By Steve Purdom, MD (Type 3, SP/1:1/SC)
Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude.*
Freud considered that, in projection, thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that cannot be accepted as one’s own are dealt with by being placed in the outside world and attributed to someone else. What the ego repudiates is split off and placed in another.
Carl Jung considered that the unacceptable parts of the personality represented by the Shadow archetype were particularly likely to give rise to projection, both small-scale and on a national/international basis. Marie-Louise Von Franz extended her view of projection, stating that “wherever known reality stops, where we touch the unknown, there we project an archetypal image”.*
Projection in our daily lives consists of finding someone, who carries to some degree, characteristics that we have relegated to our shadow because we find them unacceptable and attributing those characteristics solely to them. As an example, I might want to view myself as being very unselfish and therefore be unwilling to accept that at times my behavior is indeed somewhat selfish. Even though I have banished that behavior to Shadow it still has energy and it needs an outlet. That outlet is the psychological process of attributing that behavior to another person. I am not selfish, they are. There are no limits to what we can project on to other people. They are arrogant, lazy, aloof, bullying, critical, racist, judgmental, incompetent, powerful, weak, boring, disloyal, irresponsible, fearful, etc.
One of my favorite lines from a television series is the following: “You hate me because I represent the evil inside of you”. If you hate or love someone for a specific characteristic, then you are projecting. That does not mean that this person does not have the quality that you accuse them of, but it does mean that your emotional reaction to that quality is because you have the same quality. If I hate your weakness, then I am in some way weak and have not incorporated that characteristic into my consciousness.
Carl Jung stated “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
That is, we should take note of each instance in our lives when we do not like another person and use that information to find that behavior in ourselves. It should be a requirement to send thank you notes to those who irritate us!
In addition to projecting our unowned parts of ourselves on to other individuals, we can also do so to groups of people. Denigrating language about other races or cultures is projection of those traits that we carry in Shadow that are unacceptable parts of us. In addition, we can project on to the opposite gender or people with different sexual orientation or religions or the evil empire or lawyers or mainstream media or our favorite professional wrestling star. It is endless, and the payoff is that we don’t have to accept or resolve our negative feelings about ourselves. The cost is continued anxiety, fear, sadness or anger that is centered on these unresolved projected personal traits. If I view incompetency as life threatening to me and completely unacceptable, and therefore feel compelled to accuse others of this trait as opposed to accepting some degree of incompetence in myself, then I will be doomed to projecting it over and over, all the while never resolving my own anxiety.
Carl Jung states that “The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadows from others”.
I agree totally. The process involved is to look for the moments that we are irritated by another’s behavior and then accept that the unacceptable in others is really the unacceptable in us. Secondly, have compassion for–and suspend judgment of–ourselves. Lastly, know that we are whole, divine creations and accept ourselves in our totality. There is value in our wholeness and to deny part of that wholeness is impossible and fraught with suffering.
I look forward to a world in which each of us “withdraws our projection” from others.