Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Space Odyssey of Projection: Part III January 17, 2012

When relationships are problematic our ego finds it hard to believe that its lack of self-knowledge is part of the cause, but it is! Always! This is true whether the qualities we project onto others are negative, as in the examples from my last post, or positive. For instance, the people we admire or fall in love with have certain characteristics we unconsciously associate with our ideal selves. Those of us conditioned not to think too well of ourselves (lest we grow proud) often disown our positive qualities and ideals. In doing so, we lose conscious access to them and only regain it when we befriend others who look like our ideal. In reality, only parts of them are, but in the early throes of infatuation we never notice the parts which are not.  If we stay together long enough, however, they will become apparent and we will grow disenchanted.

If the relationship is to prosper we must withdraw our projections. In practice this means (1) acknowledging that the qualities we dislike in them are also parts of us, and (2) developing the positive qualities we’ve disowned in ourselves and assigned to them. Here’s why this works:

1: Withdrawing projections reduces separations and hostilities. Insofar as we believe our negative projections are true of others, they are acts of judgment which separate us.  Then completely innocent remarks are grounds for suspicion and misunderstanding and justification for blame.  Insofar as we believe our positive projections are true of others, they are one-sided contracts which we have written for them. Then if they break the contract we resent them for changing, misleading us, or forcing us to develop qualities we want them to carry.  “S/He betrayed me!” we think.  S/He was supposed to be the (choose one) logical one, wise one, practical one, romantic one, provider, nurturer, bill-payer, social director, problem-solver, creative thinker, muse, perfect lover, etc., but s/he’s changed!”

2: Withdrawing projections strengthens and heals relationships. Seeing that the value we thought was in the other is really in ourselves generates empathy and compassion. As our hearts soften we relate to others with more warmth, trust, openness, caring and honesty.

3. Withdrawing projections creates understanding and wisdom. It is not constructive to assume that our perspectives or values are common to everyone. It is constructive to recognize that they are true for us. When we neither over-value nor under-value our truths or those of others, we are on the road to wisdom.

4: Withdrawing projections re-energizes and empowers the body, mind, and spirit. Projection is a way of giving our libido, or psychological energy, to others. When we realize that the libido we invest in others is a projection, they lose their overpowering significance and the energy we invested in them returns to us. Knowing that the influence originates within us releases vitality, activates hidden potential and produces a oneness of being.  This brings a childlike state of bliss and a treasure of accumulated libido which can constantly stream forth like the energy of a child.

This is the psycho-spiritual meaning of the last image from the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Dr. David Bowman is transformed into a fetus floating in space and gazing at the Earth from within a transparent orb of light. He has evolved through the hero’s journey and been reborn as an enlightened spirit warrior with a cosmic point of view. No longer projecting his inner truths onto others, no longer ruled by instinct or ego, he no longer wants to control society but only to benefit it.  In my projection, this is the  best possible outcome of every soul’s odyssey through inner space.


The Space Odyssey of Projection: Part I January 10, 2012

After my post “Animal Healers” in which I said that we project our unconscious emotions onto animals, a reader wrote, “I am a bit confused about the concept of “projection” within the context of Jungian Psychology. I hear Jungians use it a lot, and I get the concept in general, but only in a vague sense. For example, I understand that we “project” our own subconscious concepts of perfection on our beloved, but I’m unsure what that means. Are Jungians saying that the world we see is simply a hologram of what our subconscious minds expect to and want to see? How do we differentiate between what is existentially in the world from a projection?”

This is a great question and I won’t be able to explain it adequately in just one post, so I’ll continue next time. Projection is one of the most difficult psychological realities of all to understand because we do it at an entirely unconscious level. Your ego believes it is the center of your psyche and that everything pretty much revolves around it. Moreover, it believes it knows exactly what you are doing, and why, at any given moment. To convince your ego that it is mistaken is akin to Copernicus and Galileo trying to convince our forebears of only a few centuries ago that contrary to the evidence of their eyes, the sun does not revolve around the Earth and there is an unimaginably vast universe beyond the bowl of the sky with contents and influences yet to be discovered.

It is no coincidence that during the second half of the 20th century people throughout the world became fascinated with science fiction novels, television shows and films like War of the Worlds, Star Trek, Star Wars, E.T. and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Freudian and Jungian psychology were entering collective awareness in a big way during that era, and a major discovery was the reality of the unconscious self. With our growing awareness of an unknown inner universe came a parallel interest in the outer one.

The idea that we might contain potentially dangerous unknown contents made us extremely uncomfortable. Since these unconscious phenomena were still inaccessible to our egos, we dealt with our anxiety by imagining and exploring ideas about aliens and space ships and planetary wars going on somewhere outside ourselves and the known world. “As above, so below,” as the ancient saying goes. To put it another way, “As without, so within.” Whether or not space aliens are physical realities remains to be seen; but there is no doubt they symbolize psychological realities.

This is an example of projection. Jung said (Volume 6, paragraphs 783 and 784 of the Collective Works) that a projection is a transferral of our own unconscious contents onto another person or object. It is an automatic process that happens to everyone and is not under our ego’s conscious control. When we project our negative unconscious contents onto others we make them responsible for our discomfort, flaws, or problems. This helps us get rid of painful, incompatible contents. We do the same with positive contents of which our egos are still unaware. Then we make those onto whom we have projected them responsible for our happiness or salvation. Thus do we demonize others in whom we see our negative contents and create God-images out of entities, real or imagined, onto whom we project our positive contents. This, of course, is how wars, love affairs, and religions are formed.

Next time I’ll give some examples of what projection looks like in everyday life. Meanwhile you might want to ask yourself who you demonize, who you love, and why.


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