This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeits of our own behavior—we make guilty of our own disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Shakespeare, King Lear
The paradox inherent in Simple Reality is that it is simple but not in the way most of us think of simplicity. The intellect has no problem with Simple Reality, it is easy to comprehend but that is exactly the problem; the simplicity is deceiving. The intellectual understanding must be internalized and made a part of our essence or no transformation of our self-destructive behaviors will occur. That is why in this article we repeat the principles of projection from several perspectives. Human behavior relating to the other and the shadow, along with projection forms an interconnecting system (mostly unconscious) that bedevils most inhabitants of the global village. We could call the other, the shadow and projection the diabolical trio.
There are a number of ways of defining projection and we will consider several; the first in a Freudian context. “When a person is made to feel anxious by pressure upon the ego from the id or superego, he can try to relieve his anxiety by attributing its causation to the external world. Instead of saying, ‘I hate him,’ one can say, ‘He hates me’; or instead of saying, ‘My conscience is bothering me,’ one can say, ‘He is bothering me.’ In the first case, one denies that the hostility springs from the id and attributes it to another person. In the second case, one denies the source of the feelings of persecution and ascribes it to someone else. This type of ego defense against neurotic and moral anxiety is called projection.”
We continue with Freud’s definitions which form the basis for psychoanalysis and our basic understanding of human behavior. “The essential feature of projection is that the subject of the feeling, which is the person himself, is changed. It may take the form of exchanging the subject for the object. ‘I hate you’ is converted into ‘You hate me.’ Or it may take the form of substituting one subject for another subject while the object remains the same. ‘I am punishing myself’ is changed into ‘He is punishing me.’ What the ego is actually trying to do when it employs projection is to transform neurotic or moral anxiety into objective anxiety. A person who is afraid of his own aggressive and sexual impulses obtains some relief for his anxiety by attributing aggressiveness and sexuality to other people. Likewise, a person who is afraid of his own conscience consoles himself with the thought that other people are responsible for bothering him, and that it is not his conscience [superego].”
“What is the purpose of such a transformation? It serves the purpose of changing an internal danger from the id or superego which is difficult for the ego to handle into an external danger which is easier for the ego to deal with. A person usually has more opportunity to learn how to cope with objective fears than he has to acquire skill in mastering neurotic and moral anxiety.” Nevertheless, mastering neurotic and moral anxiety, that is to say, to take responsibility for our own behavior is what we must learn to do and Simple Reality provides the context, identity and process with which to accomplish this transformation.
The Devil made me do it.
Whether we cop out by blaming the Devil or believe that Jesus took us off the hook with his crucifixion, we are failing to express our True self which is why we are here in the human community in the first place. Seth whom we can count on to champion the power of belief as the key to creating our own reality affirms our essential understanding of projection. “It is not easy, however, to realize that your feelings and thoughts form your exterior experience in the same way, or that the events that appear to happen to you are initiated by you within your mental or psychic inner environment.” That “inner environment” is, of course our mind fed by our senses and our narrative and we now proceed to enter that environment in some detail.
We cannot see outside what we are not inside.
Seth could have said “What goes around comes around.” “You project your thoughts, feelings, and expectations outward, then you perceive them as the outside reality. When it seems to you that the others are observing you, you are observing yourself from the standpoint of your own projections.” When we observe other people in our lives they are often acting like mirrors reflecting our own behaviors back to us. “You are the living picture of yourself. You project what you think you are outward into flesh. Your feelings, your conscious and unconscious thoughts, all alter and form your physical image.”
“The man who has believed that he was evil may now see the world, or persons of another faith or political affiliation, as evil instead. He then feels rid of the problem itself but is quite ready to attack it in others and with great self-righteousness and justification.”
“You will often try to project a problem outward to free yourself. If this is done the question at issue will seem forever outside of you, beyond solution, and of mass proportion.” In truth, we shall see that the content of our shadow is not outside of us, is not beyond solution, is not as threatening as we imagined.
In addition to individual projection, our world is further complicated by collective projection. “As a society you may project it upon the criminal, as a nation upon a foreign country. As an individual you may place this power upon an employer, a labor union, or any other segment of society.”
“The criminal or murderer being executed dies for the ‘evil’ within each member of his society, then, and a magical transference take place.” We have used a scapegoat, the other, to get us off the hook.
