“The old man at the train station” – A story about projection

Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common example of projection is when a judgmental person threatened by his own judgmental thoughts accuses others of being judgmental and feels judged all the time.

There was once an old man who lived in a small town just across the street from the train station. As a retiree, he had little to do so he enjoyed spending hours at a time observing the people get on and off the train. He looked so benevolent sitting calmly on his porch that many newcomers approached him seeking directions or information on the town.

One day a young man who had just got off the train lugging two large suitcases went over to him and said, “Hey mister, you look like someone who has lived here for a long time. What are the people in this town like? I’ve just moved here because I found a job that seems much better than my old one. I’m only wondering whether I’ll get along with my new colleagues and neighbors.”

The old man replied, “Well, what were the people in your old town like? How did you get along with your old colleagues and neighbors?”

The young man frowned and said, “Oh, they were terrible. They were bad people. My colleagues always tried to backstab me and talked badly of me to my boss behind my back. As for my neighbors, they were really insensitive and uncaring. When I was ill, no one asked after me or offered me a bowl of soup. I’m so glad I left that horrid town with those cruel, selfish people. There was no one I could rely on. I had no friends.”

“I’m afraid you’re in no luck,” said the old man. “The people here are just like the people in your old town and even worse. The best thing you could do is get on the next train out of here!”

The young man was very disappointed. He lowered his head, thanked the old man and headed back to the train station to catch the next train out of the town.

A few days later, another young man fresh off the train approached the old man. He was whistling as he was carrying his heavy suitcases. “Sir,” he said, “I’m new in town. I’ve just got off the train. I’m here in pursuit of my dream job. I was offered a post that I couldn’t resist. Could you please tell me what the people in this town are like? I’m wondering whether I’ll enjoy my stay here.”

The old man asked, “Well, what were the people in your old town like?”

“Oh,” he said, “they were wonderful! At work, we were a good team, looking out and covering up for each other. As for my neighbors and friends, I left them with tears in my eyes. We were like family. Always being there and taking care of each other. It was with great sadness that we said goodbye to each other…”

“You have nothing to worry about,” said the old man. “You are going to love this place. The people here are exactly like the ones in your old town. You are going to make good friends right away and you will see that at work the team spirit you experienced in your old job will prevail!”

The young man thanked the old timer and confidently went on his way to his new home.

2 Comments

  1. Hey! Great story!

    This really nicely portrays your explanation of psychological projection!

    Looking forward to reading more from you! 🙂 Keep it up! 🙂

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