(SeLoFest17 Post: Day 15, click here for all prompts so far)
Welcome to Psychology 101, class, today we will be talking about Psychological Projections.
I learned about projections in Santa Monica University, and we had to write a massive paper on it, which I had to redo because I guess I hadn’t explained that I understood projections correctly the first time. However, ever since the very first time I even heard about projections, which was even before uni, the concept has been one of the most essential tools in my evolution.
And part of me accepting that as such an essential tool in my life, was due to the fact that I had grown with a fiercely independent woman. Despite what my culture and society were simultaneously telling me, my mother was showing me that we did not need men, or anyone that didn’t want to be there, really, to get by, to raise a child, to have fun, to be happy. Eventually, I did put too much pressure on myself to “not need anyone” due to my own understanding and needs, but before that, there was one fierce understanding:
if someone doesn’t want to be with you, you don’t need them.
And it wasn’t just that, it was also the understanding that I was in charge of my own feelings. Because I didn’t want to give others the power to control my life. I understood this, yes, but as one does, I put myself in relationships with people then give them control of my emotions, which was stupid.
I’d like to think I’ve learned to not do that anymore.
Projections allowed me to take better responsibility for my feelings, to deeply understand that Eleanor Roosevelt quote in every poster in middle school: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
In Psychogy Today, Dr. Mathews says the following about projections:
“Some issue has been pushed into the unconscious. But that issue has energy and is constantly looking for release from its prison in the unconscious. So, it projects it through the lenses of the eye—a convex psychological eye that can only look at the external world rather than the internal one—and the issue is suddenly seen in someone else.” -Dr Andrea Mathews, Psychology Today
More simply put:
“Projection is a psychological defense mechanism in which individuals attribute characteristics they find unacceptable in themselves to another person.” GoodTherapy.Org
You see what you are.
What I did with this knowledge, and my natural inclination towards over-analyzing everything (can’t.stop.) was that every time someone caused any type of upset within me, I tried to figure out what part of me I was hiding from myself.
Or at least, that was my intention. Along with this understanding and these tools, I also developed entitlement. This was also part of an identity-forming that had taken place to due various factors that did not stop within my own household, but were also due to how society perceived me and how that entitled me to certain behavior, reactions, and experiences. Things like a good education, people being nice to me because they found me attractive or beautiful, having the ability to be myself for the most part because I presented in a way that was “normal” to people and thus did not make them uncomfortable, having a society that was fully adapted to able-bodied people as myself, and of course, being treated like a princess by my family.
So along with the intent desire to be in control and independent of my emotions, I also many times felt like people “owed” me a certain type of behavior. It has taken me being in my 30’s to really understand that, look at that, and tell myself “if you were disappointed, it was due to your own expectations. Reshape those expectations, and release disappointment.”
Is everything absolutely 100% My responsibility? No. Sometimes people are selfish, dense, hurt or afraid, and will hurt you. And there is or was nothing that “should” or “could” have been done differently, because the nature of life is balance, and that means disappointment sometimes. At that time, it is up to us to assume our responsibility to do what we can now, with what we have now, with the knowledge and experience to make us wiser now, and after an appropriate length of time licking our wounds,
Within the confines of our abilities, capacities, talents, and context. Continuously blaming the same person, the same thing, the outer world in general, or feeling like life is out to get us at a constant level is remaining in persistent denial.
I have explored activism and social rights for a while now as a natural answer to my desire to expand and actively practice my compassion and this has allowed me to explore the concept of victimhood at different levels.
And what I have seen, is that there is always someone that has it worse and is doing better, or that has it better and is doing worse than us. There are many ways that we can fall victim, there are many ways in which we can allow ourselves to validate that sense of “they owe me”, because our surroundings, context, education, or other, boxes us, limits us, is violent towards our livelihood, gives us free tools for separation, anger, illness, denial, and makes us work for freedom, happiness, wellbeing, union, peace.
That fact that things are unfair, that we are right in our judgment of how hard shit is, also entitles us to giving up.
I remember being absolutely deeply depressed and saying, “no one else can help me, but neither can I.” And it was the absolute truth. Because that’s what I believed, and saw. Then days passed, and moments passed, and if I thought things were unbearable before, they got truly unbearable thrice over.