Projection is a self-destructive behavior and empowers the false self at the expense of our True self which is labeled “love” by Seth. “Love is propelled by all of the elements of natural aggression, and it is powerful; yet because you have made such divisions between good and evil, love appears to be weak and violence strong. This is reflected in many levels of your activities. The ‘devil’ becomes a powerful evil figure, for example. Hate is seen as far more efficient than love. The male in your society is taught to personify aggressiveness with all of those anti-social attitudes that he cannot normally demonstrate. The criminal mind expresses these for him, hence the ambiguous attitudes on the part of society, in which renegades are often romanticized.”
“The detective and his criminal wear versions of the same mask. Following such ideas, you end up with segregations in which the ill, being powerless, are isolated; the criminals are kept together; and the old are held in institutions or in cultural ghettos with their own kind. Transference of personal problems are all involved here, and clusters of beliefs.”
“The criminal element represents the individual’s own feared and un-faced aggressions [shadow]. These fears are closeted on an individual basis, and those people who express them socially are imprisoned. The enforced incarceration of violent men often leads to a riot, and the private closeting of normal aggression often brings psychological rioting and outbursts of physical symptoms.” In short, both our physical and mental health depend on a deeper understanding and response to the behavior of projection.
Seth continues: “In all cases, little effort is made to understand the basic problems beneath, and the social segregations merely build up the pressure, so to speak, so that those with like beliefs are kept in situations that only perpetuate the basic causes.” When we fail to take personal responsibility and collective responsibility as a community for our behaviors related to projection we give away our power and any possibility that the direction the global village is headed will change.
“Unknowingly, the sick often give up their power to act in a healthy manner to the physicians. The doctors accept this mandate since they share the same framework of belief, so the medical profession obviously needs patients as badly as the ill need the hospitals. Society as you know it, not understanding the nature of normal aggression, considers it violent. The prisons and law enforcement agencies need criminals in the same way that criminals need them, for they operate within the same system of belief. Each accepts violence as a method of behavior and survival. If you do not understand that you create your own reality, then you may assign all good results to a personified god, and need the existence of a devil to explain the undesirable reality. So churches as they now exist in Western society need a devil as well as a god.”
“If you equate power with youth then you will isolate the elderly, transferring upon them your own rejected powerlessness, and they will seem to be a threat to your well-being. If you agree that violence is power then you will punish the criminal with great vindictiveness, for you will see life as a power struggle, and will concentrate upon the acts of violence—hence deepening your conviction. If you accept the basic idea that evil is more powerful than good, then your beneficial acts will bear little fruit because of your own framework; you assign such small power of action to them.”
“If you accept the idea that knowledge is ‘bad,’ for instance, then in line with that belief all of your efforts to learn will be futile, or bring you great discomfort. You will not trust any knowledge that comes easily for you will feel that you have to pay, do penance for the attainment of any wisdom. Fundamental interpretations of the Bible often lead to such conclusions, so that the pursuit of knowledge itself, which has a built-in biological impetus, becomes a taboo activity.” Hence, the anti-intellectualism so prevalent among conservatives in America.
“You must then project wisdom onto others and reject it in yourself, or be faced with a dilemma in personal values. Throughout the ages monks, priests, and religious organizations have become segregated from the rest of humanity. They have been alternately honored and feared, loved and hated. Their knowledge has been envied yet held in superstitious awe.”
“The voodoo and the healer, the witch doctor and the priest, are all held in honor, yet are also looked upon with a certain terror because of the power and knowledge involved. The man who heals or the man who curses both imply power of knowledge to many individuals. To those who are caught up with fundamental ideas in pious terms, religious power is a frightening thing. Normal aggression, seen as evil, is therefore segregated within the self—and also seen everywhere outside.”
The realization that you are projecting is the
most important aspect of awareness.
Given the importance of understanding projection, let’s go over the principles again from the perspective of mainstream psychology with John Ruskan. “When we project, we unconsciously assign responsibility for our feelings to other persons or situations, and we think that they ‘caused’ our feelings.” In the broadest sense, “we project our subconscious energies onto what appears to be the outside world, creating our entire experience.”
“When we project, the world becomes a mirror, reflecting our own qualities back to us.”
“Blame is the next most common way of rejecting ourselves. We blame because we want to avoid responsibility. When we blame any person, object, or circumstance for our experience, we essentially become blind to reality. Self-acceptance is impossible, and we simmer in self-rejection. This includes blaming ourselves, which is called guilt, a special form of self-rejection. Blame is essentially the same as complaining.”
“The conscious ego, however, wants to blame because it is defending itself. It does not want to feel that it could be stupid enough to cause harm to itself. The nature of the ego, and of highly egocentric people in particular, is always to be right, and blame is usually how self-righteousness is maintained.”
