Project And Reject: The Hypocrite's Two-Step

When we're the ones doing the spot-it-got-it tango, we don't see the paradox; we simply feel an unusually ferocious antipathy to someone else's actions. When someone else is perpetrating the very acts they claim to despise, we may feel confused, sensing that there's something crazy going on, unable to pinpoint exactly what. I have some recommendations.

Be Suspicious. Be Very Suspicious
One of the friskiest babysitters I ever hired was a sweet little grandma I'll call Beulah. Despite her age, Beulah had endless energy; she could keep up with my three preschoolers far longer than I could. She was also touchingly concerned that my children not become "addicted" to anything: Sesame Street, ice cream, pop music. She volunteered to police my bathroom cupboards and remove any leftover medication the children might consume. Even so, she worried constantly that they would get drugs somewhere.

One day I came home from work to discover that Beulah had wallpapered half my daughter's bedroom with hideous paper she'd found at a discount store. She'd also single-handedly moved our piano to a new location, and (though I wouldn't discover this until weeks later) ordered four hundred dollars' worth of Girl Scout Cookies at my expense. As Beulah gave me a disjointed, rambling explanation at a rate of approximately 900 words per minute, I noted her many small scabs and that her pupils were dilated. I recalled an article that mentioned these were symptoms of crystal meth abuse. The light finally dawned: Beulah was a speed freak.

As I regretfully fired my babysitter, I realized that her obsessive talk about addiction had always been a "you spot it, you got it" behavior, and it should have been a signal to me that Beulah herself was a drug-stealing addict. Everyone makes comments about other people from time to time, but those who focus on one topic continually, irrationally, and inexplicably are often describing themselves. When someone seems unduly preoccupied with a certain flaw in others, it's time to do a once-over to see if it's taken root in Mr. or Ms. Obsessed.

Sidestep Mind-Binds
If you want to experience insanity, observe a relationship with a hypocrite: the unfaithful lover who sees endless evidence of a partner's nonexistent infidelity; the rude, hurtful coworker who expects to be treated with kindness and respect; the political extremist who violently opposes violence. Opposite moral imperatives that come from the same person, called double binds, are so crazy-making that they were once thought to induce schizophrenia. If you try to have a close connection with someone who vehemently attacks flaws in others while demanding that you accept, overlook, or excuse those same flaws in him or her, you will feel a blend of anxiety, extreme bafflement, self-blame, anger, and hopelessness. When you see people abiding by a big fat double standard, step outside their duplicitous perspective by telling yourself that the craziness you feel is coming from the critic. Once you've had this perceptual breakthrough, you may be able to use it on the one person whose behavior you actually can change: yourself.