Projection, Persona and Shadow

Projection is what we see in the world all the time. It comes from every single human being on this planet. We see it everyday. As an example, we may look at how a child projects at school. If a child has a particularly aggressive, controlling and frightening parent at home a certain belief will be integrated in that child’s subconscious that ‘women are scary’. When that child comes to school and listens to their teacher there may be a subconscious projection onto that teacher that ‘women are scary’ and whether the teacher is ‘scary’ or not, the child will react to that teacher with fear and suspicion. The child may make unfortunate allegations that may or may not be true about that teacher and so the child comes to believe in the truth of the projection and not the truth of the teacher’s behaviour and attitude. More unfortunate still, is that the adults, friends and family of the child may come to believe in the truth of the projection also and so the object of the projection may have to address the projection. This is a common story and one that is not exclusive to children but these same kinds of projections are evident in adults regardless of age, culture, background, education or upbringing.

On a much grander scale projections can become group projections and far more dangerous. For people who have had negative experiences with past relationships the projection can target gender groups, racial groups, sexual orientation, age groups or even political ideologies. For some people their ‘negative experiences’ with an individual that identifies to a particular group can become the source of a projection and so a ‘prejudice’ is formed towards a particular group. When lots of people with the similar projection come together a new group or movement might be formed. It may come in the form of a gang or political group. It may take the form of ‘gay-bashing’ or lead to the verbal and physical assaults on those of a particular racial group. History documents how Hitler and the Nazi movement targeted the Jewish population. Projections are dangerous and are based on distorted beliefs and un-processed and un-analysed experiences and memories in the life of the individual.

For the purpose of counselling and spiritual direction these projections arise out of our subconscious minds and thus distort our own perceptions of ourselves, others and the world. As a part of the counselling and spiritual direction process the analysis of projections forms a strong foundation for finding peace of mind and clarity of thinking.

Projection is often indicated by a strong emotional reaction to an individual or experience that is new or unfamiliar. It might be someone at work or someone you have met socially for the first time or at the beginning stages of a friendship or relationship. An instant disliking of someone suggests projection and is followed by analysis into the past of the individual perceiving the emotional and mental disturbance. Projection can also be the cause of a belief such, ‘They don’t like me’. These kinds of thoughts are common and require reflection.

Another source of projection is the individual’s Persona and Shadow. For some people physical appearance is a very important influence in their life. Attitudes of perfection can be a driver of their life force and how they project themselves to others and how others project themselves to them. Strong judgements and beliefs that everyone should physically appear to them in a particular way – wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, being with the right people, having the same political beliefs – are strongly integrated into their Persona. They project an image of success and prosperity and associate with the like. It is a strong Persona, one that projects an image to others and the world. However, the stronger the Persona, the stronger the Shadow.

Everything that is excluded, judged to be inferior or weak becomes projected into the Shadow of the individual. It is really everything that cannot be included in the Persona. If an individual excludes their own sexual orientation it becomes integrated into their Shadow and then they begin to project this onto others and if the other person is gay an intense dislike, prejudice or disapproval can manifest. There may be a disapproval of people who look a certain way, act a certain way or believe in particular ides or politics. Once again these projections from the shadow can lead to a group dynamic whereby groups can form and seek solace in each others projections and begin to form a movement or political group. Therefore the Shadow individually can become a group force equal to a nation driven by a government or maybe a government seeking to harness the power of a group collective. Right wing groups can become mobilised by governments and powerful movements created that can sweep away democracy and the rule of law.

In counselling and spiritual direction the practice of looking at one’s projections can lead to a release of negative emotional energy and the transformation of resentment or fear towards daily experiences and meetings with other people as well as reflecting on and processing the initial events and experiences where the resentments and fears were formed. It is true that for every person that processes and heals their Persona and Shadow and withdraws those projections from others and the world back into the mind actually contributes to world peace, peace within themselves and peace within those who live around and with them.

© Martin Handy 2020