We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

This is such a beautiful quote by Anais Nin. Do you have any idea what it means? This quote distills the essence of projection into thirteen simple words. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of wisdom that, when understood completely, can liberate us from so much of our suffering.

We see the world through a sort of filter made up of all of the ideas and beliefs we created in childhood. When we started to observe the world as children, we learned how to earn love, acceptance, safety, and how to avoid pain. The beliefs we formed in childhood, created in innocence, are often very very false. If you dig into your psyche and root some of them out, you will see just how silly and ridiculous they are. It’s a kind of rule-book or belief system you created for yourself when you were four, five, six years old… These beliefs make up our ego structure which then guides the rest of our lives. You live your life today ruled by decisions you made about the world, and who you have to be, when you were a little kid. Sounds absurd right? 

When we look at an inkblot or a piece of art, let’s say, what we see, how we interpret the object, comes from deep within our subconscious minds. That’s why people see different things and react in different ways to art. When you look at an interpersonal situation that triggers an emotional reaction for you, you are seeing something in the situation that is reflecting for you an issue in your subconscious belief system.

The reason the situation happened to you, the reason you are having a reaction to it, is because it is asking for awareness. The universe is offering you a gift, of sorts. (I’m not a masochist, I promise. This is really what’s happening at the spiritual level.). This issue, this emotional thing, is being triggered for you so you can investigate what’s going on inside of you. By bringing awareness to the internal emotional wound, or false set of beliefs (about who you have to be to earn love or avoid pain) you are healing aspects of yourself and bringing more light and more access to love.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the drama of romantic relationships. The people that you chose to be your romantic partners, the reasons you are attracted to them, have nothing to do with conscious decision-making. You can’t make yourself be attracted to someone, and often you are even surprised at why you are attracted to particular people. You attract them into your life because they will demonstrate for you the very things you need to see. The lessons your soul is asking to learn. They will trigger every one of your subconscious false beliefs – that’s what they are designed to do. (When you see how this works on the energetic level, it’s amazingly magical. No one is in your life by mistake). Everything that bothers you about your partner, your significant other, you closest friends, is something inside of you that is asking for attention.

I came across this article yesterday that shows you how this works in the mother/son dynamic, and how it’s projected onto the son’s romantic partner. It offers some great insights.

No matter how good, or loving, or well-intentioned our parents or caretakers were (they were only doing the best they knew how), they saddled us with their own patterns and fears. Living with them, we saw what was happening emotionally, and we made decisions and conclusions, as children, based on all the different relationships at home. We grow up and choose romantic partners who then seem to replay those dynamics for us.

If you had a sweet, loving, caring mother who used guilt and shame to control you, then you end up picking a partner who seems to do the same thing to you. It’s not always so obvious on the surface, but when you look closely at what triggers you about your partner, you will find the same feelings you felt about your mother as a child (and perhaps still feel today), in this example. It’s not really your partner’s actions that are the problem, it’s how they make you feel that is asking for attention. Your partner’s actions are the inkblot, and your interpretations of them come from within your subconscious mind.

If you had a mother, for instance, who was submissive in relation to your father, (or a father who was submissive to your mother) you may have decided as a child to never allow yourself to be controlled, or to be seemingly powerless, like she was. So you become the subtly controlling, defiant, resist one in your romantic dynamic. In small ways, you will keep trying to let your partner know that you are in charge, you will not be controlled. But often what you perceive as attempts at control from your partner aren’t that at all. It’s your own filter, your own psychological patterning or conditioning, that interprets your partner’s actions that way. You end up reacting to an illusion. Your partner may be offering you helpful suggestions, or may be lovingly showing you a difficult truth, but your super-sensitivity to being controlled makes you push back and blame them for being just like your father.

The relationships that are most difficult, most trying, most emotionally painful, are the ones that are your greatest teachers. This is not to say that we should tolerate any sort of abuse or disrespect. But rather, instead of blaming “them,” the wiser thing to do is to go inside and investigate what inside of us is reacting to them. What patterns or dynamics (always from childhood) are they bringing to the surface for us to see. This is what Ram Das means when he says we are all just walking each other home. We are all triggering each other so we can work on our own healing, and get closer and closer to love.