Friday, March 20, 2009

On projections and honest confrontations

The other evening I took our dog, a tiny Maltese, for a walk in the neighbourhood. On leaving the house she suddenly took off and started chasing and barking after a neighbour who was on a similar stroll. Contrary to ours, the neighbour’s dog was on a respectable lead. It was obvious that this unsolicited interruption had disturbed the neighbour’s evening peace and irritated him. He deliberately ignored the commotion behind him and just walked on with an air of indifference.

I felt rather embarrassed at first and while mumbling an apology, started to run after my dog, trying to get her back into our garden. Noticing the neighbour’s indifferent and almost arrogant attitude I became upset, in fact slightly angry, with him. I felt that it would have been polite of him at least to greet me, or pay some attention to the barking dogs in an attempt to settle them. But with a stiff neck (and upper lip) he just walked on. Instead of acting in accordance with my real feelings, which meant that I should have spoken to him, I directed my frustration at my own dog. Ignoring the neighbour, I started to talk more loudly at my dog, shooing her back into the house.

It was the psychologist Jung who first made us aware of this strange tendency in our psyche when, reluctant to face the real source of our own fears, shame, anger and other similar natural instincts, the so-called shadow, we tend to shift or blame it on others. He called it projection and signified this as one of the interesting manoeuvres of the unconscious self, which prevent us from being completely honest and open. Rather than admitting to and confronting our shadow side, we unconsciously find another and expect that person to carry the shadow, to take responsibility for those things we struggle to abide in ourselves. In the little confrontation I refer to here, my poor dog had to suffer my suppressed and brewing anger at the unfriendly neighbour.

Projections occur daily in our relationships with one another and with groups of people, and in many instances they are relatively harmless. But they can become unhelpful and even destructive when they give us an excuse for bad behaviour towards others - when they move the guilt or anger away from ourselves and set the innocent other up as an offender. In fact, at the root of many negative emotions that we carry within ourselves and that are potentially damaging to others, lies the inability to recognise and confront our own, often unconscious and unintegrated, fears and prejudices. This is also recognisable in the way that irrational behaviour rooted in xenophobia or homophobia, is founded on unattended racial and sexual fears and prejudices.

In South Africa it has become crucial, especially for the sake of more transparent governance and a peaceful society that individuals and groups acknowledge and confront their fears and prejudices and especially the projections they effect. However difficult and painful it may be, the victims of such projections are called upon to resist and unmask these hidden agendas. For Christians this can be a way of serving and furthering the Kingdom of God in our society. In confronting the unwarranted negative projections that are so evident and addressing them with integrity, we can remember the words of Jesus when he said: “Happy are those whose hearts are pure, because they shall see God.”

Carel Anthonissen

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these incredible words. Being a Jung supporter, it meant a lot to me, to be reminded of something so theoretical that could at the same time be so practical. Facing our own shadow - what a journey!