Sitting in a coffee shop, watching others talk, chew on cookies, and work on their MACS, I sometimes wonder, “What’s that person thinking? Are they disgusted with that crying baby? Are those two people talking about me?”
I think these are fairly common questions that we ask ourselves from time to time. The truth is, without asking the other person at the table, we will never know what they are thinking or feeling. Oh, we can make a good, educated guess by reading their facial expressions and their body language. In fact, neuroscientists have discovered that we do that all the time. We are always pulling together a hypothesis of what is going on with other people based on our vast experience of human emotion and interaction. Sometimes we come pretty close to understanding how another person thinks or feels, and sometimes we are dead wrong.
The only way we can ever really ‘see’ another person is through the filters of our own ideas, beliefs and life experiences. Everything we think and see is skewed by the absolute uniqueness of our own mind. This filter before us, allows us to only understand another person in the way that we understand ourselves. Therefore, we constantly project our inner thoughts and feelings onto other people and then assume that is how they think and feel. In fact, everyone we interact with is essentially a mirror for us to see what we think and feel about ourselves.
For example, one day my husband and I were joking around with our 14 year old, Gabriella. My husband was reluctant to say anything to me that I would take the wrong way while he ribbed Gabriella quite a bit. Gabriella asked him, “Why are you teasing me about this when mom does the same thing?”
My husband playfully replied, “Well, you’ll be leaving the house in a few years, but I have to live with your mom for the rest of my life!”
I quickly joined in and said to my husband, “I bet that thought really scares you-that you have to live with me for the rest of your life.”
He wryly replied, “No, I’m really happy with that. I think it scares you though. Are you projecting on me?” he said with a comical smile.
I was. I was projecting all over him, and I knew it. Just because the thought of being with the same person FOREVER, scared me a little bit, I automatically assumed that it scared him too and I attributed him with those feelings without even thinking about it. They were all my own.
I’m not unique in this. We ALL do it. We project all over each other all the time. The next time you are emotionally charged and you hear an “I know you think,” or an “I know you feel,” come out of your mouth stop and think about what YOUR thinking and feeling at that moment.
If you’re saying to someone, “I know you think I’m stupid,” chances are that’s what you’re thinking about yourself. I challenge you, as I’ve challenged myself, to stop blaming others about what you THINK they THINK. It’s futile. Instead, you can actually start using your outside voice and ask them if what you are thinking is the truth, or if that is too uncomfortable you can just drop it and move on with your life. Chances are it’s probably your own negative self-talk that’s making up stories about other people’s thoughts and feelings that aren’t even true. It’s time to step it up now. Let’s all take absolute responsibility for our thoughts and our feelings about ourselves. If you own it, then you can change it. Now, what seems easier, changing someone else, or changing your self?