Projection is a word I use to describe the process where the inner workings of our mind (our conditioning/wiring, emotions, thoughts/beliefs and expectations) are projected outward onto our world and are responsible for creating our experiences.
This process seems opposite to what we’ve been conditioned believe – many believe that the things that happen in our lives are happening to us and we respond and adjust accordingly. However, the process of projection is about understanding that the things that happen out there (for the most part) are coming from us in the form of our conditioning and what we believe or expect to be ‘normal’.
Projection is about truly understanding the concept of cause and effect and realizing the driving force behind our experiences stem from our mind and our expectations and/or how we would define 'normal'. And of course, most of this happens on a subconscious level, without us realizing it.
A way to explain this concept is to compare it to watching a movie. When we go to the movie theatre, we sit in the audience and watch a story unfold on the screen and we react to the sights we see. In this way, the screen and the images on it are the cause and our responses to it are the effect. Typically, this is mostly how people view their lives and the experiences that occur in their lives. However, in reality, there is a projector in the back of the room projecting the images onto the screen. In this way, the projector is the cause and the images are the effect.
The concept of projection is about viewing our mind (i.e. the projector) as the cause, and the experiences in our life (i.e. the story on the screen) as the effect. This concept is quite opposite to what many people believe however; it's a very empowering concept because it means that if we created an experience, we have the power to create a different experience.
Now, I don’t believe we can control every aspect of our lives; I believe that is not only impossible, it is very stress evoking to believe we have that much control over the events of our lives. However, my focus is about ensuring, to the best of my ability, that I deal with my trauma so it no longer randomly and haphazardly wreaks havoc in my life.
I believe that when we truly understand how our trauma altered and impacted us as children and consciously and actively counter the impact trauma had on us, we can prevent the trauma from causing further damage. In that way, we can use our mind and our emotions (the cause) to create a different experience (the effect).
Projection is like putting on a set of glasses with a specific set of lenses; we can choose to use the lens formed in our trauma where the projection mimics our experiences in our past (i.e. rejection, inadequacy, abuse, etc.) or we can choose a more desirable set of lenses which will project/create a different experience (i.e. acceptance, strong self-worth, healthy interactions with others, etc).
Trauma creates and alters our reality and I’ve expanded on this concept a bit more, below.
Trauma Creates Reality
The circumstances around the trauma we experience in our youth become our point of reference for the rest of our lives. Those circumstances, as difficult, negative and traumatic as they may be, hard wire us to believe that those circumstances are normal, acceptable and are to be expected. This occurs on a subconscious level, without us knowing it. And so, as we progress in life, the circumstances around the trauma are replicated, oftentimes repeatedly, in pattern-like ways.
For example, one client of mine grew up in a home where her mother physically abused her on a regular basis. As a result, physical abuse was a regular part of her upbringing and she became desensitized to violence, thinking it was normal and acceptable. A child who grows up in a violent home will subconsciously come to expect a violent life and will oftentimes find themselves living in conditions where violence is prevalent, regardless of how much they detest violence.
In her particular situation, violence manifested itself within the relationship of her son and daughter. When I first met her and she described their interaction, I felt obligated to explain that what she was describing was physical abuse, which seemed to take her by surprise – I don’t think she would have viewed the behaviours as violent or physically abusive.
Even though their behaviours triggered her and she didn’t like the behaviour, she hadn’t identified it as violent nor addressed it - partly because violence had been a normal way of interacting and partly because of how she adapted to abuse in the past (she would freeze and shut down).
Trauma Distorts Reality
Trauma not only creates reality through our conditioning and our expectations based on our definition of 'normal', but trauma distorts reality as well – it sometimes causes us to see things that aren’t necessarily real.
Building on the example from above, my client not only found herself living in a life that included violence, she came to expect (or see) violence where there was none. She fully believed her spouse would become violent (that was her expectation via her trauma) but he had never been violent toward her, nor was it likely he would be; his values prohibited it. Yet, she couldn’t truly see him or his actions, she could only ever ‘see’ violence as the inevitable end result; the expectation based on her reality growing up.
In her life, trauma had created and perpetuated the cycle of violence and it was manifesting itself through her children. And, her trauma was distorting her reality whereby her expectation caused her to see things that weren’t there (believing her husband would become violent when he was not). Her mind (the cause) was wired for violence and that was the experience she was projecting out onto her life (the effect).
She was using the lens of trauma to create and distort her reality.
It becomes very important, then, to be able to discern reality from fiction – to know when a problem is real and when we are seeing things that aren’t real. So, rather than using our gut/feelings/instincts (which can't always be trusted because trauma has skewed our judgment) it is oftentimes best to use logic - to critically and objectively assess the situation using the facts to discern real from fiction.
It's important to resist using past experiences to cloud our vision - in effect, we learn to change the lenses on the glasses and create a different experience.
Questions to Consider
When you look at your life, what experiences mimic the traumatic experiences from your childhood?
How has your trauma created a reality that is similar to your childhood?
In what ways is your trauma distorting your reality, or causing you to see things that aren’t there?
Do you often get into arguments where people say that you are not hearing what they are saying?
Is it possible you believe they think/say/do things that they actually do not? Is it possible your expectation is clouding your vision?.