Have you ever left a family gathering feeling angry, guilty, depressed, misunderstood, manipulated, or completely exhausted? If so, you may have been the recipient of a projection. Psychology asserts that every normal person is bound to his environment by a whole system of projections.1 Projection occurs when we split off an aspect of ourselves such as an impulse, attitude, trait, or feeling that we are unconscious of and place it in another person like a sister, brother, parent, or even the grocery store clerk. In this way we bring it to life in the other and draw this person into an unconscious identity with us.2 In fact “all compassion is grounded in this kind of unconscious identity with the other.”3 On the other hand, when an unconscious identity operates negatively “it causes us, naively and thoughtlessly, to take for granted that the other is like us and that what is valid for us is also valid for him, so that we feel justified in “improving” him . . .”4 When this happens we make a distinction between ourselves and the unconscious content projected onto the object. I get caught in endless discussions, even arguments trying to convince my brother to see the error of his ways, not realizing that I am arguing with my own unconscious projection.5
Not only do I project my unconscious contents onto others, others infect me with their unconscious psychic elements so that I become the carrier of another’s projections.6 “These projections of our fellow beings onto ourselves are by no means harmless affairs that disturb nothing but the adaptation of the people from whom they issue; they also substantially affect the person onto whom the projection falls.”7 One often comes across this in everyday life, when a mother, for example, out of her own laziness or dependency, neglects her own independent development to take care of herself. To compensate she expects this care from her sons or others and “bewitches” them into doing all manner of things for her, leaving them exhausted in the process. If they do choose not to fulfill her unconscious expectations (i.e., I deserve to be taken care of), they may feel guilty until they recognize they are under the spell of a projection and are able to work through it sufficiently to find the doorway to healing inherent in the projection.
“The difference between projection and common error is that an error can be corrected, without difficulty, by better information and then dissolve like morning fog in the sunlight.”8 “In the case of projection, the person doing the projecting defends himself or herself, in most cases strenuously, against correction, or, if the correction is accepted, this person then falls into a depression. He consequently appears to be diminished or disillusioned, because the psychic energy that was invested in the projection has not flowed back to the subject but has been cut off.9
This identity of subject and object represents a normal condition.10 As long as all goes well we are completely unaware of this “archaic identity.” It is only when this identity begins to have a disturbing effect or exerts a negative influence on our adaptation to the outer world that our projections become a problem. In fact, so long as the libido can use these projections as agreeable and convenient bridges to the world, they will alleviate life in a positive way. But as soon as the libido wants to strike out on another path, a path that does not mirror the projection, then the projections become the greatest of hindrances, for they effectively prevent any real detachment from the former object. We then witness the characteristic phenomenon of a person trying to devalue the former object as much as possible in order to detach his libido from it.11 For example, if a son experiences his father as tyrannical he will project the quality of tyranny onto authority figures and father figures, such as his doctors, his superiors, and even the state and experience these people as tyrants. Not only will he project his inner tyrant onto others, he will also behave just as tyrannically himself—though unconsciously.12
Each of us can put ourselves in place of the word “son” in the above description and change the word “tyrannical” to a hundred other words such as “passive, manipulating, controlling, dependent, stubborn, etc.– however we experienced our own father or mother– and begin to see just how we might be projecting such qualities onto others or acting in such ways ourselves.
“[Yet, we continue to]. . . go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.”13 “In these imaginary relationships the other person becomes an image or a carrier of symbols.“14
Von Franz points out that “[o]ne of the oldest ways of symbolizing projection is by means of projectiles, especially the magic arrow of shot that harms other people. The oldest explanation for the causes of illness–to be found almost everywhere in the world–is of a projectile that affects its target for good or ill.”15. “It is generally believed that such a projectile is shot by a god, spirit, demon, or some other mythological being, or by an evil person, and that it hits people, and perhaps animals as well, causing them to fall ill.”16 Multiple examples from literature as well as psychological experience confirms that human beings experience the effects of negative projections.17 “When one becomes the target of another person’s negative projection, one often experiences that hatred almost physically as a projectile.”18
Consider the child who lives in a very angry and volatile environment where all kinds of angry words are yelled and screamed. From the energy model where both the physical plane of matter as well as the more abstract plane of our mind and thoughts are energy19, these words are then experienced energetically as actual projectiles or arrows of energy penetrating the child’s energy body or luminous energy field (LEF).20 If the child’s energy body isn’t healthy enough to expel the negative energy or if the child isn’t helped by a caring person to process the anger and pain in a way that allows the child to release or discharge this angry energy, the child carries this anger projected from the parent in his or her energy body and will, at some point, not only project this anger onto others and experience others as angry, but will behave in angry ways himself. When we consider that from an energetic point of view unconscious projections are flying around as actual energy–projectiles such as arrows and bullets in the forms of words and thoughts, whether spoken or not, no wonder we leave family gatherings feeling angry, guilty, depressed, powerless, helpless or tired and impotent.
