Despite how the title of this post might make me sound right now — no, I’m not high.
What I’m talking about is a little thing that we refer to in my line of work as “projection.” In the broadest sense of the term, projection refers to the human inclination to take an internal thought or feeling and to make it external — to place it outside of yourself, psychologically speaking. Strange as it may seem, it happens every day. There are three main kinds of projection, and they go like this:
Back in December I gave a TEDx talk, and in it I spoke about how human beings (and I mean all of us) create an internal “map” for how we think the world works. All of our life experiences, beginning in infancy, create a sense for us as individuals of how things tend to go, and how people usually relate to us. As a result we think we see the world clearly, but really we see the world through lenses that have been specifically created for us by all of the life experiences that we’ve had to date (I know, we probably should be high right now — somebody pass the joint!). As a byproduct of that, we have a tendency in a number of different ways to “project” our own version of life onto the external world around us. If you’ve ever heard the expression “We see the world not as it is but as we are,” this is most likely what its author was referring to.
Do you ever have the experience of assuming that someone is thinking something, but you’re not totally sure? Take a moment and think of a time where you thought someone was mad at you, or you believed that they thought something about you, even though they hadn’t told you to your face and there was no way to know for sure what they were thinking. If you’re having a hard time finding an example, think of the last time you called someone, and they took a really long time to call you back, or perhaps they never called you back. Was there a dialogue in your head about all of the negative things they were probably thinking about you? You might have been right on some counts — I can’t say that they weren’t thinking those things – but what I can say is that you were the one thinking the thought. In the absence of knowing what someone else is thinking, all you know for sure is that you are the one thinking it.
One of the things that I love about the work that I do (if you follow my writing here on Owning Pink you know I just can’t help myself when it comes to the shameless therapy plugs!) is that it provides us with an opportunity to really explore our internal maps and the assumptions that we have about what others think about us. If I can use my own past therapy as an example, a couple of years ago I was engaged in a deep and awesome analysis where I lied on the couch facing away from the therapist behind me (Yes, people still do that! Side note: It rocks). One of the things that ended up getting revealed over time is that I was often worried that I was going to be judged for what I shared with her. My feelings weren’t always conscious, but deep below the surface, in layers that I didn’t even totally know where there, there were feelings of shame, and those feelings of shame manifested in a fear that my analyst was going to judge me harshly. When she didn’t, I had an experience that was profoundly healing for me.
The next time you find yourself having a thought about what someone else is thinking when you don’t know what that person is thinking, remind yourself that you are the one having the thought. Ask yourself the following questions, and do a little soul searching to find the answer:
I know, heady stuff – but if you have questions about any of this, leave a comment. I'll get back to you ASAP.
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