It’s all YOUR Fault!

After breakfast, I complain about people’s rudeness and their insensitivity, invoking a gentler, kinder, more respectful world in which everyone is as kind, sweet, and mindful of others as I.

Later that day, in the kitchen, my husband extends his hand to gently touch my shoulder and get my attention. In the middle of making dinner, I impatiently shrug at his touch and turn a frowning face in his direction, “What do you want?” I ask irritably.

My daughter laments that the household is too large and noisy, and that she craves peace and quiet and can’t get it here; that it’s impossible to be happy when she’s surrounded by such noisy, difficult people.

The next morning, while the rest of us are still waking up, reading quietly or just sitting, enjoying the morning light, this same daughter clomps downstairs noisily, her hands full of clinking, dirty cups and glasses from her bedroom. She slams open the dishwasher, noisily loading dishes, calls loudly to her dog, opens and closes doors forcefully, and calls across the room to a sibling. She moves briskly from one end of the room to the other, house slippers slapping against the floor, scattering papers and energy as she goes. She is oblivious to her own manifesting dervish, her personal lack of peacefulness, quiet, and calm.

These are just a few examples of projection, the compulsion to attribute to others the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes present in oneself, but to which one seeks to remain unconscious. A primary mechanism of the psyche, projection literally means “to throw before or ahead of oneself,” from the Latin pro+jacere. As Jung often pointed out, what we refuse to look at consciously manifests unconsciously: or, as Jesus taught, what is hidden will come to light.

I’m reading a book about the middle passage of life, the passage from what the author, James Hollis, calls the first adulthood and the second adulthood. During the first adulthood, he writes, we are little more than children in grownup bodies. We’re attached to fantasies, roles given us by others, dreams, and projections. Who we are, what we do, our happiness and unhappiness, all arise outside of ourselves in the first childhood. To whatever degree we are unconscious, sleepwalkers in our own lives, to that degree we project our energy onto others through blames, longings, wishes, expectations, judgments, “shoulds” and demands.

I call this the “if only. . .” life:

  • If only I could leave this job, then I’d be happy.
  • If only she would stop persecuting me, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I could take a vacation, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I could have my own house, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I hadn’t married him, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I had children, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I’d never had children, then I’d be happy.
  • If only she would stop carping at me, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I could get away from my parents, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I’d gotten that degree, then I’d be happy.
  • If only they liked me, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I could have that new _______, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I could have more money, then I’d be happy.
  • If only I could finish this project/assignment/job, then I’d be happy.

Happiness is just around the corner, down that path, over that hill, en route with Prince Charming and riding on a white horse, to wisk us off our feet and to save us from having to take personal responsibility for our own selves. It is never as near as my self, inside me, or “. . .very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:14, NASB).

Jungian psychologist and writer Marie-Louise von Franz identified five stages of projection:

  1. The person is convinced that the inner, unconscious experience is truly outer.
  2. The person gradually recognizes a discrepancy between the reality and the projected image.
  3. The person is required to acknowledge the discrepancy.
  4. The person is driven to conclude that he was somehow in error originally.
  5. The person must search for the origin of the projected energy within himself.

Only by “rendering the contents of the projections conscious” does a person take “a large step toward emancipation from childhood” and into the real, conscious, adult self (Hollis 32).

My question today is: What’s your fairy tale? What story in your life begins with “Once upon a time,” and what happiness depends on a Prince Charming to manifest? What was the last event that made you seethe, and what story did you tell yourself about it?

References

Hollis, James. The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1993.

von Franz, Marie-Louise. Projection and Re-Collection in Jungian Psychology: Reflections of the Soul. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1988.

Art by Henri Matisse

15 responses

  1. Pingback: Dream Analysis: The Sphinx « The Third Eve

  2. So interesting the whole Jungian thingy. Really. I am decompressing after my long two day ordeal of finals and want to read this again when my brain feels less spongy. But just wanted to say it was interesting and I will be back to read it again and absorb.
    xx

  3. Pingback: Recalling my Projections « The Third Eve

  4. RG, based on what I’ve read of your blog and what you wrote above, I think you would really like this little book. It’s one of those rare, small books that is probably worth more than you pay for it–just full of good stuff. It’s almost a sort of a road map, which works great for the concept of going through a “middle passage.”

