I was introduced to the phenomenon known as “Projection” from the late Debbie Ford who was my mentor and teacher. Amongst Debbie's many accomplishments, she was an internationally recognized expert in the field of personal transformation, a New York Times bestselling author, and the founder of The Ford Institute, where I was certified as a Professional Integrative Shadow Coach.
In discussions around projection, Debbie would passionately share that we only see in others that which we are, and whatever we don’t own about ourselves we project onto others. She explained, Projection “is an involuntary transfer of our own unconscious behavior onto others, so it appears to us that these qualities actually exist in the other people.”
Initially, I had a hard time with this concept. I understood the words, but I was resistant to becoming open enough to consider how “Projection” was expressed in my life. As I continued my training, this concept continued to haunt me. In time, I came to realize and accept, if I truly wanted to help others I had to commit to doing my own work.
“What you can’t be with won’t let you be.” ~ Debbie Ford
Let’s explore Projection…
Projection is a common process in everyday life. At its core, it is an unconscious self-defense mechanism of our ego that protects us. In this process, the people around us reflect back to us the parts of ourselves we have disowned or tried to hide. It is a way to avoid painful unconscious feelings, like being controlling, angry, insecure, etc. It also keeps us from acknowledging and embracing our own untapped potential that we’ve projected onto others.
While growing up, many of us learned to judge qualities within ourselves as wrong or unacceptable, and because of this we went to great lengths to hide parts of our character by disowning them. As we refuse to recognize these disowned qualities in ourselves, we project them out into the world, freeing ourselves from the discomfort of accepting them as our own.
The process of Projection is often thought of as negative, however, there’s also positive projection. Whether the qualities we’re rejecting are desirable or undesirable, the outcome is separation from qualities that are part of who we are. Anytime we can’t be with some part of ourselves, some quality, we unconsciously project it out on into the world.
As a Shadow coach, I often support my clients with uncovering Projections; however, I recently had an opportunity to take back one of my haunting projections ... "insecurity". For months, I could not figure out why I was so charged or plugged into the behavior of the 45th President. I would say I didn’t want to hear his voice, yet I couldn’t stop flipping channels to hear his voice … judging every action. In doing my own work, I realized I had been projecting my insecurities onto the President. Countless times I referred to him as being insecure; yet, I was unable to acknowledge the insecurities that haunt me. Acknowledging my insecurity is a gift I have given to myself. I now have the courage to make choices that will empower me to step out on faith! Not to mention, I’m no longer channel flipping -:)
In the past, I projected my light so much that I found it almost impossible to receive a compliment without finding a way to minimize the gift. I unconsciously rejected my ability to receive love and affection; as well as, my intellect, confidence, courage, faith, and the unlimited God given gifts that dwell within. Sadly, I had become out of integrity with myself!
I honestly believe I was unconsciously programmed to graciously give rather than receive. So much so, if someone gave me something, I immediately went into “what can I do for them” mode! That’s until one day, I shared my feelings with my metaphysics teacher and he shared with me how selfish that was for me to give…give…give to others without allowing them the gift of giving and sharing with me. I hadn’t realized how my thoughts/actions/behaviors were affecting the natural flow of giving and receiving.
When we project our dark/light qualities onto others, they then become the carrier of our disowned qualities. We are actually saying to them what we should be saying to ourselves! The displacement of our repressed emotions seems to make it easier for us to live with ourselves because we have unconsciously made everyone else responsible for our life. In truth, we are surrendering our ability to consciously accept “all” of who we are, and to make choices that are in alignment with creating our best life!
How do we know when we are Projecting?
Almost anything that upsets us or disturbs our peace is likely some form of projection.
According to Philosopher Ken Wilber, “if someone’s behavior 'affects' you – you feel stirred up, righteous, upset or are vigorously protesting, you are most likely experiencing a projection.” And “if someone’s behavior 'informs' you – you are taking it in as information without being affected – then you are not in projection.”
Signs you are Projecting: You are…
· 100% convinced you're 100% right, and you're positive the other person is wrong
· Critical, only see what’s wrong with another
· You have been described in the same way you describe another
· Experiencing an overwhelming sense of panic or anxiety
· “Plugged in”, upset or emotionally affected by another’s negative or positive traits.
Am I in Projection or is another Projecting onto me?
All of us have projected our thoughts, feelings, motivation and desires onto others, and have been on the other end of projection. However, we are seldom clear when our own "stuff" is the cause of the conflict. Many of us learned to project onto others as we were growing up when our parents, siblings, or caregivers projected their unconscious feeling, thoughts, and motivations onto us.
In our interactions with others, we have an unconscious tendency to take our own thoughts and feelings and assign them to those with whom we interact. Because we don’t generally recognize we’re doing this as it’s happening, we start to believe our own story about the other person.
Here are a few ways of determining whether what someone says about you is really a reflection of them. This will also help to show if you are projecting your own issues onto another.
Is their opinion of me something I’ve felt about myself?
· On any level, is what’s being said true? If someone is offering compliments, do their words feel authentic? If not, it’s likely not about you. On the other hand, if your heart fills when someone calls you generous, it’s because you know you are, and they have given you a thoughtful gift.
Has their opinion of me been expressed by other people?
· In general, other people’s perceptions of you will be similar. So, if one person is telling you that you are arrogant and stubborn, while everyone else sees you as kind, patient, and tolerant, then it’s most likely that this one person is bringing their own issues into what they are saying about you.
Does the other person have a hidden agenda?
· Is the person telling you something because they want something from you emotionally, physically, or spiritually? Are they coming from a place of love or fear? If they have an agenda, then whatever you’re being told about yourself, good or bad, is likely to be manipulation on their part and not a reflection on you.
It’s not what happens it’s how we respond to it. The words or actions of others simply show us what we are capable of, not necessarily who or what we are, and are learning opportunities. These unexpected experiences assist us in the process of expressing discernment, tolerance, compassion, and gratitude. We are shown the potential to be confident, inspiring, and happy; we are also shown the potential to be fearful, negative and judgmental. What we choose to be is up to us.
Overcoming Projection and Disowned Qualities
The first step to facing an issue that is affecting our life is admitting we have one. We must be willing to love ourselves as we are before we can become open to acknowledging our perceived flaws/gifts, and to use them as a catalyst for personal growth.
Breaking down our projections requires self-awareness, practice, and patience. When we become clear of our disowned qualities and projections we gain access to our gifts that can be used to transform our life. Owning them will restore our power and ability to make conscious choices, and leads to greater freedom.
The more we understand that we have every quality we see in our outer world the less anyone will be able to take away our power by calling us that.
Integrating Disowned Qualities or Projection
Unconcealing – Discovering the quality you reject
The first step toward understanding when you're projecting is to ask yourself; what have I contributed to the situation?
Ownership/Acceptance – Really owning “I am that”
We are all responsible for our own emotions. If you notice yourself blaming something on someone else or projecting your own thoughts or feelings onto another, take a step back; what are you needing or not acknowledging? The goal is to bring the focus back to your experience rather than focusing on others.
Embracing - Finding the gift in the quality - Ask yourself a few important questions:
What do I need right now?
What do I not want to feel right now?
What feels familiar to me about this situation?