This is one of those heart wrenching stories that shows us what blindness to the shadow in ourselves, and not standing up against it when expressed in others, can bring about (there are of course many other aspects to this issue besides projections.)
We all have our ideas of what it would be good to teach and learn in schools, and a top candidate on my list – along with interpersonal skills and learning about group dynamics and facilitation – is projections. How do we recognize, and then work with, our projections, and in particular our shadow? And how do we deal with others, as individuals or groups, when they are in the grips of their shadow?
Some of the warning signs of being in the grips of the shadow are…
- A strong sense of separation between I/us and you/them
- Seeing us as good/right and them as wrong/evil/bad (or reversed, in unusual cases)
- Strong emotions of fear or hatred, and variations of those (disgust, unease, etc.), and seeing “them” as triggering or even causing it
- A certainty of being right
- A dehumanization of the “other”
- A lack of empathy with the “other”
- An inability to recognize our common humanity, seeing in myself what I see in them, and the other way around
- Reacting in a stronger way than what the situation seems to warrant (as seen by others who are not in the grips of a similar shadow)
- Overgeneralizing and broadening the group of “other” to include people who rationally do not have anything to do with what triggered our fear/hatred in the first place (such as the children of German soldiers in Norway)
- A fear/hatred, combined with dehumanization, which – in its extreme expression – can go to the point of wanting to eliminate the “other”, or at least make their lives miserable
We all do this of course, although rarely in its extreme form. But the difference is (a) whether we recognize what is going on or not, (b) how we express it (we always do, even when we try not to), and (c) how we work with it if at all.
I have heard people talk about working with projections in general, including through processes such as The Work, as impractical – just an interesting philosophy. Fun to explore superficially, but nothing of real value. But if it is engaged with wholeheartedly and with sincerity, there are few things as practical and impactful in our lives, and for those we are in relationship with.
It goes to the core of what it means to be human and how we live our life. It can even prevent or soften the impact of the horrors the “Nazi children” in Norway, and in other European countries, went through… and others go through daily around the world.
When we sincerely work on our shadow, it is a practical act of compassion, not only for ourselves but for others as well. It helps us act on our own shadow less blindly, and deal with it more effectively – and with more clarity – when those around us are in the grips of their own shadow.