When we were growing up certain people, beginning with our primary caregivers, create a lasting impression on our brains and in our personal stories.
These can be positive or negative – a nurturing grandparent or a distant and demanding father.
Those traits become woven into the fabric of our lives, part of our emotional furniture.
We think we’ve dealt with them but they keep popping up in the oddest ways.
When we meet someone later in life who reminds me of that primary early influence I place the first person’s characteristics on my new acquaintance.
My new acquaintance has a pleasant smile, just like my nurturing grandparent. I assume they are themselves nurturing and am kindly disposed to them.
My new acquaintance has the same political views and recreational interests of my overbearing parent. And they set my teeth on edge.
Our minds play tricks on us. Once we have ‘projected’ these characteristics of the primary person we then see the new person only through that lens, accepting data and experiences that confirm that bias and discounting factors that tell a different story.
So we don’t see the person as they really are.
Can you see why this might lead to unhealthy conflict in our lives?
Often we are in conflict with someone who isn’t really there!
We describe it like this: We keep meeting the same person over and over.
It’s that dominant primary person – whether they were a healthy or an unhealthy influence.
And it colors all of our experiences of relationship and especially conflict.
A key step in solving my conflict problems, then, is to recognize the people who have shaped me and to identify where I keep seeing them show up.
And, armed with this knowledge, determine to see each new person who crosses my path for who they really are.