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Strengthen Relationships By Observing Projections

Doug Nau

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More and more I've been hearing the word ‘projection’ in conversations pertaining to relationship coaching. As the concept is becoming more prevalent, I have been giving further considerations to the principles behind projections and their implications not only on my life but also how mine affect the life of others.

In my coach training certification program, we gave the topic a full day of study. More importantly, we had the opportunity to ‘experience’ projections and see just how significantly our own thoughts and world views affect what we believe others believe. This article is written to help you understand what a projection is, how to identify your own projections, and how to improve your relationships by being aware of your own personal tendencies to do this.

What is a Projection?

You may have heard the term before and failed to understand what it meant when used in the context of relationships and personal growth. Similar to the technical devices that bear the same name, a projection essentially shares the same definition. Projecting is the process of taking an image within and casting it out on another object - like a wall, screen, or that guy's head that never seems to sit down during your work conference. We are all familiar with what a projector is - basically any tool that allows for projection. Now consider how we are all projectors!

Coaches for years have been using the analogy of a projection to demonstrate how we tend to rationalize and explain the behavior of others through our own personal filters. Unless we've completely surrendered to the concept that we can never truly understand exactly how someone else view's the world, and we make a conscious effort to live by this principle at every moment (no small task), then we are living a life which is full of projections. That does not imply good or bad - its simply an observation to be made. Once you become aware of the projections that you cast, you can use this awareness to improve your understanding of others and in doing so create longer lasting more powerful relationships.

Let me give an example of a projection. My friend just lost his father in law. I see he is down and I just know how difficult this is for him. Perhaps I lost my father in law not so long ago, and I know what he's going through. Well, maybe not. As soon as I heard the news, I began projecting all of the beliefs that I had onto this person based on the culmination of experiences in my life. I see this event through my filter. I've projected my experiences on this person. I am seeing their life through my eyes. We project our thoughts about religion, spirituality (they must feel this way!), to things as mundane as what we think someone would like to order at dinner. Even that thought is one which has been formed through our experience of what we knew that person to do in the past.

In our coach training program we went through a painful process of figuring out what people really believed by listening to a short video clip of a situation they experienced. The point of the process was eye opening in that each of the 20 people watching the video clip had a different assessment of the situation! How clear it was that we each saw life through our own filters. Imagine if there were 1000 of us in the room!

Of course there was no right and wrong answer to watching the video clips - the right answer was to listen with empathy. To seek to relate with what has true meaning to the person expressing themselves, and to listen with our hearts rather than our heads. The point was to take the psychology out of situation and to create conversation to deepen our understanding of others - recognizing our own tendencies to see others lives through the framework of our own experiences.

How to Never Project your Thoughts on Others

So you are looking for the key to eliminate your projections? Well that is a tall order. I do not know if there is anyone on this planet that has had the ability to do this. It would mean destroying all of our prejudices, our preconceptions, essentially breaking down our whole understanding of the world. This is a virtual impossibility as we need some basis for making sense of it all, and all we've got is our inborn instincts and personal experiences.

The challenge is not to eliminate projections, rather to recognize that you have these, to see them as they form and to choose to act appropriately by recognizing and acting upon your values. Notice the words I choose. If I find myself in a dangerous situation (ie: I am in a dark alley and what appears to be a violent gang approaches me), then its OK to act appropriately - RUN! Just recognize the projections that began to form. Did I envision this was a group of murderers? Did I assume they were macho and unfearing? Maybe if I grew up in that area I may have thought that they could help with directions! Take a look at how you project your own experience on others in your day to day routine.

When dealing with a less extreme situation, we may find that the simple act of being conscious to our projections may just be enough to think before passing our next comment, to search for deeper understanding before providing advice, and to allow relationships to flourish because it is built on a respect of one's own individuality.

No Foul

Once you recognize this tendency to project yourself on others, you will notice just how often your thoughts lead you to make sense of someone else's life with the applied filter of your background. There is no foul in having these thoughts. As with anything in life, we are defined by our actions, not our thoughts.

Being a student of life and a student of the life of others will support us in seeing what is true and what is simply a projection based on opinions, thoughts, beliefs and experiences. Become truly aware that your perception of the world is simply that - a perception. When we begin to investigate our projections, we are create a spaciousness of being that represents the dismantling of the ego and is the stepping stone to the true acceptance of others.

Written by Doug Nau, The Wellness Coach,

Doug Nau received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1996. In 2003, he attained his Masters in Busines Administration from the University of Arizona. Doug has been trained as a life coach at the Academy for Coaching Excellence in Sacramento, CA and in addition to running ‘The Wellness Coach', he also works part time as a Lifestyle Management Coach with the Sutter Health system in Northern California. Doug is a member of the International Coaching Federation and has been successfully in business since early 2006.


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