Charlie: The word “project” has multiple definitions and two possible pronunciations. The noun, ‘project’ has an emphasis on the first syllable, as in “Writing a book is a fascinating and challenging project”. The verb has the emphasis on the second syllable, as in “Sometimes I get so frustrated with the process that I want to project my laptop into the trash can.”
The dictionary contains several definitions of the noun and the verb as well as a number of examples. Definition number four of the verb includes: “To promote a particular view or image; to present someone or something in a way intended to create a favorable impression; to transfer or attribute one’s own emotion or desire to another person, especially unconsciously.”
Projecting is going on practically non-stop in most relationships. We make assumptions about what our partner wants, how they feel, what their mood is, what they are thinking. We project our own experience onto them.
Our assumptions are, as the dictionary reminds us, unconscious. They are based on what we think is going on for them. Those thoughts are based on what we think we would be experiencing if we were in their shoes at this moment. We are not only unaware that we are doing this, and acting in accordance with our assumptions, but we are also unaware that our assumptions may in fact be profoundly inaccurate.
This scenario is not going any place good. If you’ve made that projection, you’re right. The sad fact of the matter is that most of what we think we know about another person’s current needs, thoughts, feelings and desires isn’t based on factual evidence or reports from them. It is conjecture, not grounded in actual knowledge. Unfortunately most of us hold our speculations as “the truth” and rarely question them. This occurs even in the face of significant evidence to the contrary when they react to our well-intended “support” with anger, hurt feelings, or bewilderment.
Here’s a personal example: In the early days of our relationship, before Linda and I had learned much about this psychological stuff, we would (more often than I like to admit) on occasion get into, let’s call them “misunderstandings”. And sometimes they would get heated at which point we would both become agitated, sometimes highly so. We would react to what was rapidly becoming a meltdown by trying to “fix” the other person. We were each convinced they were at fault and needed to change. We were projecting onto the other what we believed they needed from us and then providing it.
This assumption was based upon what we each wanted at the time. If we both had identical personalities, things would have worked out fine, or at least better than they usually did. As it was, that was not the case. Not only were (and are) our personalities NOT identical, they were (and are) polar opposites.
Linda tends towards the touchy-feely, extroversion side of the spectrum while I am predisposed towards the introverted, cerebral side of it. She wanted to get warm and fuzzy, and do some serious talking. And she “knew” that that was what I must need too. She reasoned, if I wasn’t sufficiently in touch with my need for that experience, she would “help” me to have it by getting closer, which was what she believed any other “normal” person would need in a situation like the one that we were in.
Meanwhile, my reaction to her bids for more communication and connection right now was to withdraw in horror, and an intense desire to take a time out, a long one. We’re talking maybe a few weeks. Each of us was desperately trying to pull the other person over to our preferred position that caused the other to resist and push harder for their position.
Not just because it was what I wanted but also because I “knew” that any normal person would want that too. We were both trying to give each other the very last thing that the other person wanted because we had each projected our own desires onto them. The outcome was not pretty. Fortunately we did finally manage to recognize the flaw in our assumptions. Linda saw it before I did and she patiently hung in there until I, slow learner that I am, eventually got it.
And the “it” that I eventually got was that it’s not a good idea to believe everything I think. That doesn’t mean that I disbelieve whatever I think. But that since I can’t stop my projections from coming, I can at least learn to recognize them for what they are. They are speculations from my mind driven by a bias towards my perspective that may or may not be accurate.
When I remember that the truth is that I really can’t know for sure what is going on within another person, I become more curious. When I’m less certain, I am more open to seeing what is actually going on rather than confusing my imaginings with “reality”. In doing this I become less attached to a position that is inhibiting my ability to get to connect with this person in front of me. Then I can discover who they are and meet them. We can each see, accept, and appreciate, and connect with each other in this moment. And that is the truth.