Mind Mapping Instead of Projecting. Tips for Successful Relationship
Leaving Loneliness: A Workbook: Building Relationships with Yourself and Others”
by David S. Narang Ph.D
Mind Mapping Instead of Projecting
People with a history of attachment problems tend to project onto others a great deal. Everyone does this sometimes. To project means that you look at another ’s behavior and interpret it through your own way of understanding the world, instead of accurately understanding the intent of the other person. Higher accuracy is based on understanding the other person’s intentions based on his/her own way of understanding the world. Mind mapping involves making guesses about the other person based on the other person’s personality and how he/she views the world. Example: John leaves the toothpaste cap off. His live-in girlfriend, Jennifer, assumes John is selfish and does not care enough about her, or he would put the cap back on as she desires. Jennifer ’s assumption could be accurate, based on strong knowledge of what this behavior means when it comes from John. But more likely she is projecting, placing her own purely imagined intent onto his behavior.
Mind Mapping. The projection may come from a couple of places: Most likely she projects meaning based on what it would mean if she did the same thing (if she left the cap off, it would mean she did not care about him), but she could also project based on past experiences (a past boyfriend did not care at all if she was displeased the cap was left off, and generally did not care if he displeased her, and so at that time the behavior was in fact a symbol of the old boyfriend’s lack of care for her). Finally, she could also project qualities she dislikes about herself onto him (i.e., “It is too uncomfortable for me to see myself as inconsiderate, so I cannot see myself as inconsiderate, and instead see that quality in another person close to me”).
The toothpaste example was benign, just to provide an example illustrating the meaning of projection. Now let us imagine projections more likely to cause serious and unnecessary harm to a relationship: A friend/partner interprets the other ’s repetitive lateness as a sign of lack of love or respect leading to frequent angry fights; a man projects that his girlfriend’s lack of interest in sex for the past two weeks means that she may be interested in somebody else and accordingly begins to demand to know her whereabouts and starts checking her phone texting history. You can see how projecting intent onto the behavior of others, instead of asking about their intent, can and often does quickly lead to dramatic conflict, toxic to a relationship.
Mind Mapping. Even small projections can become much larger problems. If a co-worker criticizes a small aspect of your work, does that mean he/she is: helping to improve the work, concerned that the product will be worse if an error is not corrected, a little socially awkward and unskilled at tact, subtly getting you back for a minor offense of your own against him/her by trying to make you look bad in front of others, et cetera? With so many possibilities, how could you know his/her motivations?! The truth could be any of these and more, but what if you projected or assumed negative intent onto the co-worker when in fact he/she had no intent to harm you? How might you unnecessarily interact in a way that causes anger between you, perhaps spiraling into escalating conflict based on initially projecting that the co-worker had aggressive intentions?
Similarly, if a man projects a woman has romantic interest in him based on her smiling at him once, he may pursue her in an overly enthusiastic manner, potentially embarrassing himself and her. Whether a projection causes pain or elation is irrelevant; rather, it is the inaccuracy that is relevant. The inaccuracy exists because the projection originates in one’s own interpretation and ways of understanding, instead of being based in the other ’s thought process. Thus, when the man smiles that way at a woman, he may himself be romantically interested in her, but when a woman smiles at him in the same way, he would have to find further ways to look at the possibility that she is interested in him (mind mapping), instead of projecting that he ‘knows’ she in fact does have interest and thus jumping into pursuit too intensely.
Mind Mapping. Why would attachment security problems lead one to project frequently? When one lacks security, one is frequently focused on pursuing unmet needs while trying to avoid getting injured, whether by clinging to or avoiding others. Projections are often an attempt to predict the social world, whether to avoid getting hurt or to reassure oneself that another person is perfectly suited to meet one’s unmet needs. However, a secure person achieves harm avoidance by getting to know the reality of the other person and using that accurate knowledge of the other to avoid socially harmful situations where possible and pursues getting needs met by accurately discerning if another can help meet them. However, with Attachment Avoidance or Anxiety, one does not allow enough closeness to actually come to understand the other person, and thus, where does one go to find an interpretation of the other ’s actions but into one’s own mind, a tragic if understandable mistake.
What is the alternative to projecting when trying to understand the meaning of others’ behavior and when working to understand who they truly are? Mind mapping entails truly understanding another person, what he/she thinks and feels, and also making more accurate intuitive guesses about the intentions behind his/her various behaviors based on the person that he/she is (instead of projecting assumptions about what his/her intentions are based upon who you are and the way that you think). Example: John tells Sandra that he thinks she has made a mistake with part of her project at work, and he tells her this in front of her co-worker. Sandra feels humiliated. At first she feels tempted to project that John said this in front of her co-worker on purpose because he wanted to embarrass her. Next she decides that she may not be correct, but that since she is upset she must find out.
Mind Mapping. She tells John she feels humiliated and asks his intent. He tells her that he is sorry he is so rigid sometimes, but he just wants the team project to be the best it can be. The next time he critiques her work, she mind maps: She assumes now that he merely wants the project to be its best and is not humiliating her on purpose. Based on this, she approaches him, perhaps upset about the humiliation, but responding to him effectively in a way likely to elicit his cooperation based on what she guesses is his actual intent, reminding him that public critique causes her pain, and asking him to give his suggestions one-on-one.
Steps for mind mapping:
1) Mind Mapping. Become aware when you are projecting. That is, work to increase awareness of instances when you are making assumptions about the intent behind others’ behavior that may be untrue.
2) Mind Mapping. When intent is ambiguous, know that you may not know their intent, and cope with that ambiguity until their intent becomes clear. Don’t let your anxiety about not knowing force premature and false “understanding.”
3) Mind Mapping. If the situation allows for it, ask the person about his/her intent. Unless he/she is established as a liar, try to take the response at face value.
4) Mind Mapping. When you ask about the intent, do so in an emotionally calm way, or their answer will merely reflect reactiveness to your emotionality, instead of accurately reflecting their actual thought process and feelings.
5) Mind Mapping. Use the information you have gained from them to more accurately interpret their intent in similar future situations. Now you are mind mapping! You are developing intuitions about their intentions, thoughts, and feelings based on who they actually are instead of based upon your own projections.