“The final, and possibly most important realization about blame is that, when we are blaming, we give up our right to autonomy. We are slaves to the other if the other is really responsible for what we are feeling; we have no self-determination in the most vital sense.”
It was C. G. Jung who coined the term “collective unconscious” which is a manifestation of the principle of Oneness. Just as we have an individual and collective unconscious, we have individual and collective shadows and individual and collective projection behaviors. All of this behavior, of course, is all a part of one system of human behavior, interrelated, interconnected and interdependent. One of the most self-destructive behaviors a human community can engage in is collective projection as Jung now describes.
“From memory one of the most horrific examples of collective projection that I can think of occurred in 1938. The Nazis were beginning to engage in the persecution of the Jews with the goal of driving them out of Germany. FDR suggested a conference to deal with the Jewish refugee crisis. The Evian Conference convened in July 1938 at Lake Geneva near the Swiss border at the Hotel Royal. Thirty-nine delegates (21 of the delegates were Jewish) representing private relief agencies and thirty-two nations were challenged to find compassion for the Jews who clearly represented ‘the other.’ None of the nations opened their doors to the refugees and Nazis came up with the ‘final solution’ that we are all familiar with.”
“I remember a story of a ship called the St. Louis arriving in an American port with 900 Jews aboard and being denied entry. Forced to return to Europe, the ship delivered the 900 Jews back to the territory where 700 perished in the ‘final solution.’”
“I concluded that the Germans behaved as they did to us all in general and to the Jews in particular because we both had become literal symbols and in the process had lost our common humanity for them. We had become mirrors for them wherein they could not separate a reflection of a hidden aspect of themselves they despised and rejected from the mirror itself, and thought they could rid themselves of the enemy within forever by destroying what reflected it in the world.”
“It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.”
Ken Wilber will review the same principles we have learned so far but with refreshing “Wilberian” insights. “Projection on the Ego Level is very easily identified: if a person or thing in the environment informs us [then we are responding and], we probably aren’t projecting; on the other hand, if it affects us [then we are reacting and the], chances are that we are the victim of our own projections.”
“A projection is a trait, attitude, feeling or bit of behavior which actually belongs to your own personality but is not experienced as such; instead, it is attributed to objects or persons in the environment and then experienced as directed toward you by them instead of the other way around. The projector, unaware, for instance, that he is rejecting others, believes that they are rejecting him; or, unaware of his tendencies to approach others sexually, feels that they make sexual approaches to him.”
“‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and the person who is romantically in love is really in love with the projected aspects of his own self, and he believes that the only way he can re-own these projected goodies is to own and possess the beloved.”
Thus we can project either the “good” within us or the “bad.” When we begin looking for an individual or a collective scapegoat on which to project our shadow our behaviors are reminiscent of those of our ancestors in colonial Salem or those more recently during McCarthyism. “The witch-hunt is on. Communists under every bed; the Devil waiting on every corner; Us, the Good Guys, versus Them, the Bad Guys, Our impassioned fight with the devils of this world is nothing but elaborate shadow-boxing.”
“All this really stems from Freud’s original insight that all emotions are intra-psychic and intra-personal, not inter-psychic and inter-personal—that is to say, emotions are experienced (on the Ego Level at least) not between me and thee but between me and me.”
The projector is connected with his projected aggression by fear. As projected excitement is felt as anxiety, as projected desire is felt as pressure, projected aggression is felt as fear, projected anger is felt as depression. M-A-D has become S-A-D, and we become the depressed victims of our own anger. The person who is depressed need only ask himself, “What am I so mad at?”
How does religion view projection? From the Christian perspective we cannot claim our own divinity or realize Christ Consciousness, or live in the promised present moment Kingdom of Heaven as long as we continue to give away our own power, by projection or otherwise. But as we have made clear in Simple Reality we cannot rely on any guru, savior, or any other authority outside ourselves. That is why Jesus said, “Do not call anyone here on Earth father, because you have only the one Father in heaven.” (Matt. 23:9) We must ask all religions to be specific about how the prerequisite paradigm shift is to occur, which would result in a change in identity and exactly how the behavior modification that results in the ability to respond rather than react to life is to be achieved.
