In daily life language, projections are sometimes referred to as slightly out of the ordinary and undesirable. You are projecting often means you are seeing something in me / them that’s really in you.
That’s not wrong. But there is a lot more to projections and they are a lot more rich and interesting – and even valuable.
The most basic form of projection is an overlay of thought on the world. We add labels, associations, stories and so on to a lot of things in the world, including ourselves. And that’s a projection. We “project” out the thoughts and ideas onto the world, and that’s essential for us to orient and navigate in the world. We wouldn’t function without it.
Sometimes, we are aware of what’s going on and we hold our projected thoughts and ideas lightly and as questions. (As they are.) And sometimes we mistakenly take our projected thoughts as true and inherent in the world “out there”. (And that creates stress and a lot of other things.)
When I say “overlay of thoughts on the world”, it’s a shortcut since “the world” is part of the overlay. It’s really an overlay of thought on the (other) sense fields – on sensations, sight, sounds, taste, smell, movement, and so on.
The other form of projections is charged projections. This is the one often referred to in daily life and pop culture. I see something “out there” in the wider world and not in myself, or the other way around.
That, in itself, can be without much or any charge. And when there is a charge around it, it’s because it’s part of the dynamic of an emotional issue, belief, or identification. (The charge comes from our mind associating certain sensations with the thought or story. The sensations lend charge and a sense of truth and solidity to the thoughts, and the thoughts give the sensations a sense of meaning.)
Why are charged projections essential?
They are essential to the emotional issue they are connected with. For instance, when we have a belief or identity saying that we are not this or that, then we have to see it in others and the world and not in ourselves. We create a mental filter that sets it up that way. These projections are typically integral parts of beliefs, identifications, and emotional issues.
And they are essential because when we project something out in this way, we can get familiar with it “out there”. We get to see it and explore it as if it’s (only) in another person or in the world somewhere. And in that is an invitation for us to see it in ourselves.
We have something in ourselves – a quality or characteristic – that we are not admitting to. We get to see it out there in others and the world. And though that, and perhaps feedback from others and the world, we have the possibility to get to know it in ourselves.
The projection is a necessary stepping stone and part of the process.
How can we explore our charged projections?
The first step is perhaps to be aware of this dynamic and explore it through specific examples in our own life or what we see in others. (Trump does it frequently and shamelessly so he is perhaps a good example.)
We can also learn to recognize the signs of charged projections. For instance, defensiveness, blame, annoyance, and any time a topic feels charged to us.
And we can use more structured approaches like parts work (subpersonalities), The Work of Byron Katie (very effective), and Living Inquiries (based on traditional Buddhist inquiry).
How can we explore the basic projections?
We can again be aware of the dynamic and see if we can notice it in daily life. For instance, look around where you are now. Close your eyes. Notice the mental images you have of your surroundings. These are created by your mind and are imaginations. Open your eyes again and see if you can notice the difference between the sensory impressions and this mental overlay that organizes and makes sense of your surroundings.
Two of the best structured approaches to explore this that I have found are Living Inquiries and The Work of Byron Katie.
- Why projections are essential
- overlay of thought
- project out on the world, on top of (other) sensory fields
- essential to function in the world
- charged projections
- see out there and not in here or reverse
- from / part of / reflect emotional issue, identification, belief
- help us preserve a certain image, avoid certain charged issues etc.
- get to know “out there” with the invitation to then find it in ourselves
- all essential in their own way
- overlay + split + recognition all essential
- overlay of thought