Psychological projections serve an important role for self-growth and awareness. So why not strive to be a source of projection for generations to come?
When we’re young, we project whom we want to become—and whom we don’t want to become—onto our parental figures. We may see qualities in them that we have in ourselves that we like or don’t like. We may also see qualities in them that aren’t even there, because we want to actualize them in self, or are afraid of actualizing them in self.
This process of projection continues through our relationships with teachers, peers, partners, and beyond. While projection functions on a subconscious level at a young age, the process reveals itself to us over time as we are faced with the knowledge that what we project onto others doesn’t always represent their true qualities or faults. By midlife, we’ve usually figured out most of the true qualities and faults in our parents and peers, while our mates often serve as a primary source of projection throughout life. What we need to see in self, we often see in others.
Awakening to the Ideal
Idealistic projections begin when the call to self-actualize becomes stronger and deeper, usually starting right before or during midlife. This type of projection often involves viewing a spiritual teacher or advanced guide in our lives in an idealistic way. These people are usually older than us and of the opposite sex. They represent whom we strive to become as self-actualized beings. In rare circumstances, we may be personally close to them, but more often they are distanced enough from us so that we maintain an idealistic view of them. The projections may even be very abstract, such as onto the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa.
Idealistic projections help us uncover our highest ideals of self, often parts that were previously dormant due to gender roles and expectations. For women, the process often corresponds to menopause, when male-defined energies, such as dominance, aggression, and directness, surface and manifest. For men, it’s often called a midlife crisis, where female-defined energies, such as creativity, transformation, and heightened emotions, surface and manifest.
The key to navigating idealistic projections involves recognizing them when they come, and incorporating those qualities into our actions and life. It also involves the same process we had with our parents, when we realize that no human can truly live up to our ideals.
Seeing Your Shadow
No matter how much we’ve dealt with our own motivations, intentions, and actions, some people will still unnerve us. These people represent our Shadow Selves, or the parts of ourselves that we don’t acknowledge or want to manifest. The default reactions to shadow projections is anger toward the behavior or person we do not approve of, making teenagers and young adults a primary target for us during midlife.
Characteristics such as irresponsibility, untruthfulness, and ingratitude are common shadow projections for those in midlife. Yet, can anyone ever claim they’ve never been irresponsible, untruthful, or ungrateful? By understanding that these shadow parts exist, we get the opportunity to adjust our reactions and behaviors from self-righteous anger and denigration to compassionate communication and empathy.
Once we have balanced our reactions and behaviors to shadow projections, we self-grow beyond states of denial and become more accepting of others, and ultimately of ourselves.
Dreams show powerful symbols to us, and in order to get the most out of the subconscious messages of dreams, it’s important to write them down as often as possible. The deepest, darkest, and best of ourselves is revealed through our dreams. They can guide us in waking life, so that negative or unwanted subconscious energies don’t spill out.
Dream projection symbols may be unique or recurring events, coming in many forms, from animals to unknown entities. It may be as obvious as an angel in a white robe illuminated from heavenly rays, or less obvious, like a beautiful tiger licking your hand after it has killed your enemy.
While dream projections are important throughout the stages of life, during midlife they offer the templates and encouragement we need to fully self-actualize and enter the next phase of experience. Understanding and processing these symbolic projections helps us to embrace and reject subconscious energies as needed in waking life.
Holistic projections are another way of describing the final stage of self-actualization, also known as individuation in Jungian psychology. Holistic projections integrate idealistic, shadow, and dream projections into a projection of self that recognizes all qualities within, while mindfully choosing which ones to focus on and become.
Holistic projections involve the Higher Self, or the Observing Self, so that we are aware of both our personal, subjective perspectives and the perspectives of others and realities outside of, yet connected to, self. Individuation represents a state of being that is enlightened and without gender.
Recall ancient medicine men and women and many other historical and divine figures: They are often androgynous, representing male and female energies equally and qualities within and without. From the yin-yang to Shiva and the Holy Spirit, such enlightened entities, beings, and symbols are mirrors for midlife, when the levels of estrogen in women and testosterone in men decrease, creating a more balanced energetic constitution.
Holistic projections involve viewing the self as a balanced, androgynous being filled with the cosmic potential energy to accomplish anything. It is our task to accept this journey of individuation, to create meaningful, valuable existences as the role models and sources of projection for generations to come.