(I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog.)
“Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”
– C.G. Jung
Projections are images we have of others, which are generated by the psyche and based in our own fears, desires, impulses, and unresolved issues, most of which are unconscious. Jung wrote, “We must bear in mind that we do not make projections, rather they happen to us.” Projection happens when we are “certain we know what other people think or what their true character is,” and interact with with them based on those assumptions.
We see others not as they are, but as we are
While the most obvious example of projection is seeing our own shadow traits in others, this can also be true of those traits we view as desirable, since the ego projects anything it is unable to identify with. An example of this could be someone who is jealous of a friend’s beauty or intelligence, but is unable to recognize those traits in him- or herself.
Additionally, when we feel certain we know what others think or what they’re really like, this may cause us to judge them or ourselves unfairly. It is likely that many of our insecurities are based in our own misguided perceptions of others, as well as our worries over how we believe they see us. Consider the things we keep to ourselves, the lies we tell, and the masks we wear in order to impress others or protect ourselves from them, based on whatever images we have projected onto them.
As an example of this, I recently had dinner with a friend, and an opportunity came up in the conversation to tell him what he truly means to me. But instead of honestly sharing my feelings, I froze and said something else because I felt worried about how he would respond—certain that it would be some form of rejection.
The antidote to projection is authenticity, which I have heard referred to as “the highest form of spirituality.” When we are authentic, we are willing to risk being seen as we truly are, shadow and all, and we also become more able to see others as they truly are. In my experience, the willingness to take that risk is based in love, both for oneself and others, which creates a relationship that allows for reflection. Jung said:
“Now “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is really a very profound formula … You can never get to yourself without loving your neighbor—that is indispensable … You would have no means of comparison … So whoever insists upon loving his neighbor cannot do it without loving himself to a certain extent.”
With the self-knowledge and greater wholeness that is created through this love, we may begin to withdraw our projections. According to Jung, “The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our own shadow onto others.”