By James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at >




Jump to the following topics:

  1. What is projection?
  2. Projection has a light side and a dark side.
  3. Projections are charged with energy.
  4. We can recognize our projections.
  5. We can withdraw our projections.
  6. We can recognize evidence that the trait has been assimilated.  

What is projection? It is a normal process by which our charged archetypal-field contents "project" their characteristics onto the outer world; this is similar to the action of a movie projector shining its image onto a screen. For example, we might project our aggression onto someone else such that we see that person as very aggressive, and -- because we have projected out that aggression -- we therefore view ourselves as being innocent of that trait. We project not only onto people but also onto situations and objects; for example, we might project an energy tone onto the inkblot of a Rorschach test, and we might project our ego's constellation of "incompetence" onto a car which malfunctions. Additionally, we create "introjections," in which we project our unresolved elements onto our own psyche; for example, if we have repressed our sense of humor, we might introject it onto our inner child, thus distorting our perception of the child, making it seem more silly and frivolous (and distasteful to our ego's humorless attitude) than it really is. By definition, projection (and introjection) is an unconscious action; we cannot consciously project our traits -- and so all projection is shadow projection.

Projection has a light side and a dark side.

  1. The light side. Although projection is generally considered to be a destructive activity, it is necessary, like perhaps all other denigrated psychological functions. Projection helps us in the following ways:  
    • Projection protects us. It is a defense mechanism, a coping mechanism; we project psychological elements which we are not ready to confront. Even if we are devoted to the ideal of self-knowledge, no one has the resources -- time, energy, knowledge, courage, strength -- to deal completely with every internal and external dilemma which arises. Projection lets us "set aside" certain conflicts by projecting them outward so that we can focus on something else at this time. We might need to set them aside because of the limitations inherent in our human roles and our stage of growth; for example, the shadow must be projected if the ego is not yet sufficiently strong to endure the shadow's contrary stance.
    • Projection calls attention to our psychological dynamics and our a-field elements. Particularly if we are not introspective, we recognize certain these things only if they are projected onto the outer world; for example, we might not be aware of our repressed anger until we notice how much we are disturbed by the anger which is exhibited by other people. We learn even more about psychological dynamics when we observe the projections which other people place upon us.
    • Projection adds meaning. For example, a man might be interested in a woman as a friend, or sexual partner, or simply as a person. But when his anima projects onto her, his interactions with the woman are charged with heightened importance and purpose.
    • Projection mobilizes us. We project an image (representing a psychological factor) and also the energy which is associated with that element. Thus we lose energy when we project, and then we are motivated not only by the intriguing image, but also by our unconscious desire to reclaim the vitality which we have put onto someone.
    • Projection connects us to other people -- individuals and society in general.
      • Individuals. When we project onto another person, we literally see something of ourselves there; this projection grants a point of contact and familiarity.
      • Society. We can form a commonality also with a group of people, when we are projecting onto a common object, e.g., a cultural icon or a national flag.
    • Projection allows us to affirm the values of our group. Although projection is innately hypocritical (in that we are denying a potential which is within our own shadow), it is a means by which a society comes together in agreement regarding its values; for example, when a black man was brutally murdered recently in a racial incident in Texas, the media and the politicians and the citizens had an opportunity to say --collectively, as a statement regarding the ideals of our society -- that the action was morally unacceptable and emotionally distressing. (Of course, the same statement could be made without the projection.)
  2. The dark side. Like all psychological processes, projection can be either productive or destructive; these two sides of the process are described in the chapters on the Self, the shadow, and the anima and animus. Misused, it can cause the following dilemmas:
    • Projections distort our perceptions and our resulting actions. Our impression of a person is mixed with the projection that we have cast upon him or her. Because our actions are responses to what we perceive, those actions are inappropriate to the extent to which our perceptions are incorrect (and our perceptions are incorrect to the extent to which our trait has been projected). Depending on the element which is projected, we will encounter additional concerns; for example:  
      • The shadow. When we project the feared and hated elements of our shadow, we see the outer world as more dangerous and unpleasant than it really is, so we might become more frightened, aggressive, judgmental, or discouraged.
      • The anima or animus. When we project this archetype of the ideal individual, we expect the person to live up to the ideal, and we can become disappointed -- or manipulative, as we try to change the person to match the image.
    • We cause conflicts with people and objects. Because we have not come to terms with the projected traits within ourselves, we will have similar problems with the people and objects onto whom we have projected the traits; for example, if we are intolerant of our own lack of discipline, we are intolerant of people who have received our projection of "lack of discipline."
    • Our relationships are less intimate and effective. We are interacting more with our projection than with the person; similarly, the person is interacting more with his or her projection than with us. Thus we can hardly discern one another's actual words, actions, and other communications -- so, of course, those things tend to be misunderstood. Because projection results in what Jung called "imaginary relationships," we are emotionally distant from the person simply because we are not engaging with the person; these imaginary relationships are particularly apparent when we "fall in love" with someone and in fact we are responding primarily to the projection of our own anima or animus.
    • We lose a part of ourselves. When we deny and project a quality (from our dark shadow or our golden shadow), we cannot use that quality for our own use; for example, if we project our capacity for anger, we aren't able to use this psychological function when it is required for us to defend ourselves. And when a man projects his anima, he is less able to express his anima's feminine qualities, such as compassion, love, intuition, etc. We might even feel envy toward the person who has received our projections.
    • We lose control of our lives. We unconsciously select certain people to be our friends or enemies simply because they are suitable recipients to our projections, even if they have no other reason to be in our lives. And we relinquish control in other ways:
      • We experience emotions which arise solely because we are responding to a projection.
      • We are unable to perceive reality beneath the projected image.
      • We can be manipulated by people who would have no power over us if we had not projected some of our power onto them.
    • We give faulty feedback to people. If we are responding to our own projections rather than to them, we are depriving them of realistic feedback; for example, if they believe the glorious "sweet nothings" which we tell them when we fall in love with them (i.e., when we are projecting our anima or animus), they mistakenly think that they are more lovable than they are. Through the responses which people receive from us, they create and discover their social identity, and they judge their competence in communication, "persona development," social finesse, and other interpersonal skills.
    • Our projections can overpower people. (The best defense against projections lies in a strong ego; we know who we are, so we can reject the image and energy of contrary projections.) For example:
      • Some of us are strong adults in our own home, but we turn into weak children when visiting our parents, who cast onto us their overwhelming image of us as their "kids." (Part of our adolescent rebellion is the rejection of our parents' projections so that we can define our own identity.)
      • A teacher projects "failure" onto a student, who accepts the image and then unconsciously strives to live down to that image.
      • A recovering drug addict is drawn back into an addiction lifestyle by people who convince the addict that he or she is incapable of staying drug-free; those people are projecting their own faults onto the addict.
      • Celebrities can be severely stressed when they receive projections from millions of fans. One writer suggested that the suicide of Marilyn Monroe is partially attributable to her psychological damage which was caused by the anima projection of so many men.

