As promised, here is Part 2 on psychological projection. In The Poisoned Arrow, I discussed three ways that we project, or expel, undesired emotions from ourselves into those existing around us. Today, I will summarize three more, as explained by Joseph Burgo, in his book Why Do I Do That? If you would like to read this book, you can purchase from the link below, and a portion of the proceeds will help support my work on this blog, on TikTok and on YouTube.
As I mentioned in the post Ambivalence, we humans tend to split off aggressive feelings we have towards the people we are meant to love. We disown these antagonisms, projecting them onto another. In some cases, we do this by provoking those antagonistic feelings, causing them to erupt in the behavior of the other. We fuel the fire, stoke the flames, and distance ourselves from the blazing conflagration manifest in the one whom we’ve provoked. In this situation, we impose emotional surrogacy onto the external other.
In other cases, we project unbearable emotions out into the ether–almost like a boomerang, and they return to us transformed. They morph into anxiety, “a nameless dread or fear of some imminent threat from the outside” (Burgo). Obsessions and compulsions tend to emanate from such dread, as we attempt, to no avail, to manage it. Burgo explains that when we disown hostility, it “threatens to return,” and this produces “efforts to curtail and control it through obsessive types of thought or compulsive behaviors.”
Finally, we often project our shame. Shame torments, and for some people, it induces unbearable grief. People who “defend against the conviction that they belong among the losers” project “that feeling into” others by trying to make them feel shame and inferiority.
In conclusion, while it takes many forms, projection is always a defense against unbearable emotions through an attempt to expel them and discard them into a separate receptacle. Unfortunately, the receptacle is often someone we love, with whom we desire deep connection and relationship. While projection serves to protect us from undesired feelings, it has the effect of damaging relationships. Thus, it is important that we become aware of our own defenses, as well as the feelings that trigger them.