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  • Karen O'Moore

Is that my reflection, or your projection


Sometimes I fear the unknown, I guess this is a common facet in human behaviour but however I decide to couch it though, it has profound physical, psychological, behavioural and emotional effects: From triggering the stress response to projecting my own unresolved feelings and emotions onto others. I guess the fact that should be stated is that as far as my unconscious mind is concerned it is real. It is what happens when my mind perceives events, scenarios, and change as a threat.

I came to an awareness of my response to change, for example, during a boundaries exercise in a tantric workshop. In this exercise the partner I was working with was to come closer and closer in response to my “yes”, “no”, “maybe”. As my partner stepped closer and closer slowly my internal response was “yes” until they were touching me. However, in a sudden forward movement, fear arose and the response was a definite and strident “no”. Once again when slow forward movement occurred the fear subsided and the answer became a “yes”: it appeared to me therefore that sudden change was a trigger for a particular type of response and series of emotions from fear to insecurity. Conversely great changes could be achieved by a slow methodical approach where each step is clearly defined, it reduced my sense of fear: My boundaries became more flexible when the change was gradual they became hardened and impenetrable when the change was sudden and direct. My default option, therefore was to go into defensive mode. But in knowing that, I now had a choice in how I reacted, rather than ride the wave of emotion I could communicate my feelings, unmet needs, and a request (I am feeling fear, I need more clarity, slow down and explain). I knew where my old habitual response was coming from and had a strategy to handle it, to be sure this takes time, but it promoted greater awareness around the basis of the fear, confidence and self-esteem. It also showed me where I was projecting my stuff onto my partner or another individual.

So I began to look at the issues of projection, which is essentially seeing me in you: If there is something about myself I don’t like or want to acknowledge I unconsciously start to see it in others. Depending on what I projected onto the other may have serious affects on them (especially if they begin to see the projection as part of who they are) and the relationship. For example it is not uncommon for parents to project their unconscious issues on their children or one partner’s sexual fears onto another. Things worsen when both people in the relationship project their unconscious negative traits on each other. I get it, I really do, Jung’s “anima” and “animus”, do we fall in love or do we simply project our unconscious needs? As Pogo quotes: "Everywhere you go, there you are." In other words, I can't leave me behind. I take me into all of my relationships, problems, life situations and circumstances. Yes indeed there is great learning in understanding that I am projecting, but then I hit a wall: was everything merely projection? Was everything what i was observing and evaluating merely in response to my own unconscious? Was there a different side to projection that we need to understand? If I was looking at someone’s behaviour and not liking what I saw was it all my own stuff coming into play, how did this conflict with the fact that Tantra accepts everything. When someone hurt or manipulated another was their defence of “You are projecting your own unconscious traits, it’s not my responsibility” totally valid? Or was it merely a way of avoiding responsibility for their actions? I admit it was causing me to become very disillusioned. At least a partial answer came one day reading a Facebook thread in which an individual had been called out on their behaviour: there response was what I call the “Projection Mantra” and “we love you anyway” finale. This prompted some feedback and the quote below was posted:

“Lets get real about the ole "What we judge in others is a direct reflection of what exists within ourselves" routine. To be sure, there is value in considering how we are projecting our own stuff onto others- that is a wise inquiry- but not every negative judgment we feel is sourced in our own stuff, or in our soulular memory of past life misbehaviors. Sometimes we are appalled by certain behaviors because we have evolved to the point where we can discern good from bad, healthy from unhealthy, benevolent from malevolent. Do you know who planted the anti-judgment mantra with the world? Gurus who wanted to deflect responsibility when they were not living up to their professed standards. You call them on their stuff and they turn the mirror right back on you. It all comes back to good ole common sense. Sometimes we are projecting, and sometimes we are seeing things exactly as they are.”

Jeff Brown

Things began to become clearer for me: it was the difference between making judgements and being judgmental, the difference between our unconscious mind and making a conscious observation. It was also the difference between Projection being a very real and common process and it being an excuse for those who do not wish to take responsibility for their behaviour but push it back on another (projecting projection perhaps would be a way of putting it).

Does this judgment/judgmentalism conflict with Tantra?

I would propose on the first part that the “Projection Mantra” potentially establishes thought processes and behaviours in both the deliverer and recipient which cause separation and pain. One the one hand the recipient becomes closed and believing in their own lack of worth and on the other the sender is failing to acknowledge and take responsibility for behaviour which inhibit growth and development, planting them firmly and unconsciously in their ego and shadow. Secondly, OSHO mentions that as far as Tantra is concerned, morality is an external artificial construct. That one should simply go inwards and find ones true compass.

It is my belief that Tantra is the centre line of awareness and through embodiment, shines a light on the unconscious mind and ego based patterns of existence. Given that projection is largely unconscious, then if one goes inwards to explore the feelings and needs behind evaluations and judgements one can begin to see if what one is evaluating and judging stems from unconscious projection or from a solid, grounded and conscious sense of your embodied values. Of course a good pointer is the internal self-chatter and the words that we use in response to an observed action: is the language of a judgemental nature (Right or wrong, must and have to, should or shouldn’t) or is it of a less condemnatory or attacking form. Similarly, if you are prone to using the “projection mantra” when in conflict situations, again going inwards and honestly examining why this is being said will determine its validity for yourself. That takes a high degree of honesty and courage to do and for many it is easier to hide in their ego and couch this in terms which maintain the illusion of sanctity and maintains the need for the ego to be fed.

In the end though, if you were to ask me for one word which to me sums all of this up, then the word would be RESPONSIBILITY. From taking responsibility for our actions in relationships, through the shared responsibility within the relationship, to becoming responsible for our emotions and behaviours and the thought processes behind them, it is the first step in truly understanding what we are projecting (both negatively and positively) and beginning to integrate them back within ourselves and in so doing enrich our lives and our relationships.

Mark Sutton June 2014


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