SALT LAKE CITY — This week I have been thinking about the ways we see other people and how inaccurately we see them. You may think that you see accurately, but your perspective is always subconsciously skewed by your past experiences. There are not enough hours in the day to process all the information that comes at you, so your brain shortcuts the process by using what you already know to determine what’s in front of you.
The French-born author Anais Nin, wrote about an old Talmudic philosophy that says we can only dream about things we have previously encountered or thought. So, "We don’t see things as they are, we see the world as we are," Nin says.
The way this works is that if you grew up in a stable, emotionally and mentally healthy family, you probably see the world as stable and safe. If you grew up in a violent, abusive, or unhealthy family, you will be more likely to view the world as an unsafe, violent place. You will always subconsciously project your world onto the world you see.
This also applies to the way you see other people. You subconsciously project your experience of what you are like onto others and assume they are just like you, or they should be. When they don’t act like you, you are often shocked.
According to an article from the American Psychological Association, neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese said, "It seems we’re wired to see other people as similar to us, rather than different. At the root, as humans we identify the person we’re facing as someone just like ourselves."
You see other people as you are, and you subconsciously expect them to behave as you would. The problem is that other people are just not wired like you are. They have had very different life experiences, so they cannot possibly see the world (or behave) the same way you do.
Some inaccurate projections
Here are some other ways this tendency to project yourself onto others shows up:
- You assume other people think like you do. This means that if you are terribly afraid you aren’t good enough, you will assume other people think you are not good enough, too. It is actually highly likely that these people don’t think about you at all and worrying about what they think is pointless.
- You believe other people would do what you would do in the same situation. This is why many cheaters accuse their spouses of cheating. They would do it, so they assume you would too.
- You get the most bothered by behaviors you do, too. These behaviors bother you in yourself, and they really trigger you when you see them in other people. I call this the "You Spot it You Got it Rule." It means that if you hate controlling people, it’s usually because you like to be in control of yourself. If you are a kind person, you will usually see kindness in others. The people around you can serve as mirrors to help you work on yourself if you let them.
- We tend to see what we want to see in others. Some researchers call this motivated perception. Our perception of this is almost always biased, selective and malleable. You might have trouble with this in relationships because you see your partner as a certain type of person when that isn’t really who they are.
Consequences of inaccurate projections
All of these perceptions, or mind tricks, can create fallout in your relationships. Here are some common ways they might affect your life:
- You might have expectations of your loved ones that really aren’t fair. Your partner or child is most likely not wired the same way you are. They don’t highly value the same things and they have different fear triggers. They have had different life experiences and different beliefs, so you cannot expect them to be like you or behave like. You must learn to love them as they are (they can improve themselves, but rarely can they change their basic subconscious programming). I am a very driven self-motivated person and I have a daughter who is more creative, artistic and laid back. I spent years making her feel bad for not being more driven. Once I accepted her as she is, our relationship greatly improved.
- You might be a hypocrite. You might get really bothered when your spouse looks at their phone while they are driving, knowing that you do the same thing yourself. Most of the couples that come to me for coaching are complaining about their partner not giving them enough attention and not meeting their needs, while they are actually doing the same thing to that partner.
- You might miss red flags. You might see just the good in people and totally miss some bad because you assume they are good people like you.
- You might read negativity and rejection into situations when it isn’t really there. If you believe you are too overweight and you hate that about yourself, you will feel rejection from the people around you and assume it’s about your weight. You might be wrong about all of it.
Obviously, the problem is that we are (for the most part) blind to our subconscious projections. We cannot tell that we aren’t seeing accurately, so awareness is the most important thing if we are going to change our projections. Start noticing your thoughts and assumptions about other people and question them.
- Is there any chance that I am not seeing this person and their behavior inaccurately?
- Am I expecting them to be like me?
- Can I allow them to be different?
- Is there a chance I do the very thing I am bothered at them over?
- Am I seeing what I want to see?
Be open to the possibility that the truth is different than what you think. Be willing to allow others to be different from you without seeing their way as wrong. Different is just different, not better or worse. Always assume that both perspectives have an equal amount of truth and projection in them. Yours is always flawed to some degree and so is theirs.
As a coach, I use personality tests to show my clients the ways they are different and similar to the other important people in their lives. These tests help them to understand why other people see the world in a different way, which creates compassion. Hope this helps you.
You can do it.
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