Projections are charged with energy. These elements have a charge of energy, because (1) we are not expressing their energy in the present circumstance, e.g., a circumstance which evokes anger which we then repress, or (2) the elements have a residual energy from a previous archetypal encounter in which we did not properly release the energy. Because we are not releasing that energy willfully by expressing it through our actions, it "escapes" from us and then naturally moves (like iron to a magnet) to a suitable host through the process of projection. Sometimes that person can feel the energy which is projected; for example, the energy is noticeable when a politician is invigorated by the constituents' projection of the "Leader archetype" onto him or her, or when a rock star is incited by the fans' projections of their repressed wildness, or when a man feels intense energy from a woman who has projected her anima onto him and who thus perceives him as an idealized male, or when a celebrity seems to glow with charisma, or when people intentionally create personas of a "bad boy" or "bad girl" (knowing -- consciously or unconsciously -- that they will receive some projected energy from people who do not claim their own capacity for "badness"). When we receive projected energy, we can intuitively gain knowledge regarding the sender; for example, perhaps one reason why a police officer's attention is instinctively drawn to a "suspicious" person is because the person has denied his or her lawfulness and is therefore projecting that detectable energy onto the police officer (who represents lawfulness). Conversely, the criminal is subtly, unconsciously drawn to that police officer -- to justice -- in a desire to reclaim that projected energy and content; this unconscious desire for correction and wholeness might explain why "only the honest criminals are caught," and it might be one reason for the imperfect crimes in which gross mistakes create evidence which leads to an arrest.

We can recognize our projections. To minimize the destructiveness and inefficiency caused by projections, we can start by identifying those projections through the following indications. The process of identifying projections is similar to the process of identifying a-field elements (as explained further in the chapter regarding archetypal fields); in either case, we are recognizing charged elements.