Psychologist and medical anthropologist, Alberto Villoldo, states “everything we experience is a projection of our inner landscape.21 The medicine men and women of the Andes believe that the world is a screen onto which we project our inner reality. This doesn’t mean that the world isn’t real. The world is very real, but we confuse the image we project with the reality of the world. They say we try to change the action on the screen when what we really need to do is to edit the movie going on inside of us or change the script entirely. This amounts to recognizing, owning, and withdrawing our projections. Once we understand that we can do this anywhere at any time, we cease being helpless victims or innocent bystanders.22
Marie von Franz identifies five stages in the withdrawal of projections: (1) archaic identification, (2) separation/differentiation, (3) moral evaluation, (4) illusion, and (5) realization/integration. In stage one, archaic identification, inner psychic factors are not differentiated from outer natural facts. This was the original mythical psychic condition of antiquity where components of the human psyche were for the most part unreflected and seen out in nature where the human being was confronted by them as parts of an objective world. In this stage, encounters with these factors meant working magic or being worked upon by it, whether for good or for ill.23
In stage two, separation/differentiation, the natural objects are partially differentiated from the mythical beings. In this stage the mythical figures still live in the world but they are no longer identical with it. For example, Poseidon still dominates the sea but he is no longer identical with it. Nymphs live in trees and fields; the higher gods inhabit Olympus and although their will is revealed in the humming of bees in Delphi or in the rustling oaks of Dodona, they themselves have their own existence. 24
In stage three, moral evaluation, “human beings judge the deeds of the gods and permit themselves moral criticism.”25 “At this point the identity of the inner image with the outer object becomes perceptible and the object of criticism, whether it be our own [criticism] or that of other people.”26 In this stage we begin to criticize each other for what we do not believe ourselves to be nor ever wish to be.
In stage four, illusion, we judge the reality that had been believed as non-existent.27 Therefore, God is dead! The earth is not a living organism with its own wisdom. Spirit doesn’t live in matter. My mother isn’t helpless, dependent. My father wasn’t really a tyrant.
Stage five, realization/integration, “represents an act of assimilation through reflection, through which the psychic energy of the projected content flows back to man and raises the level of his consciousness.”28 However, von Franz points out that “[i]f one wants to prevent a renewal of the projection, the content must be recognized as psychically real, though not a part of the subject but rather as an autonomous power”29 Discussion of this idea is beyond the scope of this paper and will become the subject of another blog. The question now becomes how do I withdraw my own projections and reduce my potential for becoming the carrier of someone else’s projection. In other words, how do projections become doorways to healing?
Archaic identity of subject and object still lives at the very bottom of our psyche and is simply the normal condition that produces all our affective “magical” ties to people and objects.30 We can recognize our unconscious content as projections “only when we gain enough insight to see that they are images of peculiarities that are part of our own makeup; otherwise we are naively convinced that these peculiarities belong to the object.”31 If I consider that everything is a projection, than what I hear myself saying about the other I am saying about myself only I don’ t know it. That is, I don’t know that part of myself, that part of me that continues to live in the unconscious at that place where outer and inner are still contained in archaic identification, undifferentiated.
Alberto Villoldo, sums it up this way: “To own your projections, you must discover and acknowledge the parts of yourself that you’ve refused to look at. It turns out that everything you believe to be true about the people around you, or the situations you find yourself in, mirrors a story you hold about the way the universe works. When you understand this, you can take a long, hard look at every difficult situation in your life and then change it within.
