Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud talked about the concept of projection and the shadow self – All of us tend to project or see in others, qualities that we ourselves possess.
The things we admire and respect most in others are usually our own strengths. Sometimes these are strengths that we don’t even realize we have, or qualities that we have that aren’t developed fully. When we see these qualities we sometimes say things like “He is so amazing. I wish I could be like him”. What we don’t realize is that we have within ourselves the same ability or potential for it, otherwise we wouldn’t even notice it in the other person. Excitement, happiness, or admiration are usually signs that our subconscious mind realizes that we can learn a lot from this person and develop our abilities.
Similarly what we dislike the most about others are usually our own weaknesses. Often these are weaknesses that we are afraid to admit to ourselves or don’t even realize we have. We tend to get angry and resentful at others when we see these qualities. Sometimes the person we project them on may not even have the qualities we attribute to them. For example, a selfish person believes that any person he talks to is selfish too. Often the anger we express at this person is usually resentment at ourselves (sometimes without our being aware of it).
Whenever we are exposed to qualities that remind our subconscious mind of our own, it usually pushes buttons and triggers strong emotions. Any time we feel strong emotions like anger, it is usually a sign that projection is at work.
When I first learned about projection, it was through a simple exercise. Take some time to try it out.
Think about any person (it can be more than one) that you really admire and write down five qualities that you like the most about them.
Now think about someone you really dislike, and write down five qualities that you hate the most about them.
Done? Now take a look at these qualities carefully.
I’d like you to open your mind and consider the possibility, that these good qualities are your own strengths that you have not yet developed fully, and the bad ones are your own weaknesses that you deny or still haven’t admitted to yourself. Even if it seems a little hard to accept, take some time to think about what it would mean if it were true.
I found the results of the exercise incredibly enlightening. I decided to modify it slightly and apply the concept to my own personal growth.
Since then, anytime I find strong emotions being triggered, I try to figure out what strength or weakness of my own I am projecting. For example, if I get angry at someone for being pushy, I consider the possibility that I can be pushy and subconsciously resent it about myself. If I admire someone for being extremely talented at something, I realize that I too have the potential to be that good if I give myself time and learn from that person.
The best thing about the exercise is once you become aware of the quality and acknowledge it, you no longer have to do anything else. Just becoming aware of it helps it auto correct.
Over the last few years, I spent time for introspection after any argument to try and discover why it happened and what it taught me about myself. I learned to be grateful for people who pushed my buttons because they helped me to learn more about myself and help me grow. I realized that as I discovered these buttons and became aware of them, they stopped becoming buttons and no longer affected me. I found myself getting angry less often and stayed calm and happy more of the time.
This one idea has helped me in my personal and emotional development more than anything else I know. If you find that you have a lot of anger and resentment and would like to bring more peace and happiness into your life, I believe you should give this a shot. It may change your life.