Art therapy class taught me a lot. It consisted of a period of reflective expression in the form of a created piece of art, which was followed by a period of group therapy.
It was amazing what took place through sharing what we had drawn, written, painted or sculpted.
In a class of a dozen pupils sitting in a circle, all looking at each other’s work, it was incredible the divergences in thought from one person to another to another. Finally, the therapist facilitator who moderated the group would arbitrate discussion and ask poignant therapy-related questions that always proved to us that our feedback about others’ work was always more about where we were at than where they were at. It was a remarkably salient lesson.
The fact is we often think we know what others are thinking and feeling -in fact we’re geared to perceive that very thing – but we don’t. We must check assumptions.
This is foundational in being an effective counsellor.
Here’s a term for you: introjection: the unconscious adoption of the ideas and attitudes of others.
It’s a simple definition of a complex theory. It can describe so many behavioural manifestations.
For the present purpose, we can simply imagine that we perceive others through our own filter, and because our own filter is obviously different to others, we run the danger of assuming we know a truth about them when we can be far off knowing at all.
This happens commonly around romantic attractions, when we think someone is attracted to us but in fact they aren’t, or when we imagine people are thinking or saying certain things about us when they really aren’t.
Then there’s the stuff pastors say. People may sit in a sermon, for instance, and one will pick up the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, another how witty the pastor was, and another will be stopped in their tracks by something she or he said at the ten-minute mark.
The point is, we’re all subconsciously looking for different things.
It explains why pastors have often been so confused at the end of their messages when someone comes up to them and says, ‘thank you for saying such and such,’ and such and such was never said.
Pastors who acknowledge this are mystified by it. Part of that I’m sure is the Holy Spirit, but a big part of it is also about what is going on internally, and our unconscious needs that are suddenly piqued and drawn to our conscious awareness.
Going back to my Art therapy days, take a closer look at one of my pieces in the photograph above. There are a number of things you will notice about this. It’s a picture of a ship at sea on a cloudy day. But there’s much more information in the picture, isn’t there?
You could see the dark clouds and interject something dark or lonely or fearful about me, and you could be right. But one thing you’re almost certainly going to overlook is what darkness, loneliness and fear you feel in looking at my work.
See how my work (or my words) or another’s work (or words) can be read in the way only you read them and then you depict that way of seeing things as the author’s intent – when it almost certainly wasn’t? It wasn’t my view perhaps at all, but yours. It could be what I’m saying, but not entirely.
You can only see what you can see.
I can only communicate myself with a limited sense of clarity.
You will read into what I say with how you see the world.
It’s a bit like what I write.
I can only write what I write, and what I feel God impresses on me to write.
The reader knows me through their experience as I have interacted with them in their life. All of this I’m completely unaware of. I cannot possibly know your unique circumstances. I cannot even pretend to know.
The truth is I’m not writing about you, even if it seems that I am. The danger in introjecting what I write is you can ascribe power to me that I do not have. Or, you may think I’m referring to such and such a thing because of your experience (good, bad, or otherwise) of me, because at some time in the past you knew me, or you know me now, and you think you know what I’m thinking. Of course, you could be right, but the probabilities are pretty slim. Am I actually saying what I’m saying, that is the question. Of course, I am saying what I’m saying to you, because it means that to you. But I am not a mind reader. Indeed, the more you know me, the less you might truly understand why I write what I write.
If this has confused you, please forgive me. Let me put it plainly.
We cannot control the thoughts of others when they add two and two about us and arrive at fourteen.
Sometimes people arrive at perceptions about us and it’s more because of what’s going on in them than what’s going on in us. Just stay faithful, committed to loving everyone the same, and to being kind no matter what, even if people think you’re being unkind.