A Course in Miracles makes clear that there is a relationship among what we call justice, salvation (Oneness), death and projection. “Salvation is God’s justice. It restores to your awareness the wholeness of the fragments you perceive as broken off and separate. And it is this that overcomes fear of death. For separate fragments must decay and die, but wholeness is immortal. It remains forever and forever like its Creator, being one with Him. God’s judgment is His justice. Onto this,– a Judgment wholly lacking in condemnation; an evaluation based entirely on love,— you have projected your injustice, giving God the lens of warped perception through which you look.” Now [you think] it belongs to Him and not to you. You are afraid of Him, and do not see you hate and fear your Self as enemy.” In this way the delusional fear common to all religions is created.
Ken Wilber, in his introduction to Jim Marion’s book, Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality, writes: “A remarkable, often astonishing document. This is probably the first book to describe the overall path of consciousness development from a Christian perspective.” Christianity has been late in recognizing the dynamic of projection and we would have to say somewhat naïve on how this behavior can be overcome but nevertheless there are valuable insights to be learned from Marion.
Marion in this paragraph is referring to what Meister Eckhart had to say about Jesus’ urging us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Note the radical type of love of which Eckhart writes. There are no judgments of any kind here, for God’s love does not judge (John 8:15). To get to this level, therefore, all judgments, including moral judgments, must be surrendered. We must stop calling anyone ‘good’ just as much as calling anyone ‘bad,’ because both are judgments. God is now seen as neither good nor bad. God is just God. As long as we hold onto any moral judging of anyone or anything, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is because in judging others we automatically judge ourselves, just as Jesus said (Luke 6: 37). Since anything we judge against even in the worst ‘sinner’ is a part of ourselves that we are rejecting, we cannot afford to judge anyone or anything. As long as we judge we keep our consciousness locked in dualism.”
“The Dark Night of the Soul will thoroughly rid us of our projections. By means of the Dark Night, we can finally own all of these outside projections, both demonic and godly. In the process we finally become psychologically whole and our entire vision of the world and of ourselves, changes profoundly as we then see both for the first time without projections.” We will address the process of integrating the shadow later in this article.
It takes one to know one.
Now we will weave together projection, the shadow and the other. “There is an old Sufi story about a philosopher who made an appointment to debate with Nasrudin, a Sufi wisdom teacher. When the philosopher arrived for his appointment he found Nasrudin away from his home. Infuriated, the philosopher picked up a piece of chalk and wrote ‘Stupid Oaf’ on Nasrudin’s gate. When Nasrudin got home and saw this he rushed right over to the philosopher’s house. ‘I had forgotten,’ he said, ‘that you were to call. And I’m sorry I missed our appointment. But, I remembered our appointment the minute I saw that you had written your name on my gate.’”
“The shadow is projected in two forms: individually, in the shape of the people to whom we ascribe all the evil and collectively, in its most general form, as the Enemy, the personification of evil. Its mythological representations are the devil, archenemy, tempter, fiend or double; or the dark or evil one of a pair of brothers or sisters.” Here is a quick review of the basic principle of projection before we proceed. “We project by attributing this [a] quality to the other person in an unconscious effort to banish it from ourselves, to keep ourselves from seeing it within.”
In this holographic world, everyone is you
and you are always talking to yourself.
In Wilber’s words our shadow is composed of “All of those facets of our self-image, our ego, which are incompatible with what we superficially believe to be our best interests. As a result, we narrow our identity to only a fraction of our ego, namely, to the distorted and impoverished persona. And so by the same stroke are we doomed to be haunted forever by our own shadow, which we now refuse to give even the briefest conscious hearing. But the Shadow always has its say, for it forces entry into consciousness as anxiety, guilt, fear, and depression. The Shadow becomes symptom, and fastens itself to us as a vampire battens on its prey.”
“Although, with insight and good will, the shadow can to some extent be assimilated into the conscious personality, experience shows that there are certain features which offer the most obstinate resistance to moral control and prove almost impossible to influence. These resistances are usually bound up with projections, which are not recognized as such, and their recognition is a moral achievement beyond the ordinary. While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s own personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of the emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in the other person. [It] is not the conscious subject but the unconscious which does the projecting. Hence one meets with projections, one does not make them. The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face. One dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable, and the still worse feeling of sterility are in their turn explained by projection as the malevolence of the environment, and by means of this vicious circle the isolation is intensified. The more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the ego to see through its illusions.” Jung has just described why transcending P-B requires a strong intention and The Point of Power Practice.
