Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…
WHAT IS PROJECTION?
MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL,
WITHOUT PROJECTION, I MIGHT NEVER SEE MYSELF AT ALL
Projection is like shooting an invisible arrow then blaming the target after hitting your mark.
Projection is a way of knowing.
Projection is a way of calling into awareness a rejected quality of oneself.
Projection is often unconscious.
Projection is happening when we are reacting to others’ “faults” and feel totally justified in doing so.
Owning a projection is like discovering an abandoned child you believed belonged with someone else, so you never asked that she/he be returned. A reclaimed projection often evokes bitter-sweet memories. After identifying and reclaiming a projection as one’s own, it can be reintegrated and can contribute to an expanded sense of one’s Self.
When we project onto another person we are unconsciously choosing them to hold what we have judged to be unacceptable about our selves, either positive or negative, not yet integrated into our sense of ourselves. During moments when we are reacting to that other person who is the recipient of our projection, we have an opportunity to become more aware of the feelings we have rejected from within ourselves. It is however less than obvious. It is not simply seeking to identify the reaction to the “other” per se, it is deeper than that. It is how we feel about ourselves which causes us to disown and project these aspects of our psyche. It is how we feel when we believe we are not entitled to be loved and the fear of not being able to handle all the emotions related to that.
Let’s say you have a hard time being around self-centered narcissistic people who can’t resist talking about themselves. Let’s say you really get annoyed when you are around them. Maybe you hate them, or maybe you judge or criticize them for lacking in some way. You would probably say, “I would never act that way”. The projection is the narcissism you perceive in them. The root cause is your rejection of your own narcissism because you were taught to never act “that way”. So, when you did act “that way” you were made to feel bad about yourself. The part of you who is “that way” (in this case, narcissistic) and judges oneself negatively for being “that way” is then projected onto the “other”. You then reject them for being “that way” (narcissistic) as you learned to reject yourself and you experience them as being as unacceptable as you were made to feel about yourself when you acted “that way” as a child.
Example 1: Joline’s dad had an anger problem, especially after consuming a beer or two. While he never hit her, he’d yell at her and call her names. Like most children, she believed it was her fault when her dad became angry with her. She believed she deserved his anger because she wasn’t good enough or smart enough or obedient enough. She came to feel badly about herself and she was scared of him. Twenty-five years later, married, she recognized that some of the qualities she loved about her husband Charles were his calmness, his even temper and his sobriety. He rarely criticized her and he rarely got angry. None the less, she frequently felt like she was “walking on eggshells” around him to avoid his criticism and his anger. She felt anxious and unsafe around Charles because she was projecting her father’s critical nature and short fuse onto her husband, which was truly the opposite of Charles’ nature.
In therapy, Nancy recognized that when she was “walking on egg shells” it was like she was time traveling, re-experiencing the fear, lack of safety and inability to represent herself that she felt as a child. Until then she hadn’t known she was re-experiencing emotional memories from her past when she was feeling unsafe around Charles. She didn’t know she was time traveling, calling up her own childhood experiences by projecting those feelings about her father onto her husband in present time. After understanding her “father projection” onto Charles and learning to calm her anxiety, she became more comfortable with herself and reduced her need to “walk on eggshells” around him. “the nature of the shadow is pure gold”; (Carl Jung)
Example 2: Alf was a quite accomplished, creative, wealthy and never married 52-year-old who was frustrated with his sex addiction. He wanted to find a mate and he recognized that his sex addiction was getting in the way of finding that partner. Like many of us, he had an emotionally difficult childhood. He and his twin brother were the youngest of 7 children and he believed that he never got any positive attention because he wasn’t deserving of it; except, he recalls, when as a toddler he felt special while being adored by his beautiful, loving, aunt when she held him and cuddled him.
“Little Alf”, the three-year-old within him who always felt unworthy, was pulling the strings of his addiction. It was “Little Alf” who unconsciously believed that only when feeling adored by beautiful women would he ever feel OK and the only way he knew he was adored was when they agreed to have sex with him. However, after sleeping with more than 100 women, he realized he would never be satisfied by continuing this pattern. He knew he had to do find another way to change his compulsive behavior and shed his addiction or he would never find a mate.
In therapy, he came to realize that he needed to accept how he feels as “Little Alf”, especially when feeling unworthy, inadequate, weak, ugly or stupid in order to shed this addiction. In therapy, he saw that he was projecting his feelings about his aunt and how it felt to be adored by her on to young, attractive women. He then had to identify how he felt as “Little Alf” who never got any attention other than from her and learn to be with himself when those painful feelings were activated within him. Through therapy he learned to be more self-accepting of his disowned feelings, more able to tame his addiction and more able to develop an ongoing relationship.
Identify your projections on to people you know and people you don’t know.
What is it you find unacceptable about them?
How do you feel about those qualities in yourself?
Journal about you feel toward them in those moments.
Journal about how you feel about that quality within yourself?W