July 10, 2024

Perception vs Reality: Is Your Reality Your Perception or Your Projection?

In many ways, what you think is reality, what you think is the truth, is neither reality nor the truth. It’s a projection. Meaning, you see what you want to see.

Things happen to you now based on your previous experiences in life. That’s why you can have a heated conversation with your partner and have a completely different interpretation of what was just said; a completely different emotional and physical reaction to what just took place. That’s because what we see and what we draw into our lives have everything to do with what has happened in our lives.


Childhood Traumas

If you were traumatized as a kid, you relate to the world in a particular way in order to cope with that trauma. Because of that, you’re on alert. You see things—and you’ve needed to see things—ahead of time to protect yourself.

But what if, years later, you don’t need to protect yourself anymore from those things that wounded you so many years ago? What if, now, you intellectually decide to change that behavior? The challenge is that your body is still going to react the same way because your body retains all of the memories of all that trauma. Your body doesn’t realize that your environment has changed. It still wants to be on alert for you, to protect you so you don’t get hurt again. 

As a result, you act a certain way and you think a certain way and you (your body) expect certain results. Sometimes you might see events or hear things even when they’re not exactly taking place just the way you’re perceiving them.

We Create Our Reality

This is how we create our reality. We’re actually participating in what is created “out there” That’s one aspect of what’s referred to as projection, like a movie projector; we project it out. So, if you want to change what’s happening “out there,” your life’s movie, you need to change what’s happening inside you. That’s why we say about all of this work: it’s an inside job. You change what’s happening outside by changing what’s happening inside. That’s how you change your reality.

Crappy Attracts Crappy

We’ve all had bad days. But what exactly makes them bad days? If you get up feeling crappy, do your morning routine, and then leave the house feeling just as crappy, we can pretty much predict that any number of crappy things are going to enter your world that day.

For instance, you might find yourself in traffic, you start to get upset and maybe gesture to or comment on a fellow traveler. Your frustration level notches up. Stopping off at the store to pick up a lunch for the day, you’ll invariable find your favorite food out of stock, the deli counter painfully slow, or the checkout line delayed by incompetence. WTF?! Your frustration level notches up again.

So let’s examine more closely where this path is headed and how you might have gone about heading it off earlier in the day.

As you confront your world with this increasingly crappy attitude, what do you think the chances are of you 1) leaning too hard into a co-worker or employee, 2) having an argument with a supplier, 3) being short with your wife when she calls regarding one of your kids, 4) realizing an error has been made on your project and it’s going to set you back a day or so, or 5) hurting yourself at the gym because you’re not paying attention and you over do it? To name just a few possibilities.

When we embody a particular energy, in this case an increasingly negative one, like attracts like. Now, this doesn’t just happen magically because of the way energy moves. It happens because your energy is affecting your thoughts, words and behaviors and, ultimately, your perception of your world. You’re actually helping to create your own frustration which can lead very quickly to a series of unpleasant interactions and outcomes. I’m sure you’ve seen this happen to you.

Mindfulness is the Key 

How do you keep from letting this happen? The most important moment is when you first realize you’ve woken up in a bad mood. This is when you can nip it in the bud. It’s all about mindfulness.

If you had a meditation practice or some other spiritual practice, you would have known that before you did anything else, you needed to sit and allow your practice to ground you and to move that negative energy. This is the time when, possibly, you could have discover what caused the mood. Perhaps it was a bad dream. Perhaps it was some unresolved issue with your partner or friend. Maybe it was something older, a childhood wound that recently resurfaced and needed your healing attention.

Understanding how you operate, and nurturing practices that can help center, heal, and guide you, is vitally important to your health and to maintaining a healthy perspective and personal reality.

But Wait…There’s More to Projection

I want to discuss another aspect of projection by sharing a situation that happened to me as a participant in my first men’s group. And then we’ll return to that earlier heated conversation with your partner.

There was man in the group whom I really didn’t like. He was loud, a showoff, arrogant, and super combative. I thought he was a real asshole. Well, it turns out, I didn’t like him because he was a reflection of my own worst characteristics. Yeah, I was seeing myself.

It took a while for me to learn all of this. But it was in that circle of men that I came to understand that the things we hate about ourselves, and don’t want to acknowledge, are easier to see when we project them out and are able to blame or judge another.

Coming Home to Roost

This same dynamic is at play in most relationships, especially long-term committed relationships. Thus, we return to that heated conversation, childhood trauma, and hearing and seeing things that may not actually be happening just as you perceive.

If you read my book Hold On to Your N.U.T.s—The Relationship Manual for Men, you’ll learn my perspective on arguing. It’s not a good thing. When you argue, you’re not listening. And when you’re not listening to her, you’re actually hearing someone else’s voice. 

Maybe it’s your mother, a former partner, or some other abusive female in your life. This is where your past wounds and trauma creep into your current reality. Because your body is in fight or flight mode, and you’ve lost the capacity to hear clearly, it is your past that is now being projected on to your partner, creating a reality for you that’s completely different than your partner’s, who is likely struggling with her own projections.

Now, imagine if this heated conversation happened on the same day as your crappy mood, and you’re projecting your worst traits onto your partner. Disaster, right? If you’re like most men, you’ve probably experienced moments like this.

Time to Step Up

It’s probably pretty clear to you now how all of these unconscious dynamics are affecting you, your level of joy, and all of your relationships. That’s why most of us have a bit of work to do. This is the kind of work I do with men. I coach men to improve their relationships, their businesses and their lives by understanding these dynamics and not only changing the behaviors, but healing the fundamental issues causing the behaviors in the first place.