Making Connections, Not Projections

Walking with my daughter, Carina, on a lakeside trail recently, I happened upon an epiphany:

I project when I don’t connect.

What I mean is, I create mental projections on the wall of my imagination if I do not have real-life interactions and conversations.

Like when a friend has not called me in a month, I might picture all the ways in which I have probably offended her. Another example is how I will tell myself a tale of rejection to make sense of an unanswered message I’ve sent with the sincerest of emoticons.

By creating a movie on the screen in my head, I can come up with all kinds of fictions explaining why someone hasn’t called, texted, emailed, “liked,” or otherwise given me a thumbs-up to acknowledge our relationship. When real-life conversations have fallen away, my brain works overtime to fill in the blanks.

making connections not projections

For instance, while side-by-side with Carina on the trail, I was explaining to her how I had been feeling disconnected from my brother who lives in another state. I admitted to her that I hadn’t called him because it was clearly his turn to call me. Way past his turn, actually, because I had been doing all of the connecting in the past year or so it seemed. I felt a bit hurt and had listed in my head all of the ways in which I deserved better.

Also, I had projected on the broad screen of my skull a colorful parade of the reasons he’d been neglecting, avoiding, and even rejecting me. I had come up with some scary scenarios and worst-case worries.

Maybe some of my mental projections were true. My feelings were definitely real. But I had gone too far. You see, I had left the mainland where the wires and synapses fire at the sound of human voices. I had crossed over to the island of extended imagination where weak signals send scrambled messages at best.

staying connected

My phantom brother, in that far-off country without communication, had become a flickering kind of figure. Like Princess Leia’s holographic image projected from inside R2D2, he was trapped like an apparition in my memory. I could only tell myself stories about what was going on between us for I did not have the facts.

“Carina,” I said, “I finally just decided to call the guy, whether it was his turn or not.”

I had pressed the green icon on my smartphone. When he answered, I told him immediately what I’d been thinking and feeling. My throat got a little choked. He said, “wow, you got to that pretty fast.”

I did. We talked for a long while. He told me about how busy he’s been with his job and family. We laughed about some of the tales I’d been telling myself.

Thank God for smart phones with good connections. When we pressed our red icons good-bye, I felt so much better. I remembered my little brother. The kid he was and the man I love. There’s nothing like an honest conversation for dispelling hallucinations.

With Carina it’s easy. Together on the path, we connect before there’s a chance to project. With others I love, there’s just more distance to cover. It can be done though. All it takes is making connections.

Henceforth, I will remember this lesson: don’t project–connect!

Instead of playing old movies on my wobbly mental screen, I’ll shut off the projector and use that modern machine. Just press green.


14 thoughts on “Making Connections, Not Projections”

  1. Great advice for the first response of a rift. Assume innocence of the other guy until ulterior motives are confirmed. Give the other guy consideration that you would hope he would give to you. I love the (hopefully) easily remember-able “don’t project-connect!” slogan. Even now I’m trying to sear it into my mental quick recall file.

    In your example you have an established communication process where taking turns is expected and, if not followed, can be an indicator of a problem if contact becomes one sided. Your willingness to call even though it was your brother’s “turn” to call could have easily been a life line for him if he was going through a rough patch! But it has taken me many years to realize that I have had too many friendships that meant more to me than it did to my friends. (I’m referring to me making contact several times when it wasn’t my turn. Ha!) I found a quote on line that said, “There comes a time when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t jump puddles for you.” This isn’t a matter of not forgiving 70 X 7. It’s a matter of categorizing a friendship as seasonal and just being grateful for what little contact there was at all and its served purpose. Still loving, but being realistic. Cutting my losses. Directing my energies to a more positive area.

    I’m all for honest open dialogue, but I admit that I approach it cautiously. For example, my words had to be measured with my own brother because too often my openness was misinterpreted and then used as gossip fodder. But I can still remember my mother’s response when I complained about somebody not taking their “turn” to call – she said the phone works both ways. And that observation has prompted me to call out of turn on more than one occasion. (What a blessing she was!)