What Heisenberg32 observed about the subatomic world is also true in our dimension—that is, whatever we observe, we alter in the seeing. But to change it, we must first recognize that we’re seeing a reflection of our hidden selves in others.”33 In Part II I will address how we can heal the hidden psychological, emotional and spiritual wounds that are often at the root of our projections.
Of course, in the spirit of this blog, I must admit that this too is all projection, a reflection of my internal landscape, how I see the world. Perhaps you have a different view. I’m interested in how different world views might somehow fit together into a greater whole.
Part II: Healing the hidden psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounds inherent in our projections to follow.
Notes and References
1Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” CW8, par 507
2von Frans, Marie-Louise, Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology, p. 15-16, citing Jung CW9(1), p. 121ff and Jung, CW6, par. 784. This “unconscious identity” is not to be confused with “identification.”
3von Franz, Marie-Louise, Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology, p. 16
6Ibid, p. 4
7Ibid, p. 16
8Jung, “Concerning the Archetypes,” CW9(1), p. 121f
9von Franz, Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology, p. 3
10Ibid, p. 9
11Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” CW8, par 507
12von Franz, p. 2
13Jung, “General Aspect of Dream Psychology,” The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW8, par 507
14von Franz, p. 6
15von Franz, p. 21, citing E. H. Ackerknecht, “Primitive Medicine and Culture Pattern”; also idem, “natural Diseases and RAtional Treatment in Primitive Medicine,” Ackerknect correctly emphasizes that primitive man often has rational explanations, although they generally are allied to magical-religious ideas. Cf. further Ackerknecht, Problems of Primitive Medicine).
16von Franz, p. 20
17See von Franz, p. 21 for a description of these references
19 With his famous equation E= mc2, Albert Einstein proved that when you come right down to it everything in the universe is energy. Both in the physical plane of our reality of matter and the abstract reality of our mind are made up of energy patterns. “Everything is Energy,” By Escape The Illusion on August 4, 2011, quoting Deepak Chopra
20Villoldo, Alberto. Shaman, Healer, Sage, pp. 42-51. The Luminous Energy Field is shaped like a doughnut with a narrow axis or tunnel (called a torus), less than molecule thick, in the center. It is perceived as an aura of energy and light that surrounds and informs our physical body. Imagine you are enveloped by a translucent, multicolored bubble of light that extends about the width of your outstretched arms and down into the earth about a foot. Just above your skin streams of golden light shimmer and flow through the body’s acupuncture meridians. These energy meridians are analogous to the circulatory system inside the body.
There is a continual flow to the Luminous Energy Field. As well as flowing clockwise around the body there is also a vertical flow up and down through the spinal cord and down into the earth, reentering the body through the feet.
The Luminous Energy Field has four layers extending outward from the body: Causal (Spirit), Psychic (soul), Mental-emotional (mind) and Physical (body). In the outermost layer is the membrane or “skin.” It serves as a defensive cocoon in the same way the skin does as a protective membrane of the body.
The Luminous Energy Field is a reservoir of vital force—a sea of living energy as indispensable to our health as the oxygen and nutrients carried by the bloodstream. These energies are the purest and most precious fuel for life. When the vital reserves are depleted through illness, environmental pollutants, or stress, we suffer disease. We can ensure our health and vitality and extend our active, healthy years by replenishing this essential fuel.
21Villoldo, Alberto, The Four Insights, p. 155.
23von Franz, p. 36
25Ibid. p. 38
26von Franz, p. 9, referencing Jung, Psychological Types, CW 6, “Definitions,” par. 783
27von Franz, p. 39
28Ibid. pp. 39-40
29Ibid. p. 13
32Werner Heisenbert was a German theoretical physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics” and is responsible for the discovery of the “uncertainty principle” (similar to physics” observer effect but differs in that measurement does not mean only a process in which a physicist-observer takes part, but rather any interaction between classical and quantum objects regardless of any observer.)
33Villoldo, Alberto, The Four Insights, pp. 179-180