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Dissecting projecting

During my recent visit to family in South Carolina, I had a late-night chat with my very wise aunt on subjects ranging from dreams to quantum theory to cattiness among women. At one point in our conversation, she mentioned something I found very interesting, attributed to Karl Jung:

While “projecting” – that is, seeing motivations or emotions in other people that are actually in oneself – is often characterized as an unhealthy pathology, it’s actually a necessary mechanism for understanding oneself.

That is, we cannot perceive ourselves unless we project ourselves onto someone else. (An eye cannot see itself.)  So it’s a perfectly healthy and natural thing to do – a revelatory act rather than a harmful act.

I’ve often noticed that the things people most readily criticize in other people are the things they don’t like about themselves. It’s certainly true in my case. Knowing that helps me understand why I dislike the characteristics I do,


and prompts me

both to cut others some slack and to improve myself.

Likewise, we tend to like elements of people’s personalities that we like about ourselves.  Jung’s theory is especially tidy when applied to romantic love. Being in love is a powerful force for personal betterment because it brings you to a better understanding of and greater love for yourself. Why? Perhaps because what you love about your partner is what you really love about yourself, or what you would like to love about yourself.

Monitoring how and what you project is a powerful tool for self-analysis. Could this be your next “home-improvement” project? I think it’s mine.

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  1. jennie
    November 1, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    One clarification from the aforementioned aunt: I heard a Jungian analyst describe projection that way, but whether Carl Jung himself put it exactly that way, I can’t say.

    • juliakwakefield
      November 9, 2009 at 11:19 pm

      Close enough, Aunt Jennie! That was one of the best late-night discussions I’ve had in quite some time. Thanks for your insights. Looking forward to the next one.

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