Projection is a psychological concept was made popular by the great Swiss psychiatrist and thinker, Carl G. Jung. The idea is that we take the negative emotions and behaviors within ourselves and “project” them onto others. For example, If I can’t stand someone’s behavior, I am probably projecting on that person my own unresolved issues with that behavior.
I find it fascinating that Jesus identified the phenomenon of projection nearly 2,000 years before Jung: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NRSV) The context is in judging others when our own behavior is just as bad. We criticize little things in our neighbor’s behavior, when our own unresolved attitudes and behavior are even bigger than what we are criticizing in our neighbor or someone else.
The phenomenon of projection is as old as humanity. The two most common emotions that are projected are anger and fear. We are told as Christians that we are not to be angry, even if all of us are to a certain extent. We repress the emotion until we can no longer hold it in, and we explode. Or we project it on to other people. We are also told as Christians to “fear not,” but all the messages we hear, especially in the political arena, cause us to fear. So, we repress our fear or project it on to others.
I personally repressed my anger for many years until one occasion when it exploded against my innocent daughter. I had to do some serious self-examination to realize that anger was capable of doing great physical harm to other people if I didn’t check it. This was done by serious inner work. Unfortunately, few people take the time to do such inner work and continue to repress and project.
In my reading of the political scene in the USA, it seems to me that those on the left project their anger on those on the right; those on the right project their fear on those on the left. No one is willing to examine their inner souls to see what unresolved issues within they are projecting on to others, so it ends up with both sides yelling at each other.
Beyond anger and fear, much of the projection we do comes from self-loathing. Our US American culture constantly sends us messages that we are not good enough. Of course, there are endless amounts of products available to make us feel better about ourselves. I thought that when the authoritarian generation passed away and the new “I love you forever” generation would raise their kids, that self-loathing would pass away. Not so. Our culture has found endless ways to make them feel as negative toward themselves as my generation did.
I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ and I found this quote: “. . . if you nurture hatred toward yourself, it won’t be long before it shows itself as hatred toward others.” This is the worst kind of projection and is so prevalent in our current cultural scene. The amount of hatred both openly and covertly expressed toward others currently is cause for concern. And it comes from unresolved self-hatred.
Jesus’ said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) In order to obtain a “pure heart,” one that is free of projection, we need to do serious inner work; contemplative work. The book I wrote with my sister, The Spacious Heart
has many suggestions on how to do that inner work. May your find your soul and “see God.”