March 20th, 2016
“We always see our own unavowed mistakes in our opponent.”
~ Carl Jung
The Fog of Projection
There is a lot of complexity going on inside each of us that can really fog up our capacity for empathy. Probably the biggest way empathy get’s distorted is via the phenomenon of projection.
You spot it, you got it.
You see it, you be it.
You shun it, you done it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And so is Smut.
Projection is when we assume people are being how we imagine them to be. And more than that, we unconsciously attribute to them aspects of ourselves that we are in conflict with or simply don’t want to acknowledge. Here’s how it happens in a nutshell. We grow up absorbing the contagion of separation that exists all around us. We take on a lot of fear and judgment and try to adapt to the environment in order to secure love and acceptance. But this makes us feel more separate because we are not being ourselves. We feel separate from ourselves and feel separate from others and we eventually learn to actually separate inside from parts of our own being. We internalize the fearful judgments of our parents, our friends, the culture and the media, and pretty soon we have a lot of confusion that many of us spend the rest of our lives feeling imprisoned by. We become so conflicted inside that we begin projecting that conflict out on our world. Simply put, individuals who have a lot of inner conflict perceive the world as a very conflicted place and find conflict with it. And individuals who have achieved some degree of self-acceptance perceive the world with acceptance and find harmony with it.
As we get older our fragmented sense of self-causes us all kinds of problems in the form of projections. We might judge or attack the reflection of something we don’t want to acknowledge exists within the self. Like the homophobe, the racist, the bigot and the bully, who are all compensating for their own self-perceived inferiority by praying on what they see as weak or wrong in others, we might project our own guilt. Like the cheating husband accusing his faithful wife of flirting or the self-deprecating chump always apologizing to others for nothing, projecting guilt for the ways he constantly abandons and betrays himself. We may also project to avoid parts of ourselves. Like the frustrated parent who focuses on the myriad of problems her child is having without ever considering the source, from whence those very behaviors were learned. And the rescuing friend who focuses on caring for the wound of another in order to substitute caring for his own. Projection can even take the form of hero worship, praising an external authority in order to avoid responsibility or even escape knowledge of the much-feared greatness within the self!
Projection is pervasive. Everybody does it. It happens all the time. It’s not a curse. It’s not a problem. It is not possible to stop. Nor is it something we want to stop. Before we can become conscious of any new part of the self we first experience it outside of ourselves by way of projection. This is especially evident in childhood as we attribute godlike qualities to our parents. Eventually projection becomes a powerful defense mechanism helping us suppress awareness we are not ready or wanting to assimilate. But as we grow and mature and the natural expansion of consciousness presses on suppression becomes futile. Whatever we cover up within the self invariably appears before us. Our mirrors are angels sent from heaven agreeing to play the roles we have yet to find the courage to see and accept are parts of ourselves. The mystery of life is working incessantly, conspiring to show us, what we do not see, which can ultimately set us free. Cooperating means that when we find what is missing in our brother, we choose to look for what is more in our self. The answer is always to look within.
The source of projection can always be traced back to a wound. But before that trace can be made and medicine applied, the wound must be identified. Bringing what is unconscious to consciousness is the challenging part, but this is how we clear the fog. When our projections are unconscious they have us. It’s like we are living in a crazy dream that everyone can see but us. We blame others for our discord and we give our power away. But when we acknowledge our projections our perception of ourselves and our world deepens. We see more and have choice to be more. We stop complaining and find creative solutions to the challenges we face. We heal. We grow. We reclaim our power.
In the end, projection teaches us that all the characteristics we love and judge exist within the self. All judgment is self-judgment. And if we are to achieve clean empathy we must fully accept and embrace all of the self and in turn, all of the self of others.
How to Identify Projections
With a little honesty and sincere effort, we can become conscious of our projections. Take some deep breaths and quiet your mind. Set a clear intention to really get to know yourself better. Before you continue reading, say these affirmations out loud 3 times; “I am humble,” “I am profoundly honest with myself,” and “I really want to know the truth.”
Then ask yourself these questions. Pay attention to feelings as you ask the questions.
Who really makes me mad? Who are the people who I really really dislike in my world? What about them really bothers me? The mirror may be exaggerated, but these are the parts of ourselves we don’t like. If we have difficulty seeing how we relate to others in the way we dislike, we then ask if we relate to ourselves in that way. Toward others or towards the self, one or both will most likely be true.
Who do I avoid interacting with? Who am I afraid of talking with or making eye contact with? What is going to happen if I do interact with them? What will they see? These may be parts of ourselves we have not fully developed or incorporated into our daily living. Parts of ourselves we need to work on developing. Parts we have not yet received strength and wholeness from.
Who am I always apologizing too? Do I apologize too much? What am I apologizing for, if anything? What we perceive ourselves doing to them, is what we do to our self.
Whose ass am I kissing? Who do I praise too much? What do I really like about them? These may be parts of ourselves we have not yet realized even exist or parts we are afraid to acknowledge exist. Or often times parts of ourselves we avoid being aware of for fear of what it would mean and the change it would bring.
If no clear answers come. Write down the feelings. Draw them. Notice what thoughts and memories emerge as you draw the feelings.
Still struggling? Feeling brave? After spending some time with the questions alone find a good honest and trustworthy friend–someone you are close to–someone who really knows you. Read him or her the the affirmations out loud 3 times. Let him or her know you want the truth. Then ask them the same preceding questions, about yourself.