We’ve all experienced projection at one time or another.  No one is immune, thanks to the Ego presence.  It’s been a common theme popping up both personally and professionally this week, so it feels like the perfect time to address it!

According to Psychology Today, projection is defined as, “the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another.”  This understanding originates from Sigmund Freud’s work of the 1890s.

Have you ever experienced a deeply harsh judgment of another person?  Or felt triggered by a behavior someone else is exhibiting?  Have you ever felt hurt or upset because someone you love is acting like or talking to you like a parent did when you were young?  If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may have experienced projection!

Projection is a defensive mechanism created by the Ego part of ourselves which prevents an individual from looking within and “seeing” what’s there.  Instead of looking at the self, we project our innermost, deepest, and most of the times unconscious fears, desires, thoughts, and beliefs onto another person, place, or object  Projection is used to protect us from our harshest judgments of ourselves as well as our most undesirable impulses.  For example, it’s a lot easier to accept and point out that someone else is an alcoholic, than realize (and admit) we have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol our self.  We don’t want to look at our own relationship with alcohol, because we might see something we don’t like within.  (In spiritual terms, this is “shadow” work).  Judging the other keeps us from having to change our own behaviors and thought patterns.

Being aware and cognizant of our own projections, can be highly beneficial.  When we own our projections, (and forgive ourselves), we can more easily adapt and change our behaviors.  We can develop compassion for ourselves and others, improving our relationships.

It helps to notice when we are being judgmental and why.  What is triggering our feelings?  Is what’s happening in the present moment really the issue, or does this stem back to something that occurred earlier?  If we can trace the feeling to it’s root and eliminate the root, we remove the source of our discomfort, freeing us emotionally and mentally.

Here’s an example from a friend, who gave permission for me to share.  The friend is married with children. She and her husband drink alcohol on occasion, though admits the drinking became more regular as the pandemic surged on.  She noticed her husband would indulge in hard liquor from time to time.  When he did, he usually became tired early and went to bed, leaving her to care for the children and do the bedtime routine.  When she would later go to bed, he would be out like a light, snoring, and keeping her up at night.  This caused her to feel angry and that anger quickly morphed into resentment.

She noticed the overwhelming sense of anger and knew she did not want to continue to feel this way.  She sat down with her journal and started to contemplate.  Why am I feeling so angry?  What is it about this situation, that is causing me to feel so upset?  She realized she was placing all the blame for her unease on her husband, as well as the alcohol.  So, she took it deeper.  What is it about alcohol and drinking that is bothering me?  She meditated and what came through was remarkable. She realized it was a case of classic projection.  She had been struggling for a while with her own relationship with alcohol.  She had been noticing she was drinking more and more, and felt self-loathing.  The alcohol made her feel sluggish and she oftentimes just didn’t feel well in her body the following day.  This made is more difficult to think clearly and be present in her duties.  She noticed it made her inconsistent with her desire and ability to workout.  On the nights where she drank, she noticed she did not sleep well, leaving her feeling more anxious the following day.

With this clarity, came a fresh resolve.  She knew what she needed to do.  She knew she needed to quit drinking.  She would feel better, be less anxious, sleep more soundly, and wouldn’t be so judgmental of her husband (and others who consume alcohol).  (The story of how she quit is an exciting one- I’ll share in another post- she worked it all out through her dreams.)

Projection harms the self and others.  When we project our “stuff” onto others, we resist knowing ourselves and we damage our relationships and perpetuate negative attitudes, beliefs, judgments, and behaviors.  Here is a simple practice for understanding our own projections.  When we know what our projections are, we can take action (intuitively) to change our behaviors.

1.) Notice what feels triggering and examine why.
2.) Sit down with a journal, light a candle, and do some deep breathing to calm the mind and center the body.
3.) Write (or draw a picture) illustrating what is happening.  Acknowledge the feeling.  Ask the self, when do I feel this way?  Why do I feel this way?  Ask the self, is this about me, or another?
4.) Create a plan to take action.  Even if it’s just noticing when this projection comes up and with whom.
5.) Love, forgive, and have compassion for yourself.

Sometimes all it takes is for that deepest part of our wounded selves to feel heard, loved, and accepted in order for a shift to occur.  Sometimes the emotions feel “stuck”, which is when I would recommend reaching out and getting help from a therapist.  EFT, EMDR, Reiki, and acupuncture are all safe, useful, and effective tools for clearing old emotional patterns and wounds, which continue to persist until we recognize them and let them go.

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