When desirable qualities such as creativity, sensuality, or leadership ability are incompatible with one’s self-image, they often get projected onto others.
Positive projection is frequently an integral part of falling in love. Carl Jung maintains that all impassioned, almost-magical relationships between people involve projection. The other person becomes the object of great love or loathing, and sometimes both.
We usually don’t see our own projections, because they stem from the unconscious, and because they get cast onto someone with a suitable hook. But we can distinguish projections from objective observations, because projections are accompanied by considerable heat or emotion found in the feelings of awe, adoration and reverence.
The problems with projection include the following:
1. Prevents objectivity. Projection often prevents people from being perceptive and objective about themselves and others.
2. Prevents personal development. Unconscious content that is projected onto another person becomes less accessible for personal integration. “She’s the articulate one.” “He decides where to vacation.” “She handles the finances.” Often people will hold back from developing the admired qualities in themselves.
3. Too much dependence. A person may get into an excessively dependent relation with the person who is the object of these positive projections. “He’ll handle the finances; he’s good at that.” “She’ll speak to the children; she’s good at that.”
4. Deep disappointment. Sooner or later the person on whom one is projecting admirable qualities won’t be able to live up to one’s expectations, which can lead to deep disappointment, frustration, and loathing.
So, we must refrain from expecting our partners to do what we can do for ourselves.
We cannot avoid having projections. Yet, we can pay attention to our projections and thereby learn what we can develop within ourselves. Projection provides a great deal of value when we realize that that which inspires us in others has been in us all along.
For instance, the heat with which you admire his “amazing intelligence and ability to speak” indicates that you value but disown those attributes in yourself. Being aware of your projection lets you know that something in you is seeking to develop your intelligence and eloquence.
You can take steps to develop these traits, such as taking classes, reading, and practicing public speaking by going to Toastmasters. Before long, consistent practice will lead to the realization of those attributes in yourself.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD