Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reflections on Projections - Part 1

In my last two blogs here I have referred to the term "projection" without taking the time to clearly define it.  Even without defining it though, I suspect many of you will have an intuitive understanding of what it means.  However, just to clarify, I will first refer once again to the book  Invisible Partners by John Sanford  wherein "projection" is described as follows:

"Projection is a psychic mechanism that occurs whenever a vital aspect of our personality of which we are unaware is activated.  When something is projected we see it outside of us, as though it belongs to someone else and has nothing to do with us.  Projection is an unconscious mechanism.  We do not decide to project something, it happens automatically. If we decided to project something it would be conscious to us and then, precisely because it is conscious to us, it could not be projected.  Only unconscious contents are projected; once something has become conscious projection ceases." (Pp. 10-11) 

(One might wonder, "Why are only unconscious contents projected?" I will offer my answer to that question shortly.)

Also in previous blogs I have referred to "anima" as a man's "inner feminine" nature and "animus" as a woman's "inner masculine" nature.  As Sanford explains, part of the reason people never become fully conscious of these elements of their own personalities is because they are so often "projected". He writes:

"...[T]he anima and animus have, for millennia of mankind's history, been projected onto mythological figures, onto the gods and goddesses who have peopled our spiritual world, and, perhaps most important of all, onto living men and women. The gods and goddesses of Greek mythology can be understood as personifications of different aspects of the masculine or the feminine archetype*.  Mythology has long been the way in which the human psyche personified itself, and as long as people believed in the living reality of their gods and goddesses they could, through appropriate ritual and worship, effect some sort of relationship to their psychic world." (P. 10)

(*Emphasis mine and I will get back to this shortly.)

He goes on to say:

"When the anima and animus are projected onto other people our perception of them is remarkably altered.  For the most part, man has projected the anima onto woman, and woman has projected the animus onto man.  Woman has carried for man the living image of his own feminine soul or counterpart, and man has carried for woman the living image of her own spirit. This has led to many unusual and often unfortunate consequences, since these living realities within ourselves often have a peculiarly powerful or irritating effect." (Pp 10-11)

In addition:

"Because the anima and animus are projected, we do not usually recognize that they belong to us, for they appear to be outside of us.  On the other hand, once the phenomenon of projection is recognized, these projected images, can, to a certain extent, be taken back into ourselves, for we can use projections as mirrors in which we see the reflection of our own psychic contents*.  If we discover the anima or animus image has been projected onto a man or a woman, that makes it possible for us to see in the reflection contents of our own psyche that otherwise might escape us." (P. 11)

(*Emphasis mine. Again, I will be addressing this below.)

There are two things I'd like to draw attention to here. The first is that where our projections once expressed themselves in the myths and stories of gods and goddesses, we now have an entirely new forum in which these projections take place, over and over again - Modern Media. Whether it is television or cinema, magazines or video games, hip-hop or country western music, our closest neighbors or someone half-way around the world -  these "projections" are more present all around us than ever before. In fact we are being bombarded by them constantly.  Given the function of "mirror neurons", automatically internalizing all of these images for us, it is extremely difficult for people to avoid being influenced and shaped by what they are seeing, day in and day out.

The second point I will go into in more detail shortly, but for now I would like to offer that not only is the perception of the other person "remarkably altered" when they are seen through a "projection" of anima or animus, but the anima and animus themselves are distorted in the process of projection.  Therefore, we have to be careful to accept without question the idea that  "The gods and goddesses of Greek mythology can be understood as personifications of different aspects of the masculine or the feminine archetype."  If they are "personifications" at all, I will explain later why they cannot necessarily be trusted as accurate "personifications of different aspects of the masculine and feminine archetype."

Sanford writes: "Empirical evidence for the reality of the anima and animus can be found wherever the psyche spontaneously expresses itself.  The anima and the animus appear in dreams, fairy tales, myths, the world's great literature, and, most of all, in the varying phenomena of human behavior." (Pp 6-7)

I would contend that it does not have to be "great literature" for these projections of anima and animus to take place.  In fact, I am slowly but surely coming to the conclusion that most if not all of our "creative" efforts to characterize human behavior will, of necessity, be projections.  Furthermore, in many cases, we think what we are expressing creatively is somehow "true to life" - in part because it does reflect the very same tendencies we have in life - i.e. for women to project their animus onto men and for men to project their anima onto women (and more generally for unconscious aspects of ourselves to be projected onto other people, regardless of gender).  However,  when viewing other human beings/ourselves through great literature, or on the big screen, or on the small screen, or the cover of a magazine, or in all the creative forms available to us - we are actually seeing Second Order projections; i.e. illusions On Top Of Illusions, "projections" about "projections".  

And further more, these projections are self-perpetuating in what I would consider a  negative loop: 1) The projection goes out and is "seen" as an actual human being.  2) Then someone creatively represents what they think they saw of that human being as a character in a movie or story. 3) Someone watches that movie or reads that story and internalizes that character, thinking that is the way "real people" act (or should act). 4) Then they try to embody that character, only to repress some other natural character in themselves. 5) What gets repressed is what then becomes part of the unconscious to be projected back out into the world and the whole cycle repeats itself.

Therefore: Projections Are Double Illusions.

First of All: When projected from the unconscious, anima and animus disguise the person onto whom they are projected giving the person making that projection a False View of the other person, either positive or negative.  In either case, they are Not Seeing the Other Person As They Truly Are.  

