In the office there is a large, plush stuffed gray elephant. With big eyes and fuzzy white tusks, the elephant is about the size of a small toddler and is far from life-like. I’m not sure where it came from, but it showed up in the office about a year ago, and it looks like the perfect toy to put in a one-year-old’s crib. New wall hangings and furniture rearrangements are not uncommon for the office space, that which I share with two to four others.
The problem is that the elephant doesn’t have a home. Sometimes it sits on the couch, sometimes it hangs out on the floor to the left of the couch, and other times on the floor to the right. It often sits on the extra chair and I’ve even seen it perched over a client’s shoulder once or twice.
I remember being a child and having to put away my toys. Every toy had it’s place – the legos went into the plastic lego bin, the stuffed animals had their homes, the Lincoln logs and pick-up sticks were similar to each other and had their corner of the room. But this elephant in the office just gets man-handled and tossed around wherever it’s convenient. When the heater’s on, the elephant needs to be placed far away from it. When the floor looks a bit dusty, I feel compelled to pick it up and sit it on some furniture. I have personified this elephant so far as it has feelings and preferences, as I do.
Which brings me to the “point,” so to speak, of this story. My clients do the same thing as I do with this elephant. One client told me, “Gosh, the elephant keeps looking at me – it’s creepy.” Another was more optimistic about the elephant’s intentions, “The elephant wants to kiss me,” he said, as the animal’s body was perched on the couch’s arm, and its trunk was nearly touching my client. Another client imagined the elephant’s feelings, “The elephant must be so lonely all the way over there!”
These comments reflect the brilliance of projection. They tell me where my client is at in that particular moment. It informs me as to how they might see the world, or what’s important to them. And many of them know my style well enough now to know that they can play this game even when they’re not in my office! What do my clients notice about what they’re saying about other people’s gazes? About other drivers’ motives? About family members’ feelings? And on and on.
So even though this elephant doesn’t have a home in the office, it certainly has found its purpose. It’s one inanimate elephant, carrying as many projections as there are people that enter the room.