Developing excellent communication skills is important in all relationships. One of the best ways to improve communication is to be aware of your own thoughts and behaviours, and understand that your viewpoint is just that, your own.

The truth is, we can only see, hear, understand and feel with “who we are” (which actually is an indication of where we are on our journey) at any given moment. Of course, this applies to everyone else too.

Have you ever found that despite sharing an experience with somebody, that their recollection is completely different?

Of course you have! We all have! So, why does this happen?

One reason is that words don’t have the same meaning from one person to the next. Each person has a different map for what a word means inside of them.

For instance, the words, “I love you” to one person may mean “I have a great feeling of love and warmth when I am with you,” and may mean nothing else. To another person, those same words may mean, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” To another, they may mean, I am happy with where we are in our relationship right now.”

How is it possible that 3  little words, can have such different meanings to people?

We receive about 2,000,000 bits of information per second (bps) and the brain can only process about 134 bps. Wow! That’s a lot to be missing!

So what happens to the rest? The rest are deleted, generalised and distorted based on filters including, belief systems, values, memories and past decisions. This process shapes the Internal Representations (I/R) that we make about an experience. So our experience, is not the experience itself. Likewise, the words we use aren’t the items they represent. They are merely our understanding of them.

So what does this look like? Let’s take a look at the story of Roger and Elaine below.


Roger and Elaine

Let’s say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: ”Do you realize that, as of tonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?” And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Geez, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.

And Roger is thinking: Gosh. Six months.

And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship, some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward . . . I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Roger is thinking: . . . so that means it was . . . let’s see ….February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means . . . lemme check the odometer . . .Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.

And Elaine is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed — even before I sensed it — that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.

And Roger is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a goddamn garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.

And Elaine is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. God, I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.

And Roger is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90- day warranty. That’s exactly what they’re gonna say, the scumballs.

And Elaine is thinking: maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.

And Roger is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a goddamn warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their ….

”Roger,” Elaine says aloud.

”What?” says Roger, startled.

”Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. ”Maybe I should never have . . Oh God, I feel so . …. ”

(She breaks down, sobbing.)

”What?” says Roger.

”I’m such a fool,” Elaine sobs. ”I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”

”There’s no horse?” says Roger.

”You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Elaine says.

”No!” says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.

”It’s just that . . . It’s that I . . . I need some time,” Elaine says.

(There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)

”Yes,” he says.

(Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.)

”Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?” she says.

”What way?” says Roger.

”That way about time,” says Elaine.

”Oh,” says Roger. ”Yes.”

(Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.)

”Thank you, Roger,” she says.

”Thank you,” says Roger.

Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it. (This is also Roger’s policy regarding world hunger.)

The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it, either.

Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say:

”Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?”


While this humorous story may seem far-fetched, it is not so very much so. The monkey mind will always play tricks on us if we let it.

Poor Elaine! She must exhaust herself with her wild imaginings! Elaine is not even aware of her own filters at play and yet she assumes she understands Roger’s thinking. This is a very dangerous game!

Did you know that the brain does not distinguish between what is real and what is imagined? This is why we have physiological reactions and experience fear and anguish about things that have never actually happened, as if they already have. This is the Mind-Body Connection.

I’ll admit that I can remember a few instances in the past where my own imagination left me whirling and aghast at the impossible mess that was in front of me! First one domino is knocked over, and then the mind envisions the next, and the next and the next. Before I had any idea how, I was standing in the middle of chaos all of my own making,  trying to defend myself against the imagined adversary that had been me all along!

So what can we learn from this? Perception is Projection. When we allow our imaginations to run wild and to make assumptions, it affects our  feelings and it affects our behavior.

Pretty powerful stuff, isn’t it? So why not – Use Your Imagination For Good.

You have to take responsibility for the movie playing in your head. Stop the disaster film  and create a flic where you’re the hero of your own story. YOU are in charge. You are the star, the director, and the producer.

As you learn to develop awareness and shift the way you look at the world (your perception) then your projection changes also.  And so will your communication and your ability to connect with others on a meaningful level.

When you communicate without assumption, ask for clarity when you don’t understand, and speak from the heart with openness and honesty, you will have much better results.

Have you had any similar experiences? What have you learned from them?

26 Responses to Perception is Projection

  1. Hi Shelley, you’re right on in terms of perception being projection. We all communication through our own filters and biases. So, it’s really important to check our assumptions and conclusions with the relevant parties.
    As for the Roger and Elaine story, it’s always nice to see it surface, though the source was never really attributed appropriately. It has been “in circulation” for nearly 20 years. I’ve heard it on NPR and seen it circulated via email every now and then. It’s a great example of how miscommunication can happen. Thank you for bringing it to our attention once again!

