Differentiating Experiences: Past vs. Present and Inner vs. Outer
–By Aisha Abbasi M.D.-
There is great importance in learning to differentiate the past versus the present and your inner feelings versus your outer experiences. To explain, I will share excerpts from the November 2018 Newsletter written by Paul C. Holinger M.D., a Chicago-based psychoanalyst treating adults, adolescents, and children.
Dr. Holinger’s newsletter is a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in psychological matters. In his November issue, Dr. Holinger discusses the need to understand “…what is inside and what is outside” our minds. He wants us to know that people tend to project our “…own thoughts and feelings onto the outside world—or, to put it differently, how we all perceive the outside world through the glasses and lens of our own experience.” A second theme he highlights is “our tendency to repeat patterns from our earlier years.”
Dr. Holinger writes:
“Let’s look at an example of each.
Projection…One sees this readily in children, in their nightmares, and with the monsters in the closets or under the beds. Often, these are due to the child having angry thoughts and feelings which are then dealt with by putting them onto fantasized monsters or real people—in this way, the child no longer has to deal with their anxiety about their own internal rage. The child’s own anger and rage are scary. Why? Often because the caregivers have not understood how anger works and have attempted to prohibit the child’s angry feelings and expressions.
Sometimes, of course, the outside world is of a threatening nature—some sort of abuse via siblings, parents, or other circumstances. Here, the monsters may be as much a reflection of what the child understandably expects from the outside world—perhaps in addition to the projection of his/her own internal rage. This brings us to the next example.
Repeating earlier patterns…Among the important functions of the brain is organizing stimuli, to create order out of disorder and predict outcomes of behaviors and circumstances. One way the brain does this is to create generalizations and transferences—to use past patterns to help navigate present circumstances. However, present circumstances may be different from those of the past, and the present may require different responses. One aspect of mental health is adaptability. Remember Abraham Lincoln’s words in his annual message to Congress, December 1, 1862?
‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present…As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves…’
Similarly, much of Darwin’s work suggested that evolution involved the capacity to adapt to local circumstances.”
Projecting our inner feelings onto other people or external situations makes us see people with suspicion and to distrust them. Similarly, dealing with situations and people in the present, as though they are similar to our past unhappy experiences and relationships, also curtails the possibility of newer, more adaptive functioning in our current lives. Therapy with a good, well-trained therapist can help us understand these unconscious mechanisms and change them, leading then to happier relationships and a more fulfilled life.
Check our blog in the coming weeks for more tips and helpful articles. At Tampa Bay Center for Psychological Health, our goal is to offer a safe, confidential, and trustworthy treatment setting for all patients. For more information, or to request your free 20-minute initial phone consultation, please contact Dr. Abbasi at 813-492-9241.