As I work with people I am careful to allow the space for their innermost truth to emerge. I have worked with several therapists in my life and I learned a lot from being their client. Most of my experiences were good, but I can think of two examples that clearly illustrate the concept of projection. Projection in a relationship is defined as, “the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects; especially : the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.” Projection prevents people from seeing the truth, so I think it’s good to illustrate how projection can interfere with uncovering the truth in a relationship.
One example of projection happened when I was seeing a therapist in San Francisco. I had only seen him for one session for 50 minutes, so we had only briefly covered my history and my goals. I started off our second session by telling him about an incident that had happened with a colleague at work because I wanted to understand my part in the incident. In giving him some background about where I was when the incident happened, I mentioned that we had been out at a restaurant and that I had had two drinks. I thought of this as a detail in the story as I had not yet gotten to my point, but he stopped me. He started to question me about why I had had two drinks. I wanted to be transparent so I answered his questions with the hopes of moving on to the part of the story that I wanted help with. He continued to drill down into the thought process that led me to have a second drink. I stopped him and told him that I wasn’t in therapy because I thought I had a drinking problem and that I really wanted help with the incident I hadn’t yet told him about. He told me that he thought I might have a drinking problem if I wasn’t sure why I had had a second drink. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t understand how he could have come to such a farfetched conclusion after only one session when I knew in my heart that I didn’t have a drinking problem. I tried to tell him what I knew about myself in my heart, but he was stuck on my having a drinking problem. I told him I felt misunderstood. He pressed on. I told him he wasn’t listening. He continued. The more I tried to speak from my heart, the more he told me I was defending myself and that I was in denial. I felt completely defeated as I left that session. Did I really just pay money for that?!? I paid someone to help me see but he was blind. He didn’t see me…he saw his projection of me. He saw someone with a drinking problem even though I didn’t have one. I never went back to see him again, but I felt like I had learned a valuable lesson. Any of you that has worked with me knows this about me….I listen. I listen to your heart with my heart. I believe you. Sometimes my body whispers that something you’re saying requires further inquiry, but I never forget that you are the expert on yourself. Any hints or clues that I get from my body are always checked with what you know about yourself. If someone tells me that I’m not seeing them accurately, I honor that. Often my clients tell me that my hunches are correct, but I know that I don’t know everything. I have learned to listen to my intuition but not to assume that it’s infallible and always right…especially about others.
The second example feels even more ridiculous as I write it, but I said two so I’ll write two. I was seeing a therapist when I first started dating my husband, Eliot. I had known Eliot for several years since we worked together teaching self-defense, but neither of us was attracted to the other at first. We were actually a bit repelled by one another at first, but that’s another story. I hadn’t considered him a potential mate for many reasons, but as I got to know his spirit I realized that all of those reasons were meaningless and that his spirit was beautiful. Eliot and I shared our first date and our first kiss and I went in to see my therapist the next day. I had seen her for a while and she knew that I had been praying to find love, so I assumed that she would be happy for me. I was swooning as I told her all about Eliot and how wonderful our first date had been. I was so hopeful about the future since I had known him for several years and I knew what a solid man he was. I was shocked by her response. She told me that I had a promising future and that I was lucky to have my fertility. (What was she talking about?) She said I was too young to settle for a man who had kids when I could have kids of my own. (Did someone say I wasn’t going to have my own kids?) She said that I was getting involved in something that was too complex for me and that I would regret it. (How did she know this, I wondered?) And then she revealed the projection. “I had to marry someone who had kids because I was too old to have kids of my own, but you’re young and you have time. You don’t want to deal with having step-kids and having ex-wives to deal with if you don’t have to.” Now I understood. She wasn’t talking about me. She wasn’t even seeing me. She was talking about herself. She thought she was the expert on my life and my spirit instead of helping me to become the expert on my truth. I talked to her about the projection. I was confident in my path and in my love for Eliot. She couldn’t see it. Eliot and I celebrate 15 years of marriage this year and we are more in love than ever. I think that I interpreted my body’s whispers accurately when I chose to share my life with Eliot. I’m glad I listened to the whisper inside my heart rather than assuming she was the expert and confusing her projection with truth.
I try to be very careful to put my projections aside as I have found them to be damaging in therapeutic and personal relationships alike. I believe that each of us has the capacity to listen deeply to our spirits and choose our own paths despite what anyone on the outside says to us. Well-intended people can tell us that they know better, but I don’t think anyone knows more about you than you yourself can know. Sometimes we can get disconnected from our hearts, but that still doesn’t make someone else an expert on our lives. Anyone helping us needs to help us reconnect with our hearts so that we can find our own path…not tell us which path they think we should walk. Connecting with our hearts allows us to listen deeply. Our bodies are often subtle as they tell us which path to walk. If we’re not listening for the whisper, we can find ourselves walking the wrong way. I like to believe that the divine speaks to me through the subtle feelings in my body. When I feel subtly bad in my body then I need to address something in my life that is out of balance. When I feel terribly bad in my body then I know for sure that something in my life needs my attention urgently. I have learned to pay attention so that I can constantly fine-tune my life. I like to say that I have become addicted to feeling good. I have very little tolerance for feeling bad in my life. As I have paid attention to my body’s whisper I have eliminated foods, activities, friendships, and work that led me to feel “off” in my body. I have replaced these things with choices that feel healthier to me and are a better match for my spirit. Each person will make different choices because we are each unique. The only way you can create a life that fits you is to listen to your body’s feedback and act accordingly.
I believe that it’s good to have a low tolerance for feeling bad in your spirit. I have worked with countless clients who are unhappy in an area of their life but they tell me (and themselves) that story of how they are trapped and unable to change whatever feels bad. I work with people to find their way out of these traps.
Here are some topics I would suggest that you contemplate in your own heart. As you think about each one ask yourself whether you are in balance, peace, and health in each area:
– Health (body, exercise, food, illnesses, injuries)
– Relationships (partner, close friends, acquaintances, family)
If your body whispers at you that something is out of balance or you feel any “dis-ease” about one or more of these topics, I suggest that you look more deeply. Please consider scheduling an appointment with me to help you to reconnect with your heart. My work is all about helping my clients to connect deeply with their own spirits so they can walk a fulfilling path in their lives.