Equus Coaching is a gentle but very powerful means of witnessing our own projections. It lets us see the fears that are impacting our relationships and to develop the tools to access a state of peace and to become more present to the truth of the moment.
I saw a great example of the power of projection recently with a client of mine named Pamela, who came for a private session. Pamela had come out of a really traumatizing relationship and was now trying to connect with her sense of self and restore her confidence.
I brought out a horse called Smoky and turned him loose into a round pen enclosure. Smoky was a fifteen-year-old gelding, the gentlest and most docile horse you can imagine, with a very quiet demeanor. Before Pamela went in to work with the horse, I stood talking with her for a few minutes. We stood in the shade of a nearby tree, watching Smoky standing sleepily in the sunshine. I asked Pamela to look at the horse for a moment and tell me what she saw.
She said, “I see a male horse just waiting to attack any horse he sees.”
In the round pen, Smoky had begun to nod off. There wasn’t an aggressive bone in his body. Part of me wanted to laugh, but I held my tongue and listened to Pamela talk, feeling into where she was coming from. After fifteen years with a physically abusive spouse, she was unconsciously using Smoky to project her fear of being attacked.
I asked her to take a moment to drop into her five senses, to really connect with the peace of the present moment. Then I got her to look at Smoky again, and tell me which of his expressions and gestures gave her the impression that he would act aggressively. When Pamela looked closely at the horse, she slowly began to laugh. “He’s falling asleep, isn’t he?” she said.
How projection works
Projection is a psychological term used to describe a defense mechanism people use with feelings that we are unwilling or afraid to confront directly. Sigmund Freud originally described the way these feelings manifest in our perceptions of the people and circumstances around us. We push our difficult inner realities onto the world like movie projectors, and then we see only the projection and not what it covers up.
Pamela was afraid that a male in any form could be violent, and so she saw that reality in every male – human or animal – that she came into contact with. This made her unable to be present or to have genuine connections with men who are actually safe.
Projections work in all kinds of ways. If I worry that I’m not smart enough, when I get into a group of people I’ll have a tendency to see them as highly intelligent. Then any constructive comments they offer as confirmation that I’m not smart enough.
If my fear is that people see me as a burden, I’ll read their actions accordingly: so if a friend offers to drive me somewhere, I’ll feel that it is a hardship for them, and possibly even that they resent me for it. If I can notice my discomfort in this situation I will be closer to recognizing that I’m projecting. Turning my attention inward, I can see that my real need is to appreciate my own value and be willing to acknowledge the unique gifts that I bring to the relationship.
The gift of projection
It’s important to understand that the process of projection can also be a gift and a teacher to us. The first way to employ this gift for our own growth is to identify a projection.
Look out for times when you feel upset or angry with someone, especially when the emotion is accompanied by an uncomfortable body sensation. Then notice the thoughts that go along with the feeling, such as: These people don’t understand me. My partner doesn’t see me. My mother doesn’t like me.
This kind of thinking is a strong indication that we are projecting our own inner fears onto the external world or external relationship in that moment.
When we bring the projection into awareness, we can compassionately bring the attention back to ourselves. This creates the space for listening to what it is we actually need. So if I’m thinking “other people think I’m stupid” and I feel the discomfort of that, the uncomfortable sensation in the body is a signal for me to turn my attention inward and listen. What comes up then is the recognition that I need to acknowledge my own unique brilliance. When I think I want others to see me, the underlying truth is that I need me to see me.
When we can recognize our projections, we are able to:
access a state of peace
connect with what it is that we really need
naturally become present to experience the truth of the moment.
The greatest gift in recognizing projections is that we can see our patterns – and in them, the way we treat ourselves. This is why I love Equus Coaching. Projections are immediately revealed and we become viscerally aware of them and are able to shift them.
When we listen to feedback, whether it’s from a horse or from our own bodies, with a bit of coaching and support we can shift the internal struggle into a different viewpoint entirely. Try it, and then watch the world around you change!