    The basic idea is that everyone has a childhood, followed (hopefully) by a first adulthood (although he says some people never really get past childhood!). Some courageous people respond to the crisis and suffering inherent in life by pressing on to what the author calls a “second adulthood.”

    I like the term, although I might simply call it a continuation of the Quest, or *really* growing up. The idea of a 2nd adulthood is strangely comforting and easy to accept, though.

    This is one of the handful of books I’ve read that I would like to buy a stack of for friends or acquaintances who may need it. It’s been a surprising and helpful find.

  5. I’m very interested in the book about the Middle Passage, as I think I’m either going through it or needing to go through it.

    I’m rethinking my calling and career, soul-searching to see how I can be a better husband and father, looking for some new accomplishment to brag about. I’ve lived a life of “quiet desparation,” and I want to actually be somebody and do something.

  6. And since you, Eve, decided to sign off when I wrote this, I’m going to rewrite it as a post to get some kind of blog response.

    Response from Eve: I don’t know what you mean, Tiv. What did I “sign off” from or of when you wrote this? I’m clueless.

  7. OK. Fuck everybody. My parents won every suffering contest with their concentration camps. My suffering was always invisible. And here it is again with a group of mentally ill people. Their suffering counts, mine doesn’t. I am ready to quit my job, seriously, finally stop being the endless goddamn helper. Just let myself help myself for a change.

    Response from Eve: In psychoanalytic practice, analysts have to undergo their own analysis and return for checkups; many analysts continue in analysis indefinitely to keep themselves accountable. Have you thought about taking your suffering seriously enough to undergo analysis? I don’t mean regular talk therapy, I mean the analysis the Big Boys do (yes, the pricey stuff that takes years). Or, as Karen Horney and Carl Jung and several other greats have done, you could start doing your own analysis (hard, but possibly possible).

    Your suffering does count: you know this. Sounds like you want a change; the job is causing suffering. Or, is there something else you need to quit that’s causing suffering? And if your job once gave you joy or a feeling of competence and also helped others, what happened to change that? Just some questions to ask yourself. It’s what I’d ask you if (here it comes again!) we were having tea together! :o)

  8. I’m a contradiction in terms. I am a psychotherapist with a serious mental illness. I have fought to be the best therapist I can be all my adult life. But I’m vulnerable if I reveal the whole of who I am to people. I’m either too impaired to be helping people, or I can’t be that impaired that I really understand what it’s like. I almost feel like I have to choose sides. I have a cousin who lives on disability with my same condition. I have signed off for patients for disability knowing they were less depressed than me. I’m really tired of this dual identity. I am so tempted to give up and just be “the sick one.” I am very, very weary of fighting to be well enough to help everyone else.

    Response from Eve: Tiv, we’re all vulnerable if we reveal the whole of who we are to other people, so you’re not alone. And I question whether we can know our own whole selves or all of ourselves; and then, I question whether we can ever adequately reveal it to other people. Right now I’m thinking that we’re blessed indeed if we can manage to share our real selves with one other person at a time. I admire people who seem to know themselves and share what they know in a way allows others to understand. I don’t feel I’m there yet, myself, but blogging is part of my practice.

    I take it that people tell you these things, or imply them: that you’re “too impaired to be helping people, or … can’t be that impaired that [you] really understand what it’s like.” Just because people think these things doesn’t make them true or real. It’s just their opinion. It hurts, it offends, it angers and it rankles when people don’t take time to get to know you but feel free to judge you anyway, but it’s still a fact of life. Most people are rather shallow; most of us care most of all for ourselves; most of us are not very mindful at all of how we injure or scare others. We’re human. We’re unconscious some or a lot of the time.

    I think that you are courageous to be open about your depression and to write about it. There are always going to be people who attack you for it, because they’re throwing their stuff on you and making it be about your depression. On the other hand, if it’s because your behavior is offensive or hurtful, then that’s something you’ll have to choose to either be accountable for, or not, as you choose.

