Free Your Mind of Projections ~
Instead Ask Questions…
Our brains are masterful collectors of data, soaking up information like sponges and using it to create mental templates for how we interpret the world around us. In that process we often fall into the trap of assuming that other people’s motivations and desires are the same or similar to our own. When we do this it’s called projection. By slowing down and approaching situations with curiosity it’s amazing how many projections we can catch ourselves making and how beneficial that increased awareness can be for our relationships. Curiosity is one of the most valuable assets we have for fostering authentic connection! By staying connected with our senses of wonder we can break through to truly see and be present with others.
The most striking example of curiosity bettering one of my relationships was when I finally asked a partner what he was thinking when he left the room while I was crying. Directly asking him what he was thinking in taking that action helped debunk my false assumption that he was being uncaring. By getting curious I learned that when he’s sad he prefers to be left alone to process his feelings and that he was trying to be supportive in offering me that space. Then we were able to break down projections on both sides to learn how to more effectively support one another.
Shift into a Sense of Wonder…
Next time you’re in an emotional moment with a loved one I challenge you to shift into a sense of wonder. I bet if you do projections will be illuminated that can better your relationship(s). If you notice physiological signs of fear in yourself (increased heart rate, faster breathing, sweating, & obsessive thinking) this tip is even more important! Our emotional systems evolved to make speedy judgments when afraid so we can identify threats and take action quickly. Unfortunately, that long acquired snap judgment skill tends to be problematic in romantic relationships. By being mindful of this we can intentionally slow down in moments of fear to ask questions that can help us formulate more accurate perceptions of situations.
In summary - my suggestion is that you practice slowing down, getting curious, and communicating directly about your curiosities. Often times the messages we think we’re receiving from others through body language and behavior are being drastically misinterpreted once filtered through our own mental biases. Clear verbal or written communication will always be superior to hinting, implying, and assuming. In addition to being educational and positive for our relationships, freeing our minds to tap into our childlike senses of wonder can also be quite fun! Now it’s your turn to give it a try!
Next time you have an emotional moment with a loved one I encourage you to imagine you’re an alien sent to figure out what’s going on in their mind. Let go of a sense of knowing and get curious instead. What are some questions you could ask to test out assumptions you recognize yourself making?
In getting curious it's possible your assumptions will be proved correct. If you’re jumping to conclusions about other people’s motivations without checking in with them, however, it’s honestly more likely that you’re projecting. Either way, if you ask questions to test out your assumptions you’ll likely learn some valuable info about yourself, your loved one, and the situation - allowing you to behave in a more informed and less emotionally reactive manner. You’ll also likely find that the reactions you get from others when taking this approach will be less defensive and more open allowing you to work more effectively as a team in seeking win/win solutions.