Am I Projecting, Or Are You Just A Jerk?
Jerk: A contemptibly obnoxious person. ~ Oxford Dictionaries
We all know one, or a few.
No matter how much understanding, compassion and communication we bring to the table, sometimes people just behave terribly. But interacting with jerks can provide you with some spectacular empowerment and intuition-building opportunities.
It’s time to strap on your self-awareness goggles and look more closely at… projection.
Projective: Relating to the unconscious transfer of one’s own desires or emotions to another person. ~ Oxford Dictionaries
This last definition refers to psychological projection, a theory made popular by Sigmund Freud, in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence while simultaneously attributing them to another person.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that the unacceptable parts of our personality hidden in our shadow gave rise to projection. He maintained that projections are harmful to us because they act as a veil of illusion between our ego and reality.
He pointed out that not only does projection occur between individuals, it also occurs societally.
Projection in Society
Take Salem, 1692, for instance. In an atmosphere of fear and hysteria, townswomen were blamed for the illness of some children in what may have been caused by a number of things including Lyme disease, or even hallucinogenic moldy rye bread.
Instead of pondering the possibilities carefully, with open minds, the public projected evil intentions onto the women, who were then sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft.
Luckily, in most of the world, most of the time, projection doesn’t reach such an extreme, fevered pitch.
There are different types of projection. When we dream at night, images are projected in our subconscious mind as we sleep.
When we envision our future, we are implementing a creative and conscious form of projection, similar to what Fyodor Dostoyevsky eloquently proposed when he wrote, “To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”
Here are some common ways of projecting:
Projecting perception: Color-blindness or tone-deafness are examples of how our sensory interpretations vary from person to person.
Projecting values or intentions: Someone who is very honest may believe others to be more honest than they really are, and someone who lies frequently may suspect others of being dishonest.
Projecting unpleasant emotion: A bully may project feelings of fear, anger, or shame onto a target, then treat that person with contempt. For someone unwilling to feel deep emotional pain like shame, their entire personality can be organized around denying it.
Projecting blame: When it is too hard to take responsibility, guilt can cause us to seek a scapegoat and make false accusations. In defense against feeling our feelings, we manipulate, deny or blame others for our own actions.
Projecting desire: We project desire when we demand or expect another person to behave as we prefer to fulfill our idealized fantasy.
Harry gazes transfixed before the bewitched mirror, as Dumbledore explains its power. “It shows us nothing more than the deepest and most desperate desires of our hearts. This mirror gives us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away in front of it.”
Why Do People Project?
Most psychologists would agree that the purpose of projection is twofold.
* To rid ourselves of unwanted thoughts and feelings.
* To mold our reality to fit our desires.
I’m going to propose that the real reason we project is simply to… see ourselves more clearly.
“If we embrace these parts of ourselves we will be able to see others as they are, not as we see them through our cloud of projection. There is a saying that the three greatest mysteries of the world are: air to birds, water to fish, and man unto himself… We cannot see ourselves. We need a mirror to see ourselves. You are my mirror and I am yours.” ~ Debbie Ford
How to Recognize Projection
Humans are projection machines. Most people are simple in that we want to feel love and avoid pain. Our defenses are complicated, and projection is a particularly tricky beast because we aren’t aware of what we’re doing when we are projecting. It feels like it’s all out there.
Consider that out there is a reflection of what’s going on inside you. What’s occurring inside is a matter of focus and a reaction to what you’re focused on.
Things aren’t as they seem, things are as we see them.
Projection often hides a shadow trait that we are unaware we are demonstrating or one that we deny being capable of demonstrating. Although the cliches It takes one to know one and If you spot it, you’ve got it can ring true, they don’t tell the whole story.
Aside from people running away from you in droves, here are some clues that prove you might be projecting:
Assumptions. When we make assumptions, we are projecting fear and trying to control the outcome with our own predictions. As if preemptively accepting a worst-case scenario will protect us from feeling rejection in the future.
Example: Believing you failed before the results come in.
Being actively offended. Projections are usually judgments and insults cloaked in anger while valuable feedback is generally offered peacefully.
Example: Feedback: “What you are doing doesn’t work for me. Let’s spend some time apart to think things over.” Projection: “You are so selfish! I can’t believe you have any friends at all when you are the only person you consider!”
Obsession. An intense preoccupation with another person is fertile soil for projection.
Example: Bringing someone up in conversation repeatedly, only to criticize them.
Compensation. Trying hard to prove something. The disguise of low self-worth as superiority.
Example: Someone who name-drops or props themselves up using external or superficial means.
Projection often precedes a karmic wake-up call. What we’ve done (or neglected to do/understand) in the past often comes around to find us in the present.
As we come full circle around our life lessons, it can be a great gift to realize a different perspective and complete our learning with compassion and acceptance. Top it off with forgiveness, and we gain the ultimate prize of freedom.
By reading this, you have begun a journey. The goal for now is to take a step back when you get triggered. Quiet your mind and become curious. With compassion, consider alternate perspectives and possibilities. Awareness alone is damage control.
If you find yourself constantly projecting in particular circumstances, relationships or situations, take responsibility and seek coaching. It can help you discover your blind spots.
Until next time, mind training masters!