For my money, psychological projection is one of Sigmund Freud’s best ideas. It was refined and expanded by Carl Jung. I think it is so significant because projection is so ubiquitous in human beings. It is safe to say that we all do it all the time. In terms of working toward psychological health, simply working on projection would be enough to heal anyone psychologically and emotionally.
Projection is easy to explain but not necessarily easy to see in oneself. Essentially, we deny certain of our personal qualities and characteristics, habits and behaviors, and push them down into the unconscious. It is hoped that they will stay there and be quiet.
But they do not stay there and they are not quiet. Instead, we unconsciously project these qualities and characteristics, habits and behaviors, onto others and then we react to them. In terms of a negative projection, I might believe, unconsciously, that I am not self-confident enough.
I can deal with this projection in two different ways. I can be critical of people whom I see as self-confident and accuse them of being arrogant or having an inflated ego. On the other hand I will be judgmental of people who I see as lacking in self-confidence.
Positive projection works the same way and I think this is an important psychological behavior that is not spoken of often enough. Just as we reject and deny negative qualities in ourselves, we also deny our powerful and positive qualities. As with negative projection, we project our higher qualities onto others and admire them from a distance.
How to Identify Projection
Identifying projection in our own behavior, whether positive or negative, is actually very simple in theory. In practice it is quite difficult. Negative projection, especially, requires a high degree of maturity and the courage to look at what might be very unpleasant aspects of the self.
The way I look at projection in myself is to assume that I am constantly projecting. Everyone I meet, everyone I interact with, and even everyone I see on TV or in movies or read about in books, represents some aspect of myself.
For maximum psychological growth, we must look at the people and the behaviors that bug us the most. That is where we will find the characteristics and behavior that we most need to look at. That is where we will see our hidden self most directly.
As we begin to open ourselves to the possibility that other people are reflecting our denied and rejected aspects or personality traits, we can begin to confront those qualities and ask ourselves the difficult questions. This takes extreme courage. I can tell you from personal experience that recognizing some of these projections can be emotionally devastating. It is not for the faint at heart.
Imagine that there is a type of person you cannot stand. Any time you see or interact with this person you get extremely upset. You are very judgmental about them. You don’t like them at all. You don’t want anyone like them in your life in any form.
Now imagine that you discover that you have similar qualities in yourself. These others may exaggerate those negative qualities for your benefit, but you still have those same qualities. Do you see how devastating this can be to your self-image?
The good news is that once you confront and admit to any projection, it loses its hold over you. It is no longer active in your life. You become, one projection at a time, more closely aligned with who you really are.
Confronting Positive Projections
I believe that this may be even more difficult than negative projection. I am of the opinion, certainly from looking at my own life, that we are more afraid of our power, beauty, and divinity than we are of our problems, neuroses, and limitations. I think we actively run away from the incredible beings we most truly are. We are afraid of the potential responsibility should we open up to the great being that resides within each of us.
We make ourselves small. We hide our candle under a bushel. We limit the great power that is the birthright of all. Humility is an important quality but denying the true self is not being humble. It is throwing away the potential of our many great gifts.
Taking back our negative projections can be very painful but is extremely positive for our psychological and spiritual growth. Acknowledging and accepting our positive projections can lead us toward our greatest potential in this life. This is our challenge as human beings.