    • Thanks Alice. I only heard the story myself for the first time at a training recently. It was not attributed to anyone, and when I looked online there were so many versions (including an old video that was not quite as effective as the story on its own) that I did not know where the story originated. If you know, please do let me know so I can acknowledge accordingly. Twenty years old, or not, the story is still a great illustration of how miscommunication can happen when we let our imaginations go wild. Checking in, is always a safe bet!

      I always appreciate when you stop by, my friend,

  2. That’s a good way to explain, Shelly!

    I agree that “Perception is Projection”. I think I read your post on Google+ that said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” It’s amazing how thoughts alone can change you world.

    I believe we interpret everything through our mindset – it’s like when you use red goggles, you see red, and if you change to green goggles, you see green. Listening and rightly interpreting all sorts of verbal and non-verbal cues are very important to make the communication complete and unbiased.

    So I think when we interact, our perspective, mindset, interpretation, and identity color our communication. Whereas, when we’re aware, it’s like we’re watching a movie – we hear everybody, yet do not get biased or involved with any. So, we really listen to all that’s being said in the way and sense it’s said. But if we’re obsessed with our own thoughts, we’re not able to really connect with the other person, which results in mis-communication. Thanks for highlighting the important factors of communication. 🙂

    • Thank you, Harleena. Great analogy! “When you use red goggles, you see red. When you wear green, you see green.”

      You get so much more when you’re paying attention and watching a movie: catching every subtle nuance, the body language, the tone. Paying attention to and being aware of your own thought processes is just one facet of effective communication. 🙂
      But you know that! You, my friend, are a great listener and communicator!

  3. Deone Higgs says:

    Awesome interpretation, Shelley!

    Perceptions can be quite tricky. Yet, we must keep in mind that everyone has a different one, and that they might not always align with the one we carry on various topics and subjects. The key is to be accepting and tolerant of other’s perceptions. Another crucial element is to stay open to changing what we perceive to be true.

    There have been many instances over the last few years where I have shifted how

    • Absolutely, Deone! Unless we build amazing rapport and know someone at a core level, we simply cannot know what they are thinking or mean. When there is confusion or room for interpretation, always ask and clarify.

      I’ll admit I’ve had a few “Elaine” moments in the past, where I let my imagination take me to all sorts of silly thoughts. The problem is, we believe these imaginings and our body reacts to them as if they are true.

      I’ve learned to recognise the pattern and to break it, and i’m living a much happier and healthier life all around!

      When we do not make assumptions and we let go of judgement, we open the doors of communication and to creating strong healthy relationships.

      Thanks for visiting. I’m hanging on those last words… 🙂

  4. Karen Jolly says:

    Shelley! I love this story – so, so true of all of us. Having now been in a relationship for thirty years I can say without a doubt that we all project our perceptions on each other in relationships. It can deeply hurt a relationship. You have to be willing to communicate…speak from the heart, honestly, openly and vulnerably – to put it all out on the table no matter how “ridiculous” you think it’s going to sound. Only then can you come to understand each other. I wish I could say that you reach a time when projecting goes away for good -but so far that’s not been the case. So you have to keep communicating and stop assuming! AND laugh…a lot!!! Oh this story made me laugh – thank you Shelley!!!! 🙂

    • Hi Karen,

      Yes, it made me laugh, too!

      You are quite right! Open, honest, vulnerable communication with no assuming is always the answer. I love that! You have to put it all on the table no matter how “ridiculous” you might think you sound. Then you get it out and let it go!
      Thanks so much for visiting, Karen!

      Hope you’re having a beautiful day! xo

  5. Jon M says:

    Wonderful points, Shelley. Our perceptions do drive our projection out to others and, through better awareness and asking of questions, we can make better connections to the real messages and possibilities. Important to remember and embrace! Thanks. Jon

  6. Omg lol Shelley hysterical !

    I will be married 30 years in December…

    Believe it or not we are still getting to know each other – Don’t get me wrong we know each other pretty well, but sometimes we just look at one another like “Huh”?….

    Communication and being direct is definitely the key …

    I have a friend that was married for 35 years and divorced about 3 years ago..

    In that time she has dated several men in which she immediately clings to ..

    I talk to her everyday, it seems like she is doing this very thing – always guessing and analyzing what they are thinking… I asked her several times in our conversations “Why don’t you just ask’? My friends reply is “Well I never thought to ask”.. Instead she assumes she knows… When my friend started asking a certain man on what he wanted out of a relationship the reply was, he couldn’t handle having to answer to anyone and was not looking for a serious relationship – honest and direct answer right? Well ….. My friend said to me he probably just said that so he could do what he wants, but he really doesn’t mean that because he still calls me everyday and he probably really wants a relationship but he is just scared because he doesn’t trust women because he has been in bad relationships .

