The power of projection

A very wise friend of mine once taught me that there are 2 ways to communicate:

1.  To reflect on what is going on in reality.

2.  To project what is going on within them as a result of that reality.

As a master instructor in Taekwondo, I support my students by volunteering my time as a referee at inter-club tournaments. This gives the kids the opportunity to try their skills and strategies and build confidence in their abilities.

The majority of people respect the nature of this work.  Referees and umpires are not perfect, but they sure try their best.

It was with a clinician’s eye that I watched as one of the coaches at a recent competition completely ‘lost it’ over a match between two fourteen year olds.  He stormed the mat (a flagrant violation), abused the referee and incited parents to join him in protesting and booing the result.  The referee managed a challenging contest well, and made no technical errors.  The referee did not respond to the personal attack but calmly continued his work.

The interesting thing for me was to ponder ‘what was the coach projecting that he needed to get so upset over two 14 year old boys competing?’

The 14 year old competitors participated in good spirits, tried their best  and followed the referee’s instructions – they had no problem with what was occurring in the match. 

The coach was not reacting to the reality of what was occurring, but instead projecting something about himself through his entirely inappropriate behaviours.   I wonder if it was his need to win?  A sense of injustice?  A fear of looking incompetent?  A need to be significant?  Without spending more time with this individual, it would not be possible to know.

However, what was clear was that his projection created an unpleasant situation way beyond the scope of a development competition for children.  It set a really bad example for the kids and parents as to what acceptable behaviour should be.

It reminds me that we will always face individuals that will say or do things which we may accept as a ‘reflection’ on us, or what we do, rather than recognise them as ‘projections’ of their own insecurities and world views.  The referee did not take the things he was being called to heart, and recognised them for what they were.  However, if he was a client with an issue around self-worth or self-belief, these ‘projections’ can be accepted as harsh realities.

Often my clients have a frame of thinking which allows such projections to become powerful and painful blows – because they take things said or done as ‘reflections’ and truths.

A simple question we should always ask ourselves stems from the lesson from my wise friend:  Is what was said a reflection on reality or a projection from their necessity?  It is in our nature to listen to negative comments and to ‘try them on’.  However, the simple step of asking the question: Reflection or Projection? Allows us the space to understand the interaction and separate ourselves from its impact.  It allows us to see what is said or done to us as valuable feedback – either about ourselves, or the other person.

Exercise:  When you hear criticism or commentary from someone, imagine:

What is going on for them that what they are saying makes sense?

Is it a projection, a reflection (or sometimes a mix of both).

Is there something valuable in what is being said?

What happened?  I would love to hear your feedback.

Live Well,