I’m doing a five-year insight meditation course, and the most recent topic for our meditation was projection.
Projection is, essentially, the act of attributing the traits that we deny in ourselves onto others. These can be negative, such as thinking someone else is aggressive, unfriendly, disorganised, or positive, such as thinking that someone else is confident, kind, loving, etc.
Projection is extremely common. We all do it all the time. Whenever there is blame, there is invariably projection occurring. Observing this as it happens takes away its power, and is one of the most liberating insights for people to experience. It’s hard to remain angry with someone else for being aggressive, for example, when you see the aggression coming from yourself!
For a while now, I’ve been doing a shadow exercise which fits nicely with projection and I’ve found very useful.
Do this exercise regularly, picking the person you’re most unhappy with, or do it whenever you find yourself really upset with someone else.
- First, imagine yourself telling a friend about what the person has done. Experience the feelings as fully as you can, describing them all in as much detail as you can.
- Next, imagine yourself talking to the person. They’re sitting in the chair while you describe what they are doing to you and how it has made you feel. Let them respond, so that the conversation flows both ways.
- Finally, describe the situation from the perspective of the other person. Become the person. How do you feel about what has happened, why are you acting and responding in the way you are? End it by affirming that you are this person.
In my own experience over time, I’ve found that the first part of the exercise becomes shorter and shorter, and that I go quickly to the second and third parts of the exercise. In everyday life, it becomes more difficult to talk or think badly about anyone else.
At the moment I’m finding that the situation I react most to is when I see others projecting onto a third person. So their projection allows me the space to project all sorts of unhelpful things onto the situation – my superiority at seeing what’s happening, and so on.
Projection can also happen at a larger scale. Groups, nations and beyond can also be blind to their own attributes. A quick glance at any of the news websites and the comments sections will tell you we have lots of shadow work to do!
Hearing others talk of their own experiences of projection has been really interesting. Many of them dealt with relationships, a wonderful mirror to see these things. An interesting one shared by a number of males revolved around a female partner having had greater sexual experience, having done wilder things, how this bothered them, indicating projection, and the feeling at the root of this, for example shame.
This kind of practise is easily misunderstood to mean passivity, doing nothing but blaming oneself. It’s not at all the same.
If a boulder is hurtling towards you, don’t stand there wondering how you caused the problem. Get out of the way! If someone in your life attacks you with a knife, get out of the way!
But there’s a different quality when projection onto a person is involved.
Next time you’re unhappy with someone, try the exercise above – you may be surprised what you find.