Second: (And I am presenting a challenge here):  Sanford and Jung contend that "we can use projections as mirrors in which we see the reflection of our own psychic contents".  But what I am offering is that the person making the projection is also Not Seeing the content of their unconscious "inner masculine" or "inner feminine" for what It Truly Is.  But to understand why, we have to answer the question I posed earlier:  Why is the unconscious content "projected" in the first place?

This is my "theory":  In order to "project" there has to be enough energy in the anima or animus to get beyond the subconscious and even outside of the conscious mind.  Consequently, the anima and animus come across as exaggerated, distorted versions of themselves, which means...even if we were to seek "self-knowledge" through recognizing our projections, that self-knowledge would not be "true" necessarily as we are seeing only exaggerated distorted versions of what comes up and out of the unconscious.

One of the best ways I know to describe this is with the metaphor of holding a plastic ball under water.  If you push it down with enough force, it will eventually "explode" out of your control and Out of the Water altogether.  Once you let go of it, or lose control of it, the ball doesn't just gently rise to the surface. No. It "explodes" out of the water.  And you might think to yourself, "There's something wrong with that ball that it would act that way!" However, the only reason why the "ball" accumulated that kind of energy in the first place was because it was being repressed.  Left on their own - floating naturally in view of one's conscious awareness, "balls", the "anima" and "animus", one's emotions, natural tendencies, ideas about oneself, etc. would not go "out of control", they would not come out as exaggerated versions of themselves either in their negative or positive aspects.

(Although the "Ball Under the Water" metaphor is one I've been using for a few years now, I've had another one come to mind recently involving a metal "Slinky".  I know as a kid, for some reason it was just so tempting to twist the Slinky really tightly in upon itself and try to keep it from "exploding" into a tangled mess. But, inevitably, that is exactly what would happen. Even if I were able to get the Slinky untangled after the fact, it would never be quite the same, its thin metal spiral would be bent here and there; i.e. "distorted", if not from the tension of my twisting, then by the consequence of the "explosion" once the forces on it became too great for me to control. But, it certainly wasn't The Slinky's fault that it "exploded" like that!)

Most people do not realize how much they repress in themselves, or even that they Are repressing certain things. I think most people can accept the idea that we start to repress things even as children. Jung has suggested repression actually starts within our very genes, when we are differentiated biologically as "male" or "female".

Sanford explains: 

"The simplest and earliest definition Jung offered is that the anima personifies the feminine element in man, and the animus personifies the masculine element in a woman.... [In addition], the anima, Jung has suggested, personifies on the psychological plane [the] minority of feminine genes [in a man], and, in the case of a woman, the animus personifies the minority of masculine genes.

"If this is so, that which makes men and women different is not that men are entirely Yang and women Yin, for each sex contains the other within; it is the fact that a man ordinarily identifies his ego with his masculinity and his feminine side is unconscious to him, while a woman identifies herself consciously with her femininity, and her masculine side is unconscious to her." (Pp. 12 - 13)

He goes on to  suggest that the "ego" tends to identify with the body, male or female, thus forcing the "opposite" nature into the realm of the unconscious.  At the same time, some may become over-identified with their "opposite" nature leading to a more homosexual presentation to the outside world (if not the actuality.)

Sanford writes:

"All of this has important implications for the relationship between the sexes.  As stated above, men, identified with their masculinity, typically project their feminine side onto women, and women, identified with their feminine nature, typically project their masculine side onto men. These projected psychic images are the Invisible Partners in every man-woman relationship, and greatly influence the relationship, for wherever projection occurs the person who carries the projected image is either greatly overvalued or greatly undervalued.  In either case, the human reality of the individual who carries a projection for us is obscured by the projected image." (P. 13)

What this also means is that we are currently living in a world of exaggerated versions of ourselves, and maybe, more importantly, we are all trying so very hard to live up to (or, in some cases, down to) similarly exaggerated expectations of what it means to be a human being. I dare say most of us have no idea of what it means to be an Ordinary Human Being, an Ordinary Man, or an Ordinary Woman.  At the same time, it is no wonder that our lives are so full of stress and disappointment, extreme highs and lows, various neurosis and psychosis, and searches of all kinds.

But in truth:  How many people do you personally know who act like people you have seen in the movies? How many people do you personally know who are as good or as evil as characters you have seen portrayed through any number of media? How many men or women have you known that you are certain you saw for Who They Were and not as (distorted) projections of your own animus or anima respectively?

As Paul K. Chappell has written in his book Peaceful Revolution: Truth is eternal. Lies have a lifespan.

Our "projections" are lies, not only about the other person, but, as I am suggesting here, they are even lies about ourselves. The projections are distortions of what is inside of us, not the reality. So even though there may be something to gain from "seeing projections as reflections", with this particular reading of Invisible Partners, I am considering the possibility that even that self-understanding, though useful, may not be entirely "true", and should be considered with "a grain of salt" as the saying goes.

Finally, although we may take at face value Jung's assumption that repression starts with our genes, when we are biologically differentiated as "male" and "female", we all know that it does not stop there. I dare say within the various cultures of man we have discovered as many ways to repress ourselves as we have to express ourselves.  I'm afraid we are far from the place where we live, moment by moment, with "all the balls on the water" as a personal and cultural norm.  But, I believe, with better and more thorough understanding of the mechanisms of repression and projection, we might just have a chance to see through all of the lies and illusions and find out For Real what it is like to live as relaxed, balanced, and (otherwise) ordinary human beings.

I, for one, am looking forward to that!  And to that end, I will continue to share what is coming to my mind regarding all of this.  And, there is definitely more to come. So...Stay Tuned!