    Thanks for risking being vulnerable to get me thinking. I wish I had that walking relationship with somebody like you have with your daughter. I guess I need to take a chance to pick up the phone and call out of turn, right? Ha!

    • E, I like that “puddle” quote! We definitely can let go of or give less energy to certain relationships. Also, I agree that we sometimes must choose vulnerability carefully. Nice way to end your comment, Ha! Thanks for engaging. May you find a good trail-walking friend : )

  2. My wife and I grew up in small towns, so a lot of “bumping into someone you know” is something we take for granted, but we still have to make the effort to be in town when there’s an event going on. A neighbor who grew up a mile away from us in a Swedish farm community, who I hadn’t seen in twenty years invited us through Facebook to go to a “dualing piano concert” that was held in a round barn. We’re 120 miles away, but we talked about it, and considered that the extra miles and it not being the usual thing to do was all the more reason to go. We all got to talking and she told the story of 65 years ago how my dad and her dad went from Kansas to Minnesota on a fishing trip that primarily was about my dad introducing her dad to a blind date, who was a Norwegian; yes, her dad did marry her mom. I often wondered growing up how that was for her mom; pardon the pun… a fish out of water; for her mom, a Norwegian with the thick accent being surrounded by Swedes.

    I consider the prayer and the manner in which Jesus taught his disciples which included the words “thy will be done on earth as it is in in heaven”… There’s something to communication of friendship here that will have some likenesses that continue forever.

    Tak a
    (It’s been years, but that’s pretty close to “thank you”, in Swedish)


  3. Thank you as always for savory and substantial food for thought. I am wrestling with a project-connect scenario at this moment. I have had a running dialogue with myself for over a week re: when is the right time to call again, why haven’t they called me back, why are they avoiding me, if I push it will the answer be “no”? The stakes are REALLY high on this one but once again, I am desperately trying to gain control over another’s choices.

    What I realized yesterday is that I have been pouring negative energy into this situation yet hoping for a positive outcome. I decided to choose to believe the best in them and pray for them and their concerns instead of trying to control them. I already feel my internal landscape shifting. God is breaking up hard ground, preparing for connection.

    • Thank you for this insight! I think I’m going to adopt this attitude shift in my own situations. In “Benediction” (sung by Susan Ashton many years ago) there is a great line: “Help me to turn a discouraging word into a word of prayer.” Discouraging word, discouraging situation, whatever – turn it into prayerful conversation with God and watch how things unfold. Thanks for your great point!

  4. Pegs, your bravery and honesty are inspiring. I pray that the positive energy you expend will end up coming back to you in unexpected ways!

  5. I teach business communications classes and we talk about how we will fill in the silence with our own assumptions. How important it is to recognize that when we brush paths with others we either make a positive or negative connection called “strokes” – rarely a neutral one. Some we can control the effect of that “stroke” like choosing to smile when we walk by someone vs. a blank face or absent look that may look like we are being standoffish.

    While we can’t control other people’s projections we can be more self aware. If I could count that times that people have looked at me when I am intently focused and said to me “wow – who are you wanting to kill?” Or how many times I’ve thought I was invisible and someone has mentioned noticing me before and their impression of me before meeting me.

    It’s taken me years of practice to not read into the silence and yet I still can get worried about my closest of friends and my sister if there is unexplained behavior or silence. I also have made smiling more of a default expression as much as possible. I still fail plenty at inadvertently hurting people’s feelings and it’s frustrating to not be a natural Miss Congeniality but it keeps me humble!

    • Thanks, Derae, for your thoughts. Yes, I can relate to the misleading default face: I have to work at putting a smile on to override my RBF–ha!

      • I had to laugh at this. I was thinking of my RBF, but I lacked the braveness to address it head on in the comments. Thanks for paving the way! Basically my natural look is the same as a kid trying to mentally do a math problem. Kid??? ME mentally doing a math problem. Ha!


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