    Ok, its been 1 year and he is still saying the same thing and there is always an excuse from my friend on why he never calls her back and still guesses why?

    This happens with every man ! The truth is she doesn’t want to hear the truth or see it.

    I have talked with her for months about this man .. I can clearly see what is happening and what she is doing , I have shared my thoughts with her openly and honestly ..

    My friend wants so much to have someone to love her, but if someone tells you they don’t want a serious relationship , then they don’t ! My friend is so miserable all the time and wants to blame him for her unhappiness – wrong!

    Life is to short, not listening to what we already feel and know but choose to live in the dark because we are afraid -it just might be true..

    • Hi Deana,

      It is not so very odd that you’re still getting to know each other. We are all, constantly growing and changing. You just keep getting better and better, I might add!

      As for your friend, the more she focuses on making excuses and accepting less than what she wants and deserves, the more she will attract the same.

      The underlying root of it is that she has to find her happiness in herself, to completely fall deeply and madly in love with her true self before she can get the same from another. When you can

      When we find the root of the problem, our “un” then we can face it, change it, and the changes that will ripple through our lives is staggering.

      And when we live in utter joy and gratitude for the magnificence we each truly are, it radiates from within to everyone around us on the world. And then we attract the same.

      What we put out into the world, what we focus on is what we attract.

      Feel free to send your friend here for a visit any time!

      Thank you for sharing your big beautiful heart. xo

  7. Rich Largman says:

    Loved this blog! Given that I am just entering into a relationship with a woman from another country, there is so much about our ways of communication, language barriers and other challenges that have us constantly paying attention to the words we choose and the importance of our communication.

    Even more interesting is the fact that we have only been speaking on the phone and through email, which means we do not have the benefit of the other 93% of communication involving the visual and energetic cues.

    • Thanks, Rich Glad you enjoyed it. You’re right! Words make up only 7% of our overall communication, 38% is tonality, and 55% is body language. So if you say something and your actions say something different, the message sent is much different than the words communicated.

      There are advantages of entering a relationship long distance. People are often more open and honest and get to know each other on a much more intimate level because it feels safe to be open.

      And when you finally meet or spend time together in person, you may find an already established and intense connection.

      I wish you much luck and much happiness.

      I hope yo’ll subscribe and come back for a visit. I look forward to hearing your updates! 🙂

  8. Communication is sooooo imporrtant, thanks for another great blog post

  9. Melissa Rapoport says:

    I love this, Shelley! Just yesterday I was talking with my daughter about we are “meaning-making machines,” placing meaning that does not exist to other people’s words, actions and silences. I’ll be sure to share your blog post with her!

  10. Natasha Botkin says:

    Love this, wish I had read this years ago, before I was the woman you spoke about and sabotauged a treasured relationship. I know that it was part of the growth for me; maybe one day, he can forgive me.

    • Shelley Lundquist says:

      Hi Natasha,
      Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s important to remember that you were giving the best you had with your level of awareness at that time. When you know better, you do better. I am so glad you’re more in tune with your true self now.

      And remember that there is no need for forgiveness where judgment does not first exist. So if he hasn’t forgiven you, that’s about him and his own journey, not about you.

      Sending you lots of love. xo

  11. Lea Tran says:

    I love your story of Elaine and Roger. I laughed out loud. Thank you so much, Shelley, for making such a great point of how perception is projection through your story.

    • Shelley Lundquist says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. And a good laugh is always good for the soul and for anchoring deeper truths. xo

  12. Reba Linker says:

    OMG, Shelley, this is so funny and fabulous. Thnaks for the smile this AM! I’ve heard it recommended that we simply accept that no one will ever really understand us – kind of takes a load off, doesn’t it?! Anyway, great post, Reba

    • Shelley Lundquist says:

      Hi Reba,

      Glad it brought you a smile! It sure does take the load off! What’s important is that we understand ourselves and take responsibility for what we put out into the world. So often, we make things unnecessarily hard on ourselves and those around us.

      Thanks for stopping by ((hugs))

  13. Zeenat (Positive Provocations) says:

    Love the way you explain the filters we each process our world through. And your story is just fabulous and SO funny!
    Thank you for this beautiful post.
    Much Love,

    • Shelley Lundquist says:

      Thank you, Zeenat! It’s so important to understand that we all process information differently… and one way is not more right than another.

      The story of Roger and Elaine is a perfect example.

      Thanks for taking the time and sharing the love. xo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *