well. If you find yourself strongly admiring or idealising certain qualities in others, it could mean that you too possess these qualities but have repressed them within yourself. Also begin to observe any negative assumptions or interpretations you may have about the behaviours and motivations of others. Negative assumptions tend to be projections of our own deeply held personal fears, beliefs, and insecurities.
As the old adage says, when you point a finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you! When we find ourselves in conflicts with other people, it is often easier to focus on their contributions to the problem and try to get them to change or fix their behaviours. However blaming others diverts us from identifying our own contributions to our problems, gives away our personal power to be constructive in the face of conflict and prevents us from taking personal responsibility for what is unfolding in our lives.
When we are in conflict with others, their contributions are not within our power to control; we only have control over and responsibility for our own contributions. When we take personal responsibility for our actions and use our personal power to constructively change our own behaviours, the reactions and outcomes in situations with others naturally changes too.
Suggestions: The next time you are in conflict with someone, shift your focus to examining your side of the exchange. Ask yourself, "What have I contributed to this situation? What can I do to change my contribution so the end result can change too?" Try to view your behaviours from the other person's perspective and imagine how you would feel and react if you were on the receiving end of your actions. Look back over past conflict situations to evaluate how you could have behaved differently and decide on new positive, constructive, and more effective behaviours to adopt.
Rescuing can be a tricky behaviour to identify because it often appears to be caring and helpful behaviour. However truly helping others and rescuing are two very different things! Rescuing takes the form of doing things for others that they did not directly ask for, doing "too much" for others, trying to "fix" others, focusing exclusively on the needs of others and not at all on one's own needs and providing help to others with the unconscious expectation that they will and should reciprocate.
In rescuing, help is given from the implied "you need me" position and not from the viewpoint that the other person is capable, free to make their own choices and ultimately responsible to take care of themselves. Rescuing is harmful in that it sends disabling messages to the person being helped and also distracts the rescuer from focusing on themselves, their issues, and their own needs. Rescuing behaviours stem from an unconscious belief that the rescuer's worth is based solely on being needed, rather than a feeling of inherent or intrinsic worth from within.
Suggestions: If you find yourself engaging in rescuing behaviours by doing too much for others, begin to train yourself to take note of and focus on your own needs. It is important to balance meeting the needs of others with an equal focus on your own needs and to know that your needs are important, deserving of your own attention and equally as valid as the needs of others. Also begin to speak your needs directly to others rather than think they should intuit your needs. If you struggle with speaking your needs directly, setting boundaries and saying no, here is a good resource for further reading on assertiveness.
Moral Outrage and Public Shaming
Moral outrage and public shaming have become embedded in our lives, with shame and blame unfolding regularly in our social media feeds. Shame and outrage often cause real damage in the cases where someone's actions or words have been taken largely out of context, and also detract from our wellbeing as individuals by reinforcing a disempowering victim consciousness, in which we look for someone or something to blame for every situation that unfolds.
Public shaming and moral outrage can sometimes have the unconscious, ulterior motivation of signalling moral superiority to one's own circle of friends. This is not altruistic behaviour and does little to address the issue at the heart of the outrage.
Suggestions: It is only through examining ourselves and understanding our own values and motivations that we can begin to decide consciously where we would like to channel our own energy. Participating in shaming online or signalling outrage over a situation without contributing to a solution can be an ineffective use of energy, power, and agency, and quite possibly in some cases can be disingenuous. Turning the focus on ourselves and taking note of our behaviours and motivations provides us with the ability to take pause and evaluate before participating. Despite a behaviour being popular culturally, it is only through our own conscious evaluation that we can determine if that behaviour is desirable or beneficial for ourselves.
Cultivating self-awareness through introspection awakens within us the potential for profound growth and transformation. When we examine ourselves, we can become aware of and liberate ourselves from the limiting thoughts, negative beliefs and unconscious patterns of behaviours that are the true drivers of the majority of our unhappiness. The more we can recognise fault finding for what it is, the better equipped we are to chose consciously to not engage in it. This conscious disengagement liberates us to direct our energy more positively and productively towards constructive change, evolution, and growth, ultimately benefitting us as individuals and society as a whole.
Progress is impossible without change, and those who can not change their minds can not change anything. - George Bernard Shaw