To illustrate projection, here is a story about two couples who met at a party. They discovered that they had holidayed at the same resort, in the same week.
“We had a fabulous time, perfect weather, delicious food, friendly people!” said one couple.
The other couple was astonished. “You are joking! The weather was gloomy, nobody talked to us, we just couldn’t eat the food! What a waste of money!”
This is about projection. The sunny couple is probably sunny in themselves, and they project a sunny perspective on their experiences. The gloomy couple likewise. (Note that we are not interested in what the weather forecast actually said, or what was really on the menu.)
In other words, the world around you reflects back your own mindset, your own version of reality. If you see it this way, projection is a wonderful tool for growth and development, especially in your relationship. Your partner often reflects back to you what you can’t see yourself, and are reluctant to admit.
One of Jung’s favourite themes was projection. Jung believed that removing projections was the first step towards Individuation. (For an in-depth discussion on Individuation, try this!) In order to see how projection works, you need to see the things that bug you as originating in you, instead of being all that annoying stuff your partner does.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”. C.G.Jung
It’s easier to spot other people’s projections. Your own projections are invisible because you look through a particular tinted glass all the time. In other words, you see the world through your beliefs, life experience and personality, as we saw with the sunny and gloomy couples.
Maybe you view a particular person through a very specific lens. For example when you say, “you remind me of my mother”. If you have had a very positive relationship with your mother, then your relationship with this other person is coloured positive.
If you think your mother is a friend, and you experienced abandonment and neglect at the hands of your mother, then your relationship with this other person will be strongly coloured by this pain. You will likely feel very unstable in this relationship.
This is projection in action. It is particularly painful when this happens in intimate relationships. Unfortunately, no relationship escapes the complications of projection. This is why understanding projection is the 101 of understanding yourself – and your relationship.
Often you project good things on your partner, that they have no hope of ever living up to! But you expect them to! Inevitably, this is dangerous for your relationship. Certainly, you will both be disappointed. Even when your projection on your partner is very positive, it is still not seeing the person as they actually are. You are expecting them to live up to your standards. The trickiest part of this story is that all this happens unconsciously.
Marion Woodman, a very experienced Jungian Analyst says, “I remember the first time I saw my husband without projection. We had been married 25 years.” What she saw when she withdrew her projections was a flawed but loveable and unique human being.
It is noteworthy that it took 25 years for Marion Woodman to withdraw her projections from her husband. Marion is an extremely insightful person, and yet she says it took her 25 years to see her husband as he was. Therefore, we get the message that the withdrawal of projections is a life-time project.
Projections function when we apply to another person or situation a scenario that really belongs interiorly to ourselves. This then serves to reinforce beliefs we have about ourselves and the world because we literally see ourselves everywhere.
When we project we consciously believe of other people what we are actually doing ourselves unconsciously.
If you are seeing your partner as you are, it is clear that you will not be seeing them. Rather, it is a case of mistaken identity!
Here is James Hollis on projection.
When someone makes either a “positive” or “negative” comment about you, do you think they are talking about you? Or about themselves?
If it really is about you, do you trust that person’s judgement?
Are they likely to see the worst – or the best – because of their nature?
Is the comment a reflection of their own character, or of yours? With this in mind, is the comment something you should take personally?
This is worth thinking about a lot!
See also, managing conflict with your partner.
Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2017