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Insights: Projection - An Inconvenient Truth
July 08, 2009

An Inconvenient Truth

In this week's newsletter Bill tackles a fascinating, yet difficult-to-grasp concept called 'Projection' and reveals how coming to terms with the fact that we all do it - and why - can open up a whole new world.

I wonder how the winter has felt for you thus far?

Here in the Cape we seem to have been having special treatment from the climate Gods. It seems that there have been more warm, windless, sunny days in the last three weeks than I can ever remember experiencing during the six English summers I lived through not that long ago!

Nowadays, whenever the weather displays unusual characteristics, our minds tend to turn to the inconvenient truth of global warming and the role that it might be playing in causing the anomalies.

Yesterday morning I was reviewing a self-test that one of our trainees had submitted as part of her certification requirements. I was mulling over her description of 'Projection' when I lifted my head from my computer in deep thought. My gaze was met by a picture perfect scene... the stunning cobalt blue of the Indian ocean, framed by the verdant green of the local mountain slopes and the azure blue of the cloudless skies above.

If this is global warming...

"If this is global warming, then this is one inconvenient truth that I'm rather relishing right now," I thought to myself. Then my thoughts turned back to Projection and I saw the funny side.

"Yes, that's exactly what Projection is," I reasoned. "Another inconvenient truth!"

Manual five in our life coach skills training programme is the one I get the biggest kick from, partly because the theme is communication - a subject that was my bread and butter for the last few years of my corporate life.

Not alone in my prior ignorance

Despite my grounding in the art of business communication, I had never heard of Projection before I entered the field of life coaching. Judging by what I read in some trainees' self tests, I was not alone in my prior ignorance.

The concept of Projection is difficult to get one's head around but making the effort pays big dividends. It explains so much about why we interact with other people the way we do and why we relate so easily to some people and get so badly irritated by others!

The most commonly accepted meaning of Projection - a Freudian theory - is the transference, or attribution of one's own disliked personal characteristics, unacceptable thoughts or negative emotions, to someone else.

In other words, when you are critical or disparaging of another person (either openly or silently) you may actually be seeing in that person, a trait or characteristic of your own personality that you are repressing because it is just too hard to come to terms with.

A means of self-defence

Projection is often employed as a form of self-defence mechanism.

By way of example, if, for some reason, you find yourself continually harbouring thoughts of hatred towards your mother-in-law (but you cannot consciously accept that you have such undesirable ideas playing out in your mind) you may project these thoughts on to your spouse and convince yourself that it is your spouse that really despises his or her mother, not you.

By projecting, you have conveniently deflected the problem (undesirable thoughts of hatred) away from you and on to your spouse. In that way you can still feel good about yourself as the 'problem' now resides elsewhere!

The things we think about others are really all about us

In the New Insights life coach training programme, Neil Asher takes the concept of Projection further. He goes as far as to say: "The things we think about others are really all about us."

In other words, we can also project attributes and traits that we like about ourselves - or that we desire to have - onto others. If you feel love for someone else it is because you see in them aspects of the things you love, or want to love, about yourself.

Taken one step further, when you judge other people to be 'irritating', 'controlling', 'well-mannered' or 'adventurous' perhaps, you are seeing in them traits that are either actually in you or that you wish were in you.

Difficult to swallow

Mmm... difficult to swallow at first, I know. But the more you think about this and start to rationalize it, the more it will start to make sense... very powerful sense!

A particularly helpful application of Projection, is in understanding why people blame others for things that don't go the way they want. Blaming is, in many cases, simply a form of Projection.

Take the case of the married man whose mind is constantly full of thoughts about having an affair. His inability to deal with such 'unacceptable' thoughts leads him to project the problem onto his wife, who he then starts to blame for having ideas about leaving him for another man.

On a slightly less serious note, a controlling boss may constantly blame his staff for being lazy and unproductive as a way of assuaging the feelings of unproductivity and laziness he, himself has, but cannot consciously deal with.

Learning to own one's traits - both good and not so good

By learning to own a trait that you are associating with another person by subconsciously projecting it onto them, you can diminish the fear you have of the trait being present in your own life (in the case of something you don't like) or absent from your life (in the case of something you do like).

By coming to terms with how Projection has served you in the past, you will gradually be able to take back control of your precious life by replacing what are in a sense 'cowardly' reactions with deliberate and constructive actions.

With warm regards


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