Have you ever felt as if the whole world was down on your case, that you were being persecuted only because others are evil and you are really innocent?
It is increasingly recognized that other people in our life mirror us more than we can ever imagine.
Each of us is playing a role, and when we assume a heroic stance, we must actively seek out enemies. We can’t have heroes without villains.
When we won’t come to terms with our own repressed impulses, we project them onto others.
99.9% of the time, projection works against you. Only in a small fraction of circumstances is your competitor really out to get you.
Projection is the process of blaming others for the very things you would like to do if given half a chance. Whatever you can’t face in yourself, you must deny. You may cherish an idealized version of yourself that won’t allow for your darker thoughts.
All forms of religious hypocrisy fall into this category, as well as political scapegoating. You see this in evangelists who continuously preach against the sins of the flesh while covertly sleeping with prostitutes on the side.
You also see it in politicians running for office about to be implicated in embezzlement scandals while blaming their opponents for being dishonest.
We see prominent Presidential candidates warning America of the danger of immigrants bringing terrorism to their shores who see no problem in the systematic bombing of other nations deemed vital to the national interest. We need only think of the original Gulf War, the War on Iraq and recent military reprisals on ISIS.
We seldom, if ever, ask ourselves who caused these people to act that way.
If we went back a century, we would find relatively few acts of terrorism. However, since the two World Wars, we have seen a steady increase of violence from immigrants, as well as longtime residents. Nobody bothers to ask the federal government why it continues to wage undeclared wars.
The father of psychoanalysis, Dr. Sigmund Freud, first identified projection as a defense mechanism. Dr. Freud saw projection stemming from a split psyche caused by excessive societal and parental programming.
His disciple, Dr. Carl Jung, referred to our shadow, and all the unassimilated contents of our psyche. Dr. Jung’s challenge in therapy was to help his patients re-own parts of themselves that didn’t jive with their self-image.
It is much harder to deal with your own fear and anger than to project it onto anyone else, who might function as a scapegoat, a convenient object of blame.
This was classically observed last century in Germany with the rise of Adolph Hitler during the Great Depression. To help the people regain their confidence as a nation, he blamed it all on Jewish people, even though the economic downturn had actually come out of the Wall Street stock market crash.
Projection functions equally well, on an individual level, where a husband accuses his wife of infidelity while he is having an affair on the side.
Projection happens on a global level, where Islam, as a world religion is blamed for sanctioning Jihad, or religious warfare. It is always the other guy, the other religion. Why mention the Christian Crusades against the Holy Land? It would be all too inconvenient.
Indulging in projection has several unfortunate consequences:
When I was just out of college, I did an encounter group where I made naïve, global statements, and everyone in the circle proceeded to handle me and put me in my place. Until I had done a lot more work in the human potential and transformation movements, I couldn’t see just how I had set myself up.
Over the years, I learned to question my own perceptions without beating myself up. Maybe I am not right about such and such a woman or man. Maybe she or he is telling me something I need to hear.
The ultimate challenge is to love even the hypocrites. This is made vastly easier when we realize that we have all played hypocrite from time to time.