One of the most common – and most destructive – pitfalls in any relationship is the phenomenon known as projection. Projection occurs when we attach a quality, belief, motive, or feeling that we have disowned in ourselves onto another person. For example, to avoid feeling that we’re not good enough, we judge others as inadequate.
Projection is destructive to relationships for two major reasons: 1.) It prevents us from truly knowing and accepting ourselves, and 2.) It prevents us from truly knowing and accepting others. In addition, the traits or feelings we have denied in ourselves have an unexpressed energy acts like a magnet, repeatedly attracting the “wrong” people into our lives until we’re willing to accept both the light and dark sides of ourselves.
Frequently, we are unaware that we are projecting and are unaware that the very trait we are projecting is our own. A man who secretly thinks that his boss secretly hates him may actually be projecting his own hidden rage against authority. Or a woman who is feeling tempted to have an extramarital affair may project her desires onto her husband and become obsessed with the idea that he is being unfaithful. At one point or another, we have all used projection as an unconscious defense to avoid looking inward.
Embracing Your Wholeness
The essential nature of the universe is the coexistence of opposites. You cannot be virtuous if you do not have the capacity for evil. You cannot be wise if you do not have an inner fool. And you cannot be generous if you do not have a stingy person inside you. In fact, the most enlightened people are those who accept their own ambiguity and full potential for light and dark. As the ancient Vedic sages observed, “The measure of your enlightenment is your level of comfort with your own paradoxes.”
The first step to stop projecting is to see when you’re doing it. Negativity is a major clue that you are projecting, for projection is never neutral. It expresses itself as negative energy because what it’s disguising is negative.
Contact your hidden feelings. The moment that you realize you may be projecting a hidden feeling, tune into what that feeling is. Don’t delay because the opportunity will quickly evaporate. Just before you deploy your defense, you actually feel that which you don’t want to feel. Ask yourself, What am I feeling right now? and notice the sensations in your body. Feelings are so named because we feel them in our body. Our mind may try to rationalize or dismiss feelings, but the body never lies. To connect with your feelings, you will need to be alert, wiling, open, honest, and courageous.
Make peace with your feelings. Once you are in touch with your feelings, acknowledge them. Don’t attack them, bemoan them, attempt to change them, or even try to feel “fine” about your unwanted feelings. All of these strategies reinforce denial of your authentic inner life. Feelings have feelings, and they know when they are unwanted and will cooperate by going underground. Fear cooperates by trying to hide. Anger cooperates by pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s impossible to accept an unwanted feeling, and until you simply allow and acknowledge a feeling, it will persist. That is all you need to do. Tell your feeling, “I see you. You belong to me.”
As you practice acknowledging your feelings, they will start to feel less unwanted and then they will begin to tell you their story. Every feeling contains a story: “I am this way for a reason.” Be receptive to the story that emerges, no matter what it is. Most painful stories of guilt, shame, resentment, inferiority, and other primal negativity are rooted in childhood. Imagine the small child that you were and, as best you can, be gentle and accepting. Remind yourself that you had a valid reason for denying or rejecting a feeling or aspect of yourself.
As an adult, you no longer need to protect yourself from a childhood that is long past. You can now experience the full range of your emotions in complete safety, knowing that you aren’t a threatened child but a magnificent spirit. The more you practice allowing your feelings, the more peace, love, and self-acceptance will expand in your experience.
Healing from Painful Relationships
If you are having a hard time letting go of emotional pain created from past or ongoing relationships, consider joining us at the Chopra Center for the Healing the Heart workshop this June 1-3, 2012.
Developed by Chopra Center co-founder Dr. David Simon, this life-transforming workshop is based on a unique five-step process that integrates the wisdom of the Eastern healing arts with modern psychological principles. In our compassionate setting, you will be gently guided by Chopra Center master educators Dr. Tim Brieske and Trista Thorp to identify and release the emotional pain and limiting beliefs that contribute to anxiety, addictive behaviors, chronic pain, depression, obesity, chronic fatigue, and many other physical and emotional health problems.
Learn how to forgive yourself and others, and – most important – fill the newly opened space in your heart with love, strength, and true fulfillment. Whether you’ve recently experienced an emotional upset or you have been carrying the pain of old wounds for a long time, Healing the Heart will help you rediscover joy and return to wholeness.