“When we refuse to face the shadow or try to fight it with willpower alone, saying, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ we merely relegate this energy to the unconscious, and from there it exerts its power in a negative, compulsive, projected form. Then our projections will transform our surrounding world into a setting which shows us our own faces, though we do not recognize them as our own. We become increasingly isolated; instead of a real relation to the surrounding world there is only an illusory one, for we relate not to the world as it is but to the ‘evil, wicked world’ which our shadow projection shows us. The result is an inflated, autoerotic state of being, cut off from reality, which usually takes the well-known form of ‘if only so and so were such and such,’ or ‘When this will have happened,’ or ‘If I were properly understood’ or ‘appreciated.’ Such an impasse is seen by us, because of our projections, as the ill will of the environment, and thus a vicious circle is established, continuing ad infinitum, ad nauseam.”
“These projections eventually so shape our own attitudes toward others that at last we literally bring about that which we project. We imagine ourselves so long pursued by ill will that ill will is eventually produced by others in response to our vitriolic defensiveness. Our fellow men see this as unprovoked hostility; this arouses their defensiveness and their shadow projections upon us, to which we in turn react with our defensiveness, thereby causing more ill will.”
“Projections of all kinds obscure our views of our fellow men, spoiling its objectivity, and thus spoiling all possibility of genuine human relationships.”
“Remember that whatever we misunderstand we tend to fear; what we fear, we easily hate; and what we hate becomes an incredibly magnetic hook for our wildest and most hideous shadow projections.” Notice the similarities between the definition of narcissism and projection. Narcissism is “(a severe emotional disorder in which the person projects his or her own feelings outward onto everyone else, not realizing that other people have their own feelings) … (in which the person constantly sees himself or herself as victimized by others and takes little or no responsibility for his or her own problems.)”
Most of us can see the value of the “love thy neighbor” imperative in Jesus’ teaching but are not as conscious of the even more valuable appreciation of the “love thyself” behavior. C. G. Jung did appreciate the importance of self-love to good mental health. “The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook upon life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive the insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness—that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then?”
What is involved in truly loving oneself? Certainly we must learn to deal with the “diabolical trio,” the other, the shadow and projection. “A critical turning point is reached when individuals perceive the truth of the ‘other’ as their own experience. Through the doorway of empathic identification, people are led to discover a deeper underlying unity, namely, that there is no other.”
After grasping the illusion of the other and internalizing that truth, we have to take full responsibility for our own behavior. “Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow then he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in removing an infinitesimal part at least of the unsolved gigantic, social problems of our day. These problems are unwieldy and poisoned by mutual projections. How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and that darkness which he himself carries unconsciously into all his dealings.”
With all of this projection we are left with emotions and qualities, both positive and negative, that are unavailable to us. These aspects of our identity are left unsatisfied, unlived and unutilized which leaves us frustrated, anxious and in despair. Unless we stop this behavior of self-rejection and accept and integrate both the positive and negative aspects of what it means to be human we will live out our lives in P-B with the false self as our identity.
“When you [stop] projections you no longer rush to condemn another, nor do you put people up on pedestals. You see yourself and others clearly. You are willing to admit you own faults. You are better able to take credit for your talents and achievements. Therefore, you develop an instinct of when to give ground and when to stand firm.”
Ken Wilber describes what can be a “beWilbering” process of gaining control of our projections. If the first step in the “cure” of shadow projections is to take responsibility for the projections, then the second step is simply to reverse the direction of the projection itself and gently do unto others what we have heretofore been unmercifully doing unto ourselves. Thus, “‘The world rejects me’ freely translates into ‘I reject, at least for the moment, the whole damn world!’ ‘My parents want me to study’ translates into ‘I want to study.’ ‘My poor mother needs me’ becomes ‘I need to be close to her.’”
“Thus it stands to reason that if you would like to know just how your Shadow views the world, then—as a type of personal experiment—simply assume exactly the opposite of whatever you consciously desire, like, feel, want, intend, or believe. In this way you may consciously contact, express, play, and ultimately re-own your opposites.”
R. D. Laing describes why it is important to integrate our projections. “As he becomes de-alienated he is able first of all to become aware of them, if he has not already done so, and then to take the second, even more crucial, step of progressively realizing that these are things he does or has done to himself.”
My resistance reveals to me my shadow material and hence an opportunity for self-awareness. If I refrain from projection and take responsibility for my “stuff” then I move toward liberation from shadow material and empowerment from the integration of shadow and persona. This can best be accomplished by responding to rather than reacting to, integrating rather than projecting our repressed shadow.
References and notes are available for this article.
Also find a much more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality
on this blog and in published books by Roy Charles Henry.