    If we were friends sitting across the table, sipping tea, and you said, “I’m really tired of this dual identity,” I’d ask you what tires you about it? How tired? When? What happens before you start feeling very tired of it? Can these two people (identities) work together in some way? Do they already work together? Do they have differences that they can’t reconcile? What if you did some active imagining and sat down with those two characters and interviewed them as you would clients? What would you ask them? (See? You do know how to do this!).

    It’s an occupational hazard that therapists have a hard time talking to ourselves as kindly as we would our clients, sometimes. This is folly, because we can’t honestly be any kinder to our clients, ultimately, than we are to ourselves. So I hope you do have that talk with your selves and sort them out, just as you would help your clients. Let us know how that goes, and I’ll keep you posted on my own journey of recalling my lost projections! :o)

  9. Hymes, wow. That’s quite an “if only.” I’m flummoxed… it’s rather like me saying that I overcame my fear of losing a child by losing one (I did). I’m not so sure that this is projection as much as it is staring in the eye of all you fearned and saying, like Job, “What I greatly feared has come upon me.” And then figuring out how to transform it so that it doesn’t enslave you.

    That’s becoming more whole; projection is refusing to become more whole… but nevertheless, there’s something about blaming another person, being, or circumstance for ruining our lives that puts the locus of happiness outside of ourselves.

    See how you’ve gotten me thinking?

    Courageous choice you made, thank you for sharing that. :o)

  10. Jade and Lee, right! Projection is a coping mechanism, because we fear what might happen if we consciously integrated what we compulsively think is someone else’s garbage. I may not be the same person I’m so good at being; things may fall apart (to borrow Achebe’s book title, which I love).

    Lee, nice metaphor, the rearview mirror. Very nice, I like that! Since I’m always on the move I like the traveling analogies.

    What you wrote about your epileptic experience while driving is interesting. I don’t have epilepsy, but I did a weird thing once while driving. I’m notorious for becoming lost while driving, so one year my husband gave me a dashboard compass for my car.

    I went to visit a friend who lives about an hour away, returning home after dark. On unfamiliar roads, I became disoriented, but looked to my compass, which told me I was going due west.

    Strangely, though, I FELT I was going south (home). In fact, I just knew I was going south. I was 100% sure I was heading south and the compass was broken. I drove for 30 more minutes until I arrived in a town I knew to be west of my destination, not south.

    This was disorienting and scary, because everything in me simply KNEW that the compass was wrong. That incident has been a metaphor for the follies of certainty in my life ever since.

    I was about 25 years old when that happened and I’m much more careful about certainty now, no matter how self-confident I sound.

    Thanks for sharing that, it was a good reminder.

  11. beautiful post. And the Matisse line drawings are perfect with it. Yes, more on projection, please.
    jadepark says: “after all, it is a coping mechanism, right?”
    The interesting thing is – it can be way more than that. Something like your rearview mirror giving you an idea of what’s happening behind you. Projections can be used in the same way as signposts to what you need to attend to in your own mindspace.
    (You can also get into a lot of trouble if you mistake what’s in the rear view mirror for what’s in front of you, though! I know because at one point, when my temporal epilepsy wasn’t under control, I was driving down a highway. I couldn’t get off and had to talk myself into ignoring what the mirror was telling me about front and back – a VERY scary experience – and why I’m sharing this, I have no idea.)

  12. love love LOVE this post. it reminds of a time, long ago, when a boyfriend said to me, “Jade, take responsibility for your OWN happiness.”

    it has become one of my mantras since, though it stopped me breathless in my tracks back then.

    of course, i’m sure i still do quite a bit of projecting! after all, it is a coping mechanism, right?

  13. Once upon a time I was healthy. My kidneys worked well. If only Dr. X had not ruined my kidneys, my life would be pefect.
    Of course that’s not true. In reality, dealing with my kidney disease has given me the opportunity for growth and developing strength and acceptance I never had before when I was medically healthy. Kidney failure has forced me to get over my lifetime fear of doctors and all things medical, to learn to trust an M.D., my nephrologist, to pay attention to my diet in a healthy way for the first time in my life, to get exercise every day which I never did before, to put the “small stuff” in perspective much more often than I could before I had kidney disease and to appreciate all the little things I took for granted before.

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