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Projection: We learn about our Self from others

We are often fascinated by finding images in the shapes of clouds. Is that the profile of Harper or a rabbit? The well-known Rorschach inkblot test similarly works in this manner. How does one get from that cluster of clouds or blob of ink to an image? 

When unrecognizable images are shown to a person the conscious mind cannot logically figure them out. In order to make sense of the image the person uses ideas that emerge mainly from the unconscious in a process called projection. The author Anaïs Nin’s statement, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are,” aptly explains projection.

Projection occurs when unconscious feelings, qualities and thoughts are placed onto external people, situations and objects. Remember, unconscious material are often qualities which the Ego does not appreciate as they do not suit who we think we are. So, rather than take ownership of these qualities, out they go. “I’m not like that!” exclaims Ego. Because projection deals with unknown and disowned parts of our self, awareness and reflection of projection can lead to great personal insights.

Let’s take an example of being at a four-way stop and observing a vehicle doing a rolling-stop before proceeding through the intersection with no chance of hitting anything or harming anyone. You immediately feel angry and are in disbelief as to how someone might do this.

In working with the projection, start with any feelings that arose. In this case, shock, resentment, and even anger. Go further by asking, “What specifically were these feelings about?” Possible replies might be, “It’s not fair!” or “How dare they not follow the rules.”

Take the projection back more. Remember, if this is shadow material, we are either over or undervaluing the quality. Ask, “Where in my life am I doing too much or not enough of this trait?” In this case, we might ask, “How do I follow the rules too much? Where am I breaking the rules and don’t admit it?” Stay with the feelings too, “Where I am feeling some unfairness? How am I being unfair to myself or to someone else?”

An unknown quality of your self has been shown to the Ego by an everyday event. The strong reaction to the incomplete stop indicates it is shadow material. If the person was comfortable with sometimes not following the rules or that sometimes life is unfair, then there would not have been such a reaction. Ego might outwardly adhere to rules, but inwardly, unconsciously, soul is saying, “Hey, that’s not so bad. Let’s try that once in a while.”

Projection also occurs around qualities deemed favourable. We can enviously admire someone for their creative ability and yet not realize our own. Taking the projection back, we ask, “Where am I creative? In what aspect of my life do I need to introduce some creative energy?”

Partners, friends, co-workers and strangers evoke reactions in us in order to increase our self-awareness. Our task then is to claim these projections. As the poet Anne Waldman stated, “Thе problem wіth уου iѕ thе problem wіth mе.” Jung stated that to “confront a person with thеіr shadow іѕ tο ѕhοw thеm thеіr οwn light.” When wе face ουr shadowy elements іt humanizes υѕ, allowing us to be more compassionate and accepting of our self and others.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.