The 5 Stages of Projection - Part I
Have you ever experienced something like this?
Luis started dating Jennifer a few days ago. He really liked her. He was excited about the relationship and where it would lead. He was a little nervous, because she had all of the qualities that he wanted in a woman. She was athletic, intelligent, funny, and gorgeous. He expressed to me that he didn’t know how he had been so lucky.
One day, Luis and Jennifer were scheduled to meet for lunch. Luis showed up at the restaurant at the right time. He waited 5 minutes and nothing. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. 30 minutes went by and nothing. No Jennifer.
As he sat there, Luis went from being a little worried to sad to angry to completely indignant. By the time he decided to leave the restaurant, about 35 minutes after they were supposed to meet he was furious. As he walked out of the restaurant he texted her, literally “Who do you think you are? You think it’s okay to treat people like this? Don’t ever call me again.”
Jennifer had actually been in a minor car accident on her way to the restaurant. She had full intention of being there, she actually really liked Luis, and now…well, you get the picture.
So, what happened here?
This is an example of how projection affects our lives. Projection is a psychological process where we attach the attributes that we like or dislike about ourselves onto other people. In this example, there are both positive and negative projections from Luis onto Jennifer.
When we interact with someone, anyone, we project onto them our own idea of who they are and who they should be. We see shadow aspects of ourselves in them (for a more in-depth explanation of the shadow, click here.) These are the elements of our psyche that are neglected, shunned, or abandoned. They arise in us again and again until we learn how to accept and integrate them. All of this is part of the process of projection.
Until we are able to own our projections and integrate them into our selves and our lives, we will project them onto others. In this case, Luis sees the positive characteristics he desires (athleticism, intelligence, physical beauty) in Jennifer. They are characteristics that he admires and perhaps embodies to a certain degree, but his craving of them makes him seek out a partner that embodies them even more than he feels he does. This, in part, is what feeds his insecurity.
This insecurity grows when Luis starts assuming that Jennifer has stood him up. This interpretation of her absence is born from Luis’s pre-existing fear of being neglected, of not being wanted. Ultimately, it is a fear of not being good enough to have Jennifer’s affection. Again, all of these things are Luis’s projections onto Jennifer. At this point in the story, she hasn’t even shown up yet.
How often do we experience things like this? Think about that time your boss said that one thing that really pissed you off. Or when your partner wasn’t able to show up for you and you knew it was to spite you. Or how about that time in high school when so-and-so said such-and-such about you and you knew what they really meant was that you suck?
A lot of the messes that we create in our lives are products of our own projections. They are ways that we hurt others and ourselves because of old wounds that we have not healed, wounds that have fed our shadow self. Which is not to say that the shadow self is negative, but we’ll have another post on that coming up.
So, what do we do about our projections? Here are some tips:
Responding versus Reacting - Take time to check in on what is causing your immediate emotional reaction. Often our reactions are based on prior wounds that may have nothing to do with the person or immediate event. Ask yourself if you are reacting based on an unresolved wound that is coming up because of the situation at hand. If it is, allow yourself to release the pain you feel from the situation at hand. Respond to what is happening now without attaching blame to the situation or person involved.
Mind the Gap - There is a moment between the immediate event and your response. This is called the gap. Practice feeling into that gap. Notice which emotions are arising, and find stillness in yourself before you respond. This will allow you to formulate more heartfelt solutions to the situation, as opposed to knee-jerk reactions that will end up hurting you and the person involved.
Say What is So When it is So - When you have found the still place in you it will guide your words to expressing what you feel with integrity instead of defensiveness. Your clear, heartfelt communication will be an avenue to resolution whereas responding in anger and defensiveness will only shut down the possibility for communication.
Own What is Yours - If you have taken an incorrect course of action, be willing to accept responsibility for it and seek to reconcile whatever harm you have caused. If the person involved is responsible for intentionally causing you harm you must address it. The choice of whether or not you allow yourself to be continuously hurt is yours. Take the necessary action to resolve the conflict with the person, even if it means that the relationship must change.
In our next few posts we’ll get into the 5 Stages of Projection and Integrating the Shadow. So, see you next week.