Imagine you are feeling stressed about completing a project at home or at work. You worry you won’t finish on time, and start to doubt your abilities. Just at that moment your significant other or your supervisor asks “How’s that project going?” In an instant you find yourself snapping at your loved one because you feel “criticized.” Or maybe you get concerned because you think your supervisor must be “checking up on you.” Your perception feels real but unless the other person confirms this for you, you are probably reacting from a distorted mindset.
What you have just experienced is a projection. A projection is a thought or feeling about yourself, usually negative, that you place on another person. You often aren’t aware that you are having these thoughts until you respond to someone as if they were thinking negatively about you. This can lead to unexpected conflict.
For example, let’s say that deep down inside, you believe that you are not very smart. Then, you bring that belief into a social situation. If you are operating from that belief, a simple question like, “have you read any good books lately?” can make you feel the other person is questioning your intelligence. Or, maybe you feel critical about your appearance. An innocent question about whether you are going to wear your blue suit may feel like the person asking is actually judging you on how your look.
Most projections appear when you feel afraid, stressed, or anxious. That is when the most irrational, automatic and negative thinking kicks in. We tense up physically, and then literally can’t think straight. In order to get your thoughts and feelings on track, you need to find your way back to a calmer state of mind.
Here are some tips to help you reign-in your projections.
1. Take a moment to physically relax. When you find yourself in a highly agitated state about a question or comment that someone has made, take a few moments to sit down and calm your breathing.
2. Get a reality check by asking a speculative question. Check in with anyone you feel is acting negatively to you, and find out if your perception is accurate. Something like, “I need to check in with you about something. Were you asking me about my report because you are concerned in anyway or just as a routine follow-up?”
3. Notice the reaction of those who respond to your possible projection. If you have a strong reaction to someone’s comment or question, and they look at you with astonishment, it’s time to gauge your response.
4. Watch your patterns. Start to notice when your projections occur and under what circumstances. What are the stressors?
5. Examine your beliefs. Ask yourself what negative beliefs you hold about yourself, and whether they influence your perceptions.
One last thought: Remember, most negative beliefs are a distortion. Once you bring awareness to how and why you project, you can start to catch yourself and avoid conflict.
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