Projection: the attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or desires to someone or something. –The American College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin. 2000
We all do it. Seeing in someone, most specifically a powerful public figure, what we deeply long for in order to complete the drive in our psyche for wholeness.
It is unconscious. Instantaneous. I know I did it when Obama became our first African American president. I stared at the New Yorker cover of his lean, handsome face in a white George Washington wig. I felt a flood of adoration. Barack Hussein Obama was a flawless god-like figure: the projection of a young part of myself who longs for justice and goodness in a complex world of darkness, light, and every shade of grey.
Projection allows us to bypass, rationalize and justify all the evidence that defaces our object of adoration. If you watch the mechanisms of your mind, you can feel this in action.: a sort of mental hiccough, a veil coming across your brain, literally blocking out rational incoming thought. Never has this phenomenon been more wildly at play than in our recent presidential election.
How do we make meaning of this? How do we find a common ground that transcends–but does not deny–the huge schism in Americans’ values and perceptions?
Carl Jung wrote of the Shadow. Not only our “dark side” but the part of us that is unknown, that lives in the yet-to-be-discovered corners of our psyche. Shadow is typically unconscious, until something –or someone – challenges our view of ourselves, frightens us, or emerges as our enemy.
If we add the Shadow into the projection stew of the last 18 months, we see a field day for both idealized and shadow projections onto both presidential candidates. Yes, of course, the economics, the anger of displaced workers, the social justice issues, women’s rights, and so on figure into this. That is the rational side. I am suggesting that the snake slithering beneath the carpet of our rational discourse, is our unconscious projections. If we are searching for meaning and a path to unity, we need to rip up the carpet and welcome the snake to the table.
What does this look like?
We can tune in to the activity of our own minds. Say we see a woman on tv in a pink shirt that reads, “Women for Trump”. Does our projection-mind immediately flash: “Boy, she must be really stupid.” Or “I’ll bet she is a housewife with no mind of her own.” Or, “What did he pay her to put on that shirt?”
The truth is, we have no idea who that woman is, or what her motives are. By projecting our own shadow onto her, it becomes our bad, not hers.
Can we catch ourselves? Can we stop it.? Just stop it. Then, if we are interested in our own personal growth, we might ask, “What shadow longing in me made me project that stuff into her?” – Maybe we have a secret longing to trust a man that much. Maybe we are conflicted in our own hearts about who we support and who we voted for, and this women in pink represents certainty……Maybe our mother always wanted us to be a strong independent woman and never let us wear pink? Maybe we have un-met dependency needs from childhood, and imagine that the woman in pink can depend on others? The possibilities are endless. Only an inquiry into our own personal history, conscience, and emotions can guide us.
I was moved to tears when I watched Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. I don’t know how she did it. So much pain in those sleepless eyes. And yet she rose to her moment in history, even to the point of asking all of us to support President-elect Trump, to see him with an open mind and “give him a chance to lead.”
What a gift she gave to our nation. Can we take this further, into our homes and communities? Can we see the unity of being in all of us? Can we realize that we have a strong common ground in longing for our candidates to fulfill our deepest hopes, and heal our deepest wounds? Likewise, that we all demonize and project fear into the persona of leadership that threatens our deepest need for wholeness.
Can we honor this unity of our common psychological nature, and use this election to come to know ourselves, to know and honor our neighbor, and to open our minds, following the shining example of our first woman presidential candidate, Hilary Rodham Clinton? I invite you to join me in making a commitment to do this, even as I honor the duel reality of fightimg with a new fierceness for the values that Hilary represented to so many of us: equal justice for all, the rights of women, and the power of the feminine to lead us into a brave new world.