Projection is a basic psychological mechanism which human beings deploy all the time, albeit unconsciously. Projection is universal. For example, we project our values onto suitable authority figures and organisations and then ascribe these values to them. We then cite the fact that these important people hold these values must mean they are true. The essential point is that we have ‘forgotten’ about the original projection.
Our use of projection, consciously or otherwise, is a powerful and transformational concept combining elements of accountability, responsibility and judgment.
With projection, we externalise our feelings and beliefs about ourselves onto the world around us. These qualities can be both positive and negative.
The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology says:
Projection is a symbolic process by which one’s own traits, emotions, dispositions, etc are ascribed to another person. Typically accompanying this projection of one’s own characteristics onto another individual is a denial that one has these feelings or tendencies.
And Jung said:
Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be… All the contents of our unconscious are constantly being projected into our surroundings, and it is only by recognising certain properties of the objects as projections or images that we are able to distinguish them from the real properties of the objects.
According to Freud, projection is the tendency to see our own unacceptable desires in other people. We still have the desires, but they’re not our desires anymore, they belong to others.
Charles Rycroft points out that the source of what we project, ie the source of the negative self-concepts, is a past experience where we have ‘learnt’ from another person that these self-concepts are ‘true’. We are not born with negative self-concepts.
An important component of projection used for judgment is denial. We cannot see that the thing we judge the other person for is not only within us, but is also something we are judging ourselves for.
Most studies of human consciousness agree on the nature of projection, but the extent to which we are projecting does seem to be an area of discussion. Some people believe our outer world consists entirely of our projections—hence the saying ‘perception is projection’.
It is worth pointing out that we don’t project the same things onto everybody. This is borne out by the experiences of buddies which the course offers (see the notes of types of person): different people can ‘display’ different projections for us.
Understanding projection is fundamental in learning about ourselves, and in creating success for ourselves and others. Projection is the technique we use to judge others.
Where we judge others, we remain separate and cannot move forward. It is important to understand that learning from our projections on others is crucial to our own success and that of any organisation we are a part of.
As a footnote, it is worth emphasising that projection, as a psychological mechanism, is values-neutral. When we fall in love with someone, we are recognising in them those good things about ourselves which e have suppressed over the years for a variety of reasons.
by Jeremy Marchant, with thanks to Jeff Allen and Ian Haugh for content . © 2007 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 8 june 2015 . image: Free images