Seeing the new King Kong movie a few days ago sparked a (renewed) interest in shadow projections. Specifically, what are the typical shadow projections today? What are the typical projections of our current western culture, and of some subcultures?
Projections just means that whatever we see out there, in the external world beyond our human self, is something we recognize from in here, in our internal world inside of our human self. Otherwise, we wouldn’t recognize it – we would be blind to it.
And projections can be conscious or not. When they are conscious, we are aware that we see in others what we know from ourselves. When they are not conscious, we see a characteristic as out there and not in here.
The unconscious projections take two general forms. If the quality is seen as desirable from our worldview, it comes up in the form of attraction to the projection object. If we perceive it as undesirable, it takes the form of aversion.
Although there are many specific techniques to work with projections, there is a general guideline: whatever quality I see in the outer world is also here in my inner world. It is not a question of if, only of how. How is it lived, how does it come out? How can I relate to it with more awareness? And if it is a desirable quality, how can I nurture it and bring it out more?
And the effects of bringing projections into awareness are many. They include deepening empathy (seeing in myself what I see in others), deepening sense of intimacy with my inner and outer worlds (myself and others), widening repertoire of qualities and characteristics (more familiar with more of them), and a more conscious way of relating to them when they come up in myself and others.
Shadow projections 101
Shadows are one form of projections. When we have a limited conscious identity – which we all do – something is left out. And some of what is left out is seen as undesirable in our conscious worldview. This is then the shadow. That which does not fit our conscious identity, and is seen as undesirable to boot.
Typical shadow objects include primitives and monsters (both seen in King Kong), bandits and criminals, ghosts and aliens, political opponents, people from other ethnic groups, poor or rich (depending on where you are), and so on.
When a shadow object comes up and triggers this projection for us, there is often a sense of aversion and antipathy towards the object and a tendency to dehumanize it.
For instance, I may have an image of myself as an honest, self-made and upstanding citizen, and seeing a homeless person triggers my shadow. I may see him as a parasite on society, someone who is lazy and does not deserve any help from taxpayers. I make him less than human. And there is very little empathy, as there is very little recognition of myself in him. I cannot see those qualities in my current life (although they are bound to be there), and I cannot see that I am only a couple of paychecks – or a major illness – away from the situation he is in now.
Wars and oppression in any form is fueled by shadow projections. They are the main tool of oppressive regimes and movements anywhere.
Projections 101: Big Mind & human self
Another aspect here is how integrating projections show up slightly differently at the Big Mind and human self levels.
As Big Mind, we are whatever happens. There is no room or possibility for projections, because it is all me anyway. As my human self, I can see in myself what I see out there, and there is indeed room for projections – blind and conscious.
Working on projections at a human self level can help us awaken as Big Mind, and it can definetely help us bring it into daily life and live from Big Mind. And becoming familiar with ourselves as Big Mind also helps us work with projections on a human level. We have already experienced how it is to be all there is, so it is not so foreign when we bring it into our human level.
Current shadow projections
To find our shadow projections, individually or more collectively, we can look in two places.
One is our conscious identity – whatever is left out tends to be in the shadow. The other is those we tend to see as “other” and a disturbance.
So what are the typical shadow projections in our current western culture? It is obviously complex as there are many worldviews even here – so there will be many shadows as well.
If we look at our identity first, we see that it tends to include an idea of progress and tolerance. This means that anyone who is seen as regressive and/or intolerant tends to become shadow objects.
Fundamentalists tends to fall into this category, whether they are muslim, christian or of any other brand. And this is also what we see. Fundamentalist muslims are almost universally made into the “other” in current western civilization – they are seen as a disturbance, and they are dehumanized in various ways as well. This dehumanization can be blatant as seen in the use of torture and indefinite detainment of suspected muslim terrorists, and more subtle in for instance our lack of sincere exploration of their views and the possible grains of truth in it.
And by more progressive westerners, christian fundamentalists (happily confined mostly to the US) are seen as an equal problem, and maybe even more troublesome as they are inside of our own culture and influences policies and the direction of our society.
Fundamentalists are also who are most often seen as “other” today, which is another indication that they serve as projection objects.
Using the Spiral Dynamics framework, we see that at any first tier level, any of the other levels can fall into the shadow – maybe especially those next to us at either side. And second tier is not immune to shadow projections either.
Fundamentalism is a blue expression, and their perceived “enemies” are at red and orange mostly. Similarly, those most dismayed by fundamentalism are typically at orange.
The new King Kong movie has another example of this. On top of the layer of old shadow projections (from the 1930s movie, with primitives and monsters), there was a another layer of shadow projections – this time of the brutality of civilization. And this seems to be one of the typical shadow elements of the Spiral Dynamics green level. We see the brutality of civilization “out there” in others, in Bush and CEOs and people in biplanes shooting primates, but we don’t see the same brutality in how we live our own life.