Let’s continue our discussion on effective communication by addressing two very interesting concepts: Transference and Projection. These are two concepts that exist in the realm of psychology or psychotherapy, but I will address them as essential to creating effective communication. Let’s begin with a clear explanation of both Transference and Projection. Following these explanations, I will discuss how these concepts can negatively effect communication and how to create harmonious dialogue when they occur.
Transference occurs when an individual associates something that is said or done with a past experience and so relives the emotions of that past experience in the present. When this happens, an adult may relive an emotional trauma from childhood within a situation that does not resemble the childhood situation at all. Let’s use an extreme example for clarity purposes. Let’s say someone had been sexually molested as a child and had blocked most of the experience from their memory. If someone looked at this person in a similar way that they were looked at during the childhood molestation, it could trigger the same emotions from childhood. And so, this person would be having an emotional experience of being molested while having a conversation at a cocktail party. The emotions of the past have been transferred to the present. This can all be a conscious or unconscious experience. If it is an unconscious experience, then the adults may act out in an adult way to protect themselves from being molested even though they are in no danger at all. If conscious, then the adults can allow themselves to feel the traumatic feelings and make new healthier choices, which enable them to heal the emotional trauma.
Now let’s get a better understanding of what Projection means. In this case, a person projects his/her own feelings, emotions or motivations onto another person without realizing that their reaction is really more about them than it is about the other person. For example, a person may have had a history of lying and deceiving their past romantic partner and had never forgiven themselves for doing it. In their current relationship, they would often insinuate that the person they are currently dating is always deceiving them. This accusation isn’t real but is projected onto the “other” to create a perceived equal footing. If their partner lies also, then they feel less guilty about the deceptions of their past. The projection part has to do with the fact that the person doing the pointing does not acknowledge that they feel bad about their past deception. Another example would be if a person who desperately wants to have a meaningful romantic relationship decides that they are going to spend the rest of their life with someone they just met without taking the time to really get to know them. Again, a profound initial romantic connection may have in fact occurred, but to project the result they are seeking (committed romantic partner) right away is projecting the qualities they seek in a romantic partner onto someone that they don’t even know. There is no interest in getting to know another human being, but to shape them to preconceived ideas that they want them to be. Needless to say, this is a very controlling and delusional way of going about things!
Okay, so now we need to understand how these two concepts are related to effective communication. First of all, if individuals are caught in one of these two situations then they will be engaging in the communication of false truths as I explained above. This will naturally result in conflict between the two individuals as each try to defend their point of view. The best way to manage this type of situation is to connect to your feelings when it is happening rather than just trying to prove your point. By connecting to one’s feelings during the transference situation a person will be able to make the distinction that even though they are feeling “attacked,” it is obvious that there is no real threat going on at the cocktail party. Without connecting to and identifying one’s feeling, they will simply be reactive to them and unable to clearly distinguish between the feelings of their past trauma and their current adult reality. The same holds true with the projection scenario. By connecting and identifying the feelings that are being felt, the person doing the projecting will be able to realize that they still feel guilty about what they did in the past and begin the process of forgiving themselves for it. The communicative technique is to begin the dialogue with, “I am feeling…” versus “you are doing…” “I am feeling” connects the person to themselves versus focusing on the other person with the “you are doing” comment. When this happens, they will, over time, be able to distinguish between blaming someone else and taking ownership of something they are doing. A final communicative note. If you find that you are totally angry or frustrated at something someone is doing, then that means that it is something that you tend to do. Total anger or frustration equates to a lack of empathy and compassion. And it is with empathy and compassion that individuals can create a harmonious dialogue. Remember, when you find yourself being overly critical and judgment of another then you are unconsciously masking a tendency that you yourself do! The ego behaves in this way, while our humanity would never be so negative.