There’s one thing that drives me crazy about my husband: I can’t stand it when he’s trying to tell me what to do.
Like a few months ago. The printer refused to do its job, and he wanted to give me some advice how to solve the problem.
Mind you, I asked him about it.
But as soon as he came up with some suggestions about what might be wrong, I got mad.
“Don’t tell me what to do”, I hissed.
He just shrugged it off.
This had been going on for a while, so I finally took a hard look at myself. Why in the world was it so difficult for me to accept input from the person I love most? I don’t mind listening to suggestions from my colleagues.
I practically solicit advice from experts I don’t know personally. But when it comes to our closest companions, all bets are off.
The dynamic behind the problem is projection. What I mistakenly projected onto my husband in these moments was that he was holding all the power in the relationship. The five-year-old in me that didn’t have a lot of control growing up suddenly resurfaced, terrified that she wouldn’t have any input whatsoever.
In order to stave off fear and loss of control, I put up a wall and the gloves came off.
Irrational reactions like that are often unconscious. Especially when the response is explosive and seemingly over the top, we know that projection is at work. But as soon as we make the issue conscious, we can do something about it.
Projection is commonly defined as blaming someone else for something that is in us, but we don’t particularly like about ourselves. It’s hard to admit to it, so we point the finger at someone else.
The trick is to find the gold in the dirt. Every “bad” quality has a flipside to it that is productive and useful.
I have learned to admit (sometimes) that I can be controlling. I also learned to reframe that energy as a positive thing: that I can assert myself without having to go overboard.
The famous Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the denied qualities of a person their shadow. There are parts of each personality that cannot be admitted to, so they are pushed into the shadows, where they develop a life of their own. If never dealt with and under constant pressure, they can get very dangerous: it will always be them who do wrong, and they must be fought against.
This is how enemies are created—on an individual basis, and on a collective one, causing wars and genocide.
The fascinating thing about this is, that is goes the other way around as well. Just as we project negative characteristics onto others, we also project positive ones. What characteristics are admirable in others? Their wit, their wisdom, their social graces? That means that the seeds of these qualities are already in us!
Somewhere along the way we have learned to disown them, that it was dangerous to own our full power, so these character traits had to be assigned to someone else. It’s this uncle who is really fun, or that teacher who has all the answers.
But the truth is that we must nurture and reclaim these traits in ourselves so we can become the people we were supposed to be. By taking back our projections we take responsibility for our own life.
Disregarding our shadow and disowning our power is an enormous energy drain. That is part of why so many people are so exhausted all the time.
When I work with couples, or in groups, I draw attention to these projections. Common negative projections are neediness, grandiosity or anger. These are certainly some of mine. Many people, especially women, have learned to deny their own needs, their own greatness and their own resentment. So they are projected onto others.
Ever wonder why Donald Trump makes so many people cringe? His agenda is no more radical than that of his competitors. Yet he displays all the classic projections we see so much of: he is needy (for attention), he is grandiose (about his wealth), and he is angry (at all the subjects of his projections, most of all immigrants).
We must work to dissolve our projections, as individuals and as a society. As Jung said: “The most dangerous psychological mistake is the projection of the shadow onto others. This is the root of almost all conflicts.”
Author: Gerti Schoen
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: heatherlyone at Flickr