  1. Our inaccurate perceptions. For example, we frequently accuse various people of being moody but they insist that they are not moody.
  2. Our inappropriate reactions. We naturally respond to people with our liking or disliking, interest or disinterest, etc. But if we have cast a projection onto someone, we react with an additional charge (which is the charge which we have projected from our own a-fields); our reaction might be expressed as an undue and exaggerated irritation, fascination, obsession, infatuation, hatred, astonishment, or praise. We can make a list of the traits to which we respond in these ways; this list is a description of our own traits which we have projected.
  3. Our inappropriate expectations. We expect people to fulfill the trait which we have cast upon them. Whenever someone fails to meet our assumptions, we might discover a projection.
  4. Patterns in our life (i.e., our "karma"). Until we reclaim and discharge the elements which we have projected, they will project themselves onto one person and then another. Thus we will repeatedly encounter the same difficulties in relationships with lovers, employers, co-workers, and other people. And we will stereotype people, because we are seeing the reiterated projections rather than the individuals.
  5. Self-awareness. Sometimes our recognition of a projection starts when we see an exaggerated quality in our external world and then we look inward to find our potential for that same quality; for example, if the world seems to be excessively violent place, we might find that we are projecting our own repressed aggression. At other times, the process occurs in reverse; as we gain self-awareness, we look inward and discover that a trait seems to be absent, and then we look outward for the person onto whom we have projected that trait.
  6. Psychological testing. Psychologists search for our projections through such tests as the Rorschach inkblot test, sentence-completion tests, or the Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT) in which we are asked to explain what seems to be occurring in various photos. As in real life, we project our conflicts and other psychological activity onto these images and statements.
  7. Our recognition of exaggerated traits in people. One reason for the difficulty in identifying projections is the fact that they are cast them onto people who already have the trait which we are projecting onto them; for example, we naturally project our repressed anger onto an angry person. (Our projected anger makes the person appear to be even angrier.) The person's pre-existing trait is called the projection's "hook." In this process, the repressed energy leaves us when we are in the presence of someone who has a similar energy; this is an automatic "matching" procedure in which our energy responds to an external energy which matches ours. (We do not have to be in the physical presence of the person; if we are merely thinking about the person, we are in his or her mental presence.) We can note other phenomena regarding hooks:
    • If we cannot find someone who is suitable for our projection, we might unconsciously groom a person for that role; for example, we would try to provoke the person's anger in order to project our own anger onto him or her.
    • After someone receives one of our hooks, we tend to project more traits onto that person. When we are projecting positive traits, we are creating "the halo effect"; for example, the halo effect can occur during a job interview when the applicant impresses the interviewer with one quality, and then the interviewer projects other favorable characteristics onto the applicant.
    • Some people project even when there is no hook; this can occur in cases of "paranoia" in which we project our fears upon innocent strangers or upon fictional entities such as "space aliens."

We can withdraw our projections. Assimilation of projections can be difficult. The task requires self-acceptance and humility as we acknowledge the unpleasant qualities which we have projected; it also demands that we accept responsibility for managing those shadow qualities (i.e., learning how to handle our aggression instead of pinning it on someone else); and it insists that we endure disorientation when our identity is redefined whenever a projected trait is accepted as a part of us. And yet, despite the difficulties, we can enjoy the process of assimilation as a growth in our self-discovery and power.After we have identified a projection, we can reclaim it by using these techniques:

  1. We recognize the trait within ourselves. For example, we recognize our capacity for anger. The most concrete way to do this is by recalling an incident in which we have been angry; this incident proves empirically that we possess the trait. Then we forgive ourselves for expressing that trait, knowing that it helped us to manage that incident to the best of our ability at that time. If we are reacting excessively to an extreme trait -- such as a murderer's viciousness -- we might not recognize that degree of viciousness within ourselves, but we might realize that we possess the trait to a smaller degree; for example, we might have punched someone (or we might have been angry enough to do so). When we recognize traits, we are recognizing archetypes within ourselves; on the archetypal level, there is no scale, so our violence when angrily swatting a fly is the same archetypal action as the murderer's brutal slaughter of a human being.
  2. We accept that trait. However, acceptance does not mean that we have to like this element, nor that we intend to express it; we can suppress it -- acknowledging its presence but choosing not to enact it. Acceptance is simply a mental recognition that the trait exists in us; it also requires a benevolent feeling which we extend to a member of our psyche's "family." Acceptance is honoring reality. This acceptance can bring different reactions: for example, we might feel disappointment or depression as we discard our inflated self-image, or we might feel elation if we are recognizing a golden quality which we can now use to enhance our life.
  3. We strive to see more clearly the person upon whom we have been projecting. If we are attentive to the person's behavior and unique idiosyncrasies, we notice discrepancies between the reality and the projected image. Then, using the rationale and feeling by which we have accepted ourselves, we accept the person as an independent individual who has purposes in life other than to be our projection screen.
  4. We learn to manage the trait. All traits have a golden quality which can be used appropriately and productively in some situation.

We can recognize evidence that the trait has been assimilated. We notice the following indications:

  1. We no longer become unduly upset when we see the trait in someone else. For example, during the evening news, we might still respond with emotion -- but our reactions are not charged with the judgmentalness and outrage that can indicate the presence of a projection.
  2. We develop self-acceptance, humility, and a broadened sense of our identity and our potentials. We discard the idealized self-image which we previously maintained through projecting our flaws onto other people.
  3. We notice that we have started to do the behavior which we formerly despised and projected. As we explore the behavior, and we discover its golden quality, we might begin to like the people upon whom we previously projected the then-despised trait.