“Jesus formulated the conception of psychological projection two thousand years before depth psychology: ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye with never a thought for the great plank in your own eye?,’” writes Dr. Edward Edinger.
Carl Jung defines projection as when we see something in someone or something else, unintentionally, because of our subconscious mind. Dr. Bruce Lipton says that only five percent of our thinking it conscious. I am aware that I am typing at this moment. Yet my mind is active in many other ways – beating my heart, regulating my breath, digesting the hamburger I ate for lunch, and missing the woman I love. Therefore, ninety-five percent of our thinking is subconscious, meaning we are not aware of it. What we project onto a person or thing is part of our own mind or we might say Soul. Dr. Marie Von Franz writes that when we are projecting, we see something that is not there or only there in a small way. Usually there is a small part of what is being projected in the person or thing; rarely is there nothing in the person or object of what is projected.
Robert Johnson writes “when we awaken to a new possibility in our lives, we often see it first in another person. A part of us that has been hidden is about emerge, but it doesn’t go in a straight line from the unconscious to consciousness. It travels by way of an intermediary. We project our developing potentials onto someone, and suddenly we’re consumed with him or her. The first inkling that something in us is attempting to change is when we see another person sparkle for us.”
We may fall in love. Another example of projecting is when I can see my teacher as knowing everything. Another is when Jeff sees his dad as being mean and stupid. While it is true that people can be highly intelligent or stupid, a projection is an exaggeration. This problem with thinking is called, cognitive dissonance. Jeff thought his dad was so powerful and nice, but now Jeff’s dad seems dumb and nasty.
Where do projections begin? In the case of romantic love, we fall in love with someone who reflects the positive and negative qualities of our parents. Let’s say Jeff’s dad is a kind person and an engineer who works with computers. His dad is bright and does nice things for Jeff. Yet when Jeff’s dad gets mad, he yells and says things that do not make sense. If this is the case, Jeff will likely fall in love with a woman with kindness and intelligence. Yet she may have a temper and say irrational things at times. John Sanford points out that when we project on our beloved or anyone else, we either undervalue them or over value them. I may fall in love with someone and not see many of their faults. We may see the worst in our teacher and not see their sincere attempt to teach us something of value.
We can ruin our marriage with projections. A husband may demand that his wife have more sex, when he actually may need to develop his ability to connect with others by developing his social skills. A wife may complain to her husband that he does not talk, when she may need to learn to be quiet and listen to herself by writing in her journal or doing counseling. Intimate relationships work when they support the growth of each partner, children, other family, or friends. A marriage is a way to grow, but it also can be a way to avoid growing up.
It is helpful to make notes about this process of understanding a projection. I can learn to separate my projections from other people and things. First, I know that I am projecting when I have an emotional reaction larger than the situation. When I feel a great deal of anger because someone spit toothpaste on the mirror, then it is way too big – an exaggeration. To find out where it originates from I focus on the feeling of anger. I close my eyes and feel the sensations in my body. I notice where they are located in my body. Do I feel heat in my face and tension in my arms and hands? Just notice. Write it down in your journal.
Then, I close my eyes and relax, breathing slowly and deeply for a few minutes. Next, I focus on the event, like seeing the toothpaste spit on the mirror. I feel the anger and notice the sensations of anger in my body. Then, I let my mind wander back in time to the earliest time I felt the same way. This memory often represents the origin of the projection. It also is a part of a neural network in our mind. This is like a tree which has a negative thought and emotions as its root, like I am a filthy pig. The memory is my mother screaming at me, because someone obviously spit on the mirror of our family home. My mother yells at me and says, “You are a filthy pig!”
Watch this video from and learn more about how to work with projection.
Note: Carl Jung identified both a conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The Subconscious Mind was partly conscious and partly unconscious. Dr. Jung asserted that the Unconscious Mind is “really unconscious,” meaning we know nothing of it by our conscious mind. We can only see the influence of the Unconscious Mind in the Subconscious Mind. Modern research on the Conscious Mind and the Subconscious Mind differs in language from the writing of Carl Jung, but supports many of the general ideas of Dr. Jung’s writing during his long career and life that ended in 1961.
The term “Neural Network” relates to modern therapies like EMDR that work with the brain and its functioning. These “Neural Networks” are composed of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and memories – some conscious (Explicit Memories) and some subconscious (Implicit Memories).