One of the most common – and most destructive – pitfalls in any relationship is the phenomenon known as projection. Projection occurs when we attach a quality, belief, motive, or feeling that we have disowned in ourselves onto another person. For example, to avoid feeling that we’re not good enough, we judge others as inadequate.
Projection is destructive to relationships for two major reasons:
It prevents us from truly knowing and accepting ourselves.
It prevents us from truly knowing and accepting others. In addition, the traits or feelings we have denied in ourselves have an unexpressed energy that acts like a magnet, repeatedly attracting the “wrong” people into our lives until we’re willing to accept both the light and dark sides of ourselves.
Frequently, we are unaware that we are projecting and unaware that the very trait we are projecting is our own. A man who thinks that his boss secretly hates him may actually be projecting his own hidden rage against authority. Or a woman who is feeling tempted to have an extramarital affair may become obsessed with the idea that her husband is being unfaithful. At one point or another, we have all used projection as an unconscious defense to avoid looking inward.
Take the following quiz to help you see how much you are projecting – and learn what you can do to experience greater peace, acceptance, and love for yourself and in all of your relationships.
The essential nature of the universe is the coexistence of opposites. You cannot be virtuous if you do not have the capacity for evil. You cannot be wise if you do not have an inner fool. And you cannot be generous if you do not have a stingy person inside you. In fact, the most enlightened people are those who accept their own ambiguity and full potential for light and dark. As the Vedic seers observed, “The measure of your enlightenment is your level of comfort with your own paradoxes.”
The first step to stop projecting is to see when you’re doing it. Negativity is a major clue that you are projecting, for projection is never neutral. It expresses itself as negative energy because what it’s disguising is negative.
Connect to your hidden feelings. The moment that you realize you are projecting a hidden feeling is when you need to connect to what you're really feeling. Don’t delay because the opportunity will quickly evaporate. Just before you deploy your defense, you actually feel that which you don’t want to feel. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” and tune in to the sensations in your body. Feelings are called feelings because we feel them in our body. Our minds may try to rationalize or dismiss feelings, but the body never lies. To connect to your feelings, you will need to be alert, wiling, open, honest, and courageous.
Make peace with your feelings. Once you are in touch with your feeling, acknowledge it. Don’t attack the feeling, bemoan it, or apologize for it or even try to feel “fine” about your unwanted feeling. All of these strategies reinforce denial of feelings. As strange as it may sound, feelings have feelings, and they know when they are unwanted and will cooperate by going underground. Fear cooperates by trying to hide. Anger cooperates by pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s impossible to accept an unwanted feeling, and until you simply allow and acknowledge a feeling, it will persist. That is all you need to do. Tell your feeling, “I see you. You belong to me.”
As you practice acknowledging your feelings, they will start to feel less unwanted and then they will begin to tell you their story. Every feeling contains a story: “I am this way for a reason.” Be receptive to the story that emerges, no matter what it is. Most painful stories of guilt, shame, resentment, inferiority, and other primal negativity are rooted in childhood. Imagine the small child that you were and, as best you can, be gentle and accepting. Remind yourself that you had a valid reason for denying or rejecting a feeling or aspect of yourself.
Now that you are an adult, you no longer need to protect yourself from a childhood that is long past. You can now experience the full range of your emotions in complete safety, knowing that you aren’t a threatened child but a magnificent spirit. The more you practice allowing your feelings – and meditation is a powerful tool in this process – the more peace, love, and self-acceptance will expand in your experience.
Exercise #2: The Mirror of Relationship
The following exercise will help you start to embrace your own duality, which in turn will eliminate the need to project onto others..
First, think of someone you find very attractive. On the left side of a piece of paper, list ten or more qualities that you love in that person. Write quickly. The secret is to not give your conscious mind time to edit your thoughts. You can put down as many qualities as you wish, but don’t stop until you have at least ten.
Now focus on somebody who totally irritates you, annoys you, or "makes" you uncomfortable in some way. Why does this person infuriate you so much? On the right side of the paper, list ten or more of their undesirable qualities.
The next step is to look at your list for the person you find attractive and circle the three qualities that you find most appealing about him or her. Then look at the list on the right side of the paper and circle the three qualities you find most offensive. Now read the six words you circled out loud. You are all of these qualities.
Once you see yourself in others, you will find it much easier to connect with them and discover unity consciousness. Finding a person you dislike is an opportunity to embrace the coexistence of opposites in yourself and experience your connection to universal consciousness. Similarly, realizing that the qualities you admire in others are also blossoming in you helps you become more fully yourself.