The world of shadow projection — how we unconsciously create evil in the world
Projection itself is really just a part of the way perception operates. We respond not to the external environment but to our own internal re-presentations of the environment. Our thoughts, feelings, images in the psyche are our lenses and are the encoded film through which we experience. They are not objectively real, but are the closest we can get to reality. Projection is kind of like how a movie projector projects an image or facsimile of the world, but is not the scene itself. We see what’s on the screen of our conscious awareness, which is filtered through the re-presentations we have stored previously. So just a reminder of that first. We react to the world through our projections, through our psychic filters. The differences in personal opinions about the world proves this out.
So that’s the psychic phenomenon behind projection, but in psychology, the concept is used to show how we perceive unconscious aspects of ourselves that we have not come to terms with in others, rather than seem them in ourselves. This is often used to explain how we project our shadow material onto others but we also do this with our psychological “gold”. So I should define shadow and gold first. Shadow is any thought, feeling, impulse, image of the psyche (mind) that we cannot bear to face about ourselves. These commonly include the most ancient animal impulses such as power strivings, rage, lust, but also grief, guilt, left over feelings of abandonment and the effects of abuse and trauma. This is both from our personal past, and what is passed to us intergenerationaly.
Psychological gold, is the light side of the shadow. It’s the aspects of ourselves that if we could bring them into consciousness they would facilitate our highest purposes. Gold is our genius that we have not yet found a conscious way of integrating into our egos and lives.
So, the way projection works is that we “project” these aspects, both shadow and gold onto others. It’s a perceptual trick we play in order to cope with material that has not found a way to be assimilated into consciousness yet. This is not just a side issue, but linked to all perception of self and the world.
With shadow projection, we see others as evil, as greedy, as lustful or destructive in whatever way, while we fail to see the relationship between their so-called evil and our own. They hold our evil for us. They take our projections. In actuality, the psyche of every human being contains all of the same base materials. Every one of us has the same archetypal propensities.
For example, In every man is the impulse to rape, and in every woman the ancient memory of being raped. In every human being is the impulse to kill another. In every human being is the impulse to dominate and be dominated, to be right and victorious and to be wrong and punished. This is shadow material and because we generally do not come to terms with it, we project it onto others and we also displace it through many mechanisms, like physical sports or work, but also through psychosomatic disease and all kinds of activism.
We also project our psychological gold onto others. In therapy this is called the “transference” where the therapist is perceived to be a parental figure or idol who will hold the patient’s “gold” for them. We do this with all whom we idolize, beginning with our parents. We see the beautiful qualities in them. They are heroes, they are geniuses, they are wonderful stewards to the world. Really, it is we who are these things as much or even more, but we have not come to accept our own beauty and genius. As we remove our projections over time, we realize that our idol’s highest qualities were projections of ourselves.
When we find others projecting their own gold onto us, see us as idols, we must be careful with the responsibility, and hand it back to them as they mature. See Robert A. Johnson’s Inner Gold- Understanding Psychological Projection.
Shadow projection may not actually be any more destructive than the projection of our gold, but because our culture is so allergic to its shadow, it needs illumination badly in my view. In my own life, my psychological gold is actually related to understanding my own shadow and sharing this information with others. An interesting mythology for me.
In political affairs we project our shadows and our gold onto our so-called “leaders”. Political leaders occupy a place in our minds as our cultural parents, hence our strong emotions related to any perceived attacks upon them. We are also not very far out of tribal consciousness which continues on powerfully. We pick a tribe and will defend it, sometimes to the death.
We can recall how the Germans projected their gold onto Hitler, and their shadows onto the Communists, Jews and other minorities. This is the archetypal pattern of collective projection. To the degree we take on political and cultural scripts as our own, we are charged by them and will act out these projections collectively. This shadow projection en masse occurred so much in the last century that it was estimated by one scholar that over 260 million people were destroyed due to genocidal government policies in countries all over the world. This was due largely to shadow projection, and it continues on today.
To awaken to our projections was one of the things Jung said was an absolute necessity for the individual and collective to evolve. Therapists are mandated under his philosophy to work towards withdrawing their projections, although few take this seriously enough. I am suggesting that all those who are called to leadership are equally mandated. Withdrawing our porjections is part of the process of maturing psycho-spiritually. It occurs as we work consciously through it. It is a part of shadow work itself.
Shadow work is any practice which withdraws projections and traces them back into their source in the individual psyche and then works to integrate or metabolize the repressed energies that are fueling the projections. Our book, Shadow Tech, goes into this in great depth, using multiple models, some totally new and shares some powerful shadow work methods such as John Ruskan’s emotional clearing method.