“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself.”
Projection is a psychological process where we attribute qualities within ourselves to others . It’s a long recognized human emotional defense tactic of self-justification by blame shifting. In 500 CE, the Talmud warned, “Do not taunt your neighbour with the blemish you yourself have.”
Freud explained that parts of ourselves that we can’t accept, we attribute to others. Jung called these projected parts of our personality our Shadow — things about ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge. “Look at how angry that person is!” we rant angrily. And there, now the focus has shifted off our own anger to their anger. We list and rehash their sins, in order to reassure ourselves that our own actions are justified, that we are right.
Projection is usually viewed negatively, but I see it as a compassion and consciousness development tool. For one, it can help us hear what people actually mean in what they say. When someone excoriates foreigners because “they hate our freedom,” it is useless to argue that foreign animosity is not due to a hatred for our Bill of Rights. That’s because this claim is a projection, not a reasoned argument. The person making the claim is themselves concerned about the growing freedoms in our country for traditionally marginalized groups, because they feel their own survival is threatened.
Projections occur when intense emotions are invoked, like fear for survival or anger at not getting ahead with hard work. When this is happening, there is no room for calm and reasoned debate. It also doesn’t help to point out that the other person is projecting, much like it doesn’t help to tell someone terrified of flying that most planes don’t crash.
When you learn to recognize projection, you can avoid pouring your limited energy down a black hole of agitation by walking away from projection conversations instead of feeding them with argument. Or, if you feel it is really worth your energy, you can try to learn and address the actual underlying root fear behind the projection, with compassion.
If we can mindfully catch ourselves intensely emotional and insistent on the flaws and horrid behaviors of another, we can explore our own projections to shine a light on the shadow aspects in our unconscious. The current political climate is an excellent time for this practice, as it has us all wildly projecting in every direction like a garden hose turned on highest pressure and flailing uncontrolled to assail anything within striking distance.
For example, in the past week, I’ve found myself absolutely appalled that those people would try to take away the freedoms my country has fought so hard and long to establish for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free! With some consideration and introspection however, I realized that I was actually appalled at myself for taking my freedoms so for granted that I became lazy about my involvement in politics and civil justice.
Here’s the part where you forgive yourself and vow to make a change, with compassion. Now’s the time to move beyond anger at them, and acknowledge we are angry at ourselves for letting it happen. Now it’s time to move beyond complacency and get to work. Now is the time to be grateful for the mass fire that has been ignited under the collective progressive majority, and to think of all we can accomplish with this energy united for positive change! ❤