Projection: I'm Not Who You Think I Am
We are all out of touch with reality.
The most mindblowing thing that I learned during my time studying Neuroscience was that the brain creates our reality. It takes in sensory data, sights, sounds, tastes, feeling sensations, smells: and generates a model of the world around us. This is the reality that we think we see and that we think that we live in. But it’s an illusion, our reality is just a simulation.
We don’t see out of our eyes we take in light and then build the visual space around us.
However, in order to generate this model our brain needs to make a lot of assumptions. Perhaps the most obvious is our visual blind spot. Our brain fills in part of our visual field with the patterns that surround it, we do this seamlessly in order to create the illusion of a coherent visual space.
Psychologically, we do this too. We fill in the world around us with assumptions about other people. We project our past on to the present. If you take the time to think you’ll notice this right away. As we are getting to know someone we are constantly comparing them to others from our past.
Think about it, do you treat older males like your dad? Do you treat your female peers like your sister? How do your assumptions about other people help you navigate the world?
While this process is natural and necessary it can cause us a lot of trouble. Projections can result is us treating someone in a way that is incongruent with who they really are. This can create conflict and misunderstandings in our relationships. Also, if it is left unchecked it can result in a profound loneliness, an inability to really contact and connect with others.
In psychotherapy we work a lot with projections. We study how your past comes into your life and gets in the way of your experience of reality. We do this in two ways, first, we talk about your relationships and friendships. We study, nonjudgmentally, how you act and behave. We explore any and all connections to your past in order to tease out the roots of your behaviors. Then we can determine what works for you and what doesn’t.
The second way is studying your projections in the room, the ones that you place on the therapist or on your fellow group members. We notice how you form assumptions and how you change, in behavior and speech patterns, as you develop a relationship. We use the space of therapy to talk not just about your life but, more interestingly, how you talk about your life. We study your patterns in order to understand the unconscious processes of the mind.
So how can you work with projections? Well, the first, most powerful, step is to simply notice them. Notice when you are making an assumption about another person. Notice when you find yourself throw back into an old way to relating. Notice when you are trying to get into someone else’s head and figure out what they are thinking. All of these are hallmarks of projections.
When you notice that, pause, and check yourself. Slow down the conversation and ask a question. Breaking through your projections will result in deeper relationships with your loved ones and friends.