I decided that I either was going to make life bearable or I was going to kill myself. I wanted to change my truth but I didn’t know how. So I just kept working on saying that I wanted to change my truth. I decided to face all my projections, to look at my limits and ask myself which ones were real and which ones was I telling myself, which ones had I placed on myself?
The first untruth I discovered was that it was not true that no one could help me.
Every day, friends in Minneapolis area were helping me, or at least trying to. My parents, though clueless, had the ferocity of their love for me, actively holding me every day whether I noticed it or not. My sister had gone from an 18 year old child to a 20 year old young woman and supported me in her own way, extending her love to me constantly. I used acceptance as a natural cleanser to all the muck that I had convinced myself of, and gratitude as the lens through which to take a look at my life through. Things softly started to develop. Tiny, in small steps, with outbursts here and there. But my statement of “no one else can help me, but neither can I” had evolved into a question, “how can I help myself, and how can others?” This question provided the fluidity I needed to adapt it as a way of life.
I call this my spirituality, though others may call it applying psychology. Either way, acknowledging the upset that other people, the world, or circumstances cause me, gives me the control to change how I feel and act about it.
The more marginalized a group is, the more anger there is within the community. One can understand, for example, if a group of black queer women are going to angrily protest a sick society. But even within the most marginalized group, I have seen confidence, love, and community.
That gives me hope, strength, and perspective.
And it makes dealing with my projections fun, in a way, because it becomes an adventure. Slaying demons and dragons is adorable in fairy tales but terrifying in reality, and those things very much exist within your psyche. The brain is a powerful vessel of knowledge and imagination. We are incredibly skilled when it comes to keeping things from ourselves. The problem is it comes out into our bodies. It took a psychologist and an Ostheopathic Physician here in France to tell me that if my body was so blocked, maybe I needed to start opening up to the parts of me that I was hiding from myself. This was BEFORE the most violent depression I’ve ever had in my life. Do people always know how to slay their dragons and demons? No. Some people need medicine. Or therapy. Or a career, or a loving family, a pet, a trip, or maybe all of the above. Some people don’t make it, and their dragons eat them up and depression claims their bodies. Other times, people just don’t want to believe or accept the flaws they have to look at within themselves, and rather continue to blame the world.
But to me, I owe it to myself, because I love myself and I want happiness, and I owe it to my family and community, because I want them to love themselves and be happy, to acknowledge my projections, to face them, to work on them, and take every upset as a chance to heal something within me so that I am more in charge of how I feel, and people can affect me less.
And part of that has meant to fill myself with warmth, confidence, light, and then saying “fuck that guy” and never wasting time on a person again. Removing toxic people from our lives is Our responsibility. Sometimes people or situations are just shitty, and you gotta accept it, own it, and do whatever you can about it. Do it angrily, do it happily, do it because you know you deserve joy, but do it.
The Prompt: Think about the last time you had any kind of upset that lingered a bit and hit a nerve. Think of a circumstance that perhaps you may not want to acknowledge. Explore the feelings around it, and how you felt about the other person or circumstance.
The activity: With the upset in mind, take a look at the following sentences to help you write out a thought pattern and figure out what you might be projecting.
- The last upset I had was ___________________________________________
- The emotions I felt were ___________________________________________
- I think the reason why I feel like this is because ___________________________
- If there is something I don’t want to admit to myself about this it’s_____________
- What scares me about this situation is _________________________________
- Even though I know it isn’t true, I’m afraid that __________________________
- Other times that I have felt this way were when __________________________
- If I were to be compassionate with myself, I would like to forgive myself for ______
- I would forgive the other person for____________________________________
- The Truth of Truths is that __________________________________________
In your journal: one of my favorite things about valentine’s day online are all the awesome valentine meme there are. I really like the classic candy hearts. Super gross to eat (sugary chalk, anyone?), but really pleasing to look at. In your journal, create valentines for yourself that consist of true, compassionate, affirming statements that can reframe how you might see the projection that you saw before. Give yourself permission to let go of this particular projection, even if that takes various tries. If this feels too ridiculous to you, talk to your inner child about helping you get over yourself, and taking a look at the projection of why making valentines for yourself might feel dumb.
If you can’t come up with a valentine ideas, just cut out, draw, stamp, or paint a bunch of hearts, and write the statements inside. Make sure to consider how much room you’ll need to write in them. The aim of the activity is that when you look at that page, you feel the completion of a cycle, and confidently responsible for yourself.