Until now I never really understood the mechanism of projections and what they opened for if seen not as the truth about other people but about ourselves. How is it that we see in others what we like and don’t like in ourselves? Debbie Ford defines projection as “an involuntary transfer of our own unconscious behaviour onto others, so it appears to us that those qualities actually exist in other people. Since we lie to ourselves about our internal feelings, the only way we can find them is to see them in others”. Makes sense: how else would I recognise something as arrogance if I didn’t know it? The others, who have the honour (often times the burden) of receiving our negative projections, have some quality that triggers that projection in us. So if I accept my own arrogance, I will not be affected by someone else’s because I will know I can be this way too. Doesn’t this also open for compassion towards others?
The problem with projections is that they actually prevent us from seeing people as they are. We are bumping into our own fears and emotions, talking to ourselves and our memories instead of the real people. We might even think we know them but in fact have very little clue about what’s behind this wall we build between ourselves and other people. How very sad!
In her book Debbie Ford describes how she applied the holographic model (that each of us is a microcosm of the macrocosm and therefore we contain everything, capable of having ALL the traits of the universe) in this work and how she step by step went through the whole range of emotions and human conditions that in the beginning she could not identify with. She tried to imagine situations in which she could exhibit those traits or develop those types of behaviour and saw that under different circumstances she could be all that. As hard as she tried, she could not imagine herself being a murder or a rapist, though. Under specific circumstances, she could, was her conclusion again. The lines from Thich Nath Hahn’s famous poem come up when I think of how quick I am sometimes at saying “I would never do that!”.
I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
From Call Me By My True Names, The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh
When I realise that I can be and do anything (it doesn’t mean of course that I am ready to justify those types of behaviour), I cannot help but wish for a society in which it is easier for all beings to be good and ask myself how I can contribute where I am right now to co-create this world.
Did projections onto others ever help you learn something about the totality of who you are? How did it influence your relationship with the person who was mirroring you?