Sunday, October 21, 2007

Projection in All its Forms

When we work with dreams, especially in a group format, we all use projection to understand and comprehend the dream that is being shared. We listen to the dream and as we listen to it, we imagine our own version of the dream.  If someone is telling me a dream about parachuting past a giant statue, there is a lot left to my imagination - no matter how much detail the dreamer may give me, my imagined dream and their remembered dream look and feel very, very differently.

Trash sculpture projections by Tim Noble & Sue Webster

That is why we do dreamwork in groups - hearing someone else's unique perspective can be essential to cracking open a door or window that may have been shut before.

But what is projection?

Projection is just as it sounds - we are projecting images, ideas, emotions, etc. onto another person, experience, object, etc. It is the only way we know how to communicate and "be" with each other.  It is our human process of relating.

Sometimes participating in a dream group is the first time someone has heard or understood the term projection. In the groups I facilitate, I ask that all participants use "I Statements." In other words - "If it were my dream" or "in my imagined version of the dream."  This is both respectful and truthful, as all we can do is feel our way through the imagined version of the dream being shared with us.

I personally feel that this "I Statement" practice should also be used in "regular" life. It's amazing how often I hear things like, "You work so hard in life and no one appreciates you..." or something along those lines - when really the person making that statement is speaking about themselves and their own experience. I know when I start using "You" a lot, that I am probably not owning something about myself. 

In fact, in the dream groups I facilitate, I ask that, even when people are speaking about waking life events, that they still use "I Statements."  We project on people in our waking lives hundreds of times more than we do on other people's dreams.

I also know how powerful the Ego can be.  There is such a deep desire to separate ourselves from each other and sometimes we can get pretty feisty about our projections - "no, this is really about her, not me!"  But the fact of the matter is, if we are capable of expressing that feeling or idea or emotion about someone else, we are capable of feeling it ourselves and therefore that statement applies to us in some varying degree.

And dreams are the perfect vehicle for "meeting and greeting" our dark sides - the parts of us that we don't want to acknowledge exist!  Our dreams come from us - no one else is writing or dictating these scenarios, so when I had a dream about a dark, evil man torturing me, I am both the one being tortured and the torturer - even though I would never intentionally hurt another being in waking life.  Some part of me understands that evil character and it is a benefit to me and the greater world to get to know that aspect of my personality and see what it might be asking me, as far as healing and transformation.  This is what Carl Jung calls "getting to know the Dark Shadow."

And it works the other way as well - when I dream about a powerful spiritual being that infuses me with love, I am that Bright Shadow as well.  When someone praises me for something I have said or done, I try to receive it, but then let it go - because it is not really about me, it is about that person recognized a part of themselves and celebrating it.  The same is also true when someone gets incredibly angry at me for something I've done - I listen and integrate the criticism in a way that is helpful to me, and then I let it go, because again, it is not just about me.  My father often says, "projection doesn't work unless there is a hook to hang it on."  It is a shared experience.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if our global leaders understood projection and could communicate on that level?  I have witnessed countless misunderstandings (not to mention, participated in more than my share) that all went back to one person's idea of who another person was and vice versa - "I am not that."  Our "war on terror" is a perfect example. The Dark Shadow can never be eliminated, just more deeply understood and integrated.

I see this a lot when I am counseling soon-to-be-married couples.  Often I will witness huge, emotional arguments, when in reality, they actually want the same thing! They have just forgotten that they are on the same team and have slipped into the "he obviously is punishing me for..." or "she never understands me..."  They are falling unconsciously into their projections and start to communicate in a defensive way.  The tone can change so quickly when everyone involved switches to "I Statements."

So think about projection as you go about your day - pay attention to the words you say and how you say them.  It might lead to a big change you were not expecting!

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