There are a few different layers to projection (If you missed last week's intro on projection, read it here). We are complicit in all of them, until we get to the 4th. This is when we have to choose to accept that our projection is a shadow issue of ours, or we move on and start it all over again with someone else. Here are the five stages:
1. Stage 1 – I meet somebody that I am emotionally connected to. It can be a lover, boss, family member, neighbor, etc. I see in them the shadow side(s) of myself that I am not ready to accept. These can be both positive and negative. For example, I may admire her dedication to fitness, or his knowledge of business. Or it can go the other way: I can’t stand how she is always late, or how he always has to talk about himself. I decide that these are his or her personality traits. It’s how they are and I either love them or hate them.
2. Stage 2 – The projection slips. She skips the gym and goes out for a box of donuts. His company starts losing money. She shows up on time on three separate occasions. He is genuinely interested in me and doesn’t bring himself up again. In any case, the image I constructed of him is not how he is showing up. I become a little uncomfortable with it, but keep putting the projection back up on that person.
3. Stage 3 – The projection totally falls off. She quits working out altogether, decides she is happy with herself no matter how she looks and starts eating fast food regularly. He makes some major investment blunders; his company collapses and goes under. At this point it is impossible to maintain the projection I have placed on these two people. The projection is either put on someone new, OR I force the projection to remain with the person that no longer lives up to it. If I force the projection, I start building a case against the person I am projecting on. She isn’t trustworthy because she was so athletic at first, now she loves those chicken nuggets. He isn’t trustworthy because he was supposedly a great businessman and now he’s bankrupt. I blame THEM for MY projections. Most people stay in this 1, 2, 3 cycle. Once they’ve decided someone is a fraud, they find someone else and start the process all over again at Stage 1.
4. Stage 4 – This is the start of the way out of the projection cycle. I realize that my projections onto him and her are aspects of myself that I haven’t integrated. I admired her dedication to fitness because I wish I embodied it. I am irritated that he always talks about himself because I don’t feel good enough about who I am to talk about myself. The things that I projected onto both of them are areas of myself that need work. They are abandoned aspects of who I am, or would like to be, that I am placing on others.
5. Stage 5 – I learn to have compassion for myself and own these parts of my shadow. I can start working to embody the traits that I admire in others, or to heal the wounds that are the source of the negative behaviors.
When we become aware of this subtle dance with others we can start working on our own wounds to improve our lives and our relationships. Most people repeat the 1-3 stages of projection over and over again throughout their lives. This is a continual source of suffering and misunderstanding. It ruins relationships, creates bitterness and loneliness. Worse of all, it keeps a person from ever becoming whole.
Here is an exercise you can do to identify some of your projections:
1. Find a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed
2. Divide a piece of paper into two columns
3. On one side write: People I Admire
4. On the other write: People I Can’t Stand
5. Write down the names of three people on each side, leaving room for more comments underneath the name
6. Once you have the three names written, write down 3 characteristics about each person that you either admire or that you can’t stand
7. When you have completed the list, look at what you have written and see if there are any similarities in the traits these people share
8. Ask yourself:
a. Are the characteristics in the people you admire related to those you don’t?
b. Were the characteristics you noticed in the people you admire similar?
c. What about the characteristics of the people that you can’t stand? What seems familiar?
More on this exercise next week...