By Bernhard Guenther
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that everything we feel about (or see in) another person is comprised of about 75% of our own “stuff” – our infamous shadow (i.e., the unconscious aspects of ourselves) – which we project, in either positive or negative ways, onto others.
In reality, such perceptions really have nothing to do with the other person. A more accurate indicator of an individual’s character and intentions are based on one-on-one interactions with them in real life, from a place of grounded awareness of self and the experiences which accompany that ‘work’.
As you can probably guess, shadow projection is even more amplified within the sheltered realms of the online world in comparison to “real” face-to-face interactions.
All of us can engage in shadow projection at any given moment, without exception. Ask yourself, how many times have you looked at photos of a person and projected qualities (good or bad) onto her/him that are actually completely off-base? How often have you been “attracted to” or “infatuated” with – or “repelled” and “offended” by – a person, based solely on the content of his/her posts or their appearance in pics? How often do we project emotions and “tone” onto other people’s posts that are not really there in the context of the content, but are merely arising out of our own unconscious shadow?
Consider, also, that the mood/frame of mind we are in (when an attempt at communication takes place) can distort the interpretation of that message. For example, a person who is sending an online text or writing a social media post may be smiling whilst doing so, and is offering it to others from a genuinely good heart-space, grounded in positive feelings; but the receiver/reader is on a different vibrational wavelength, and misreads the context of the content, seeing it as full of resentment, or perhaps finds it offensive – the misunderstanding, in such circumstances, is based on assumptions which are grounded in the reader’s own issues and stories.
Sometimes, when I’ve met people in real life with whom I had previously connected via Facebook, I can see how my perception of them (be it positive or negative) was off in parts, and I come to realize how much I had projected qualities onto that person – based completely on Facebook interactions/posts/pics and nothing more – which were not true.
“The shadow is, so to say, the blind spot in your nature. It’s that which you won’t look at about yourself. …You can recognize who it is by simply thinking of the people you don’t like. They correspond to that person whom you might have been — otherwise they wouldn’t mean very much to you. People who excite you either positively or negatively have caught something projected from yourself…I don’t know whether you’ve had similar experiences in your life, but there are people I despise the minute I see them. These people represent those aspects of myself, the existence of which I refuse to admit to myself.” – Joseph Campbell
Facebook (or any social media portal, and the internet in general) is a great tool to connect with people and share information, but understanding shadow projection – and how we really don’t see others as they truly are at times – is worth thinking about.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl G. Jung
Let’s be clear here: It’s ok to not “like” a person; nor is there any need to become “best friends” with everyone. However, if we get triggered by someone out of proportion (and attack him/her personally or engage in gossiping), then there is usually more at play than just the “other” person’s behavior and attitude. But even if we see “negative” traits in another person that are true (without us becoming heavily triggered in response), can we still come to a place of compassion and empathy about their demeanor? Most of the time, people who act this way are deeply wounded and hurt individuals, compensating for their low self-esteem (due to childhood wounding and other trauma) by lashing out or goading others into reactivity. By the way, I’m talking here about everyday people in everyday interactions, not full blown psychopaths or sociopaths who have no conscience.
“In shadow projecting, we split-off from and try to get rid of a part of ourselves, which is a self-mutilation that is actually an act of violence. In the act of shadow projecting, we disassociate from a part of ourselves and “split” (in two), turning away in revulsion from and severing our association with our darker half, as if we have never met it before in our entire life. We throw our own darkness outside of ourselves and see it as if it exists only in others. We then react violently when we encounter an embodied reflection of our shadow in the outer world, wanting to destroy it, as it reminds us of something dark within ourselves that we’d rather have nothing to do with.
“In the act of shadow projecting, we perpetrate violence (both psychic and/or physical) not only on ourselves, but on the “other” who is the recipient of our shadow projection. This act of external violence is nothing other than our inner process of doing violence to a part of ourselves changing channels and expressing itself in, as and through the external world. In trying to destroy our projected shadow in the outer world, however, we act out, become possessed by and incarnate the very shadow we are trying to destroy…
“Paradoxically, in descending into the depths of the unconscious in order to deal with the prima materia of the shadow, we are simultaneously on the path of ascending to the truly real, as we become introduced to the higher-dimensional light worlds of spirit.” – Paul Levy, Dispelling Wetiko
The following questions can help anyone to become more familiar with their shadow side (from “Knowing Your Shadow” by Robert Augustus Masters):
- What do I least want others to know about me?
- What do I tend to have a disproportionate reaction to?
- What am I offended by?
- What person keeps triggering or irritating me?
- What qualities of mine or others do I often feel aversion toward?
- Which emotions do I consider to be bad or wrong?
- Which emotions am I the least comfortable expressing?
- What am I most scared to openly express or share?
I want to make one point clear: There are limitations to the idea of shadow projection and its ramifications, which ties into the oversimplified saying: “when you spot it, you got it”, which is not always true. Sometimes, it is verifiable that we are merely projecting our own internal blind spots onto others, and it is actually our “stuff” which requires self-ownership and healing; but there are other times where it is not our own issues that we are pointing out in another person or situation; that we are, in fact, seeing the other person (or situation) clearly as he/she/it truly is, in good faith. The point is, it’s not a black and white circumstance, and discernment – as always – is paramount.
There’s no denying that shadow projection is a reality in our lives (be it from the receiving end, or engaging in shadow projection ourselves), and understanding and applying basic Jungian psychology is important and very helpful (even though many people also seem to over-simplify or distort the concept of the shadow, due to lack of education regarding its principal characteristics), all of which I’ve experienced in my own life, especially on the internet, where shadow projection is happening a lot. However, it’s not to be used as the only lens through which to see things, because there are limitations to solely employing that kind of psychological analysis, and it can be hijacked by reality-bypassing New Age programs in order to avoid personal responsibility.
Those on the receiving end of this behavior can wind up doing it to others as well, of course – I’ve also judged ‘opponents’ and projected beliefs (and my own shadow) onto them, based on who I think they are. But who am I to judge another person’s experience, let alone someone else’s life? What do we really know of another person’s unique soul lessons, karma, past lives, what they are going through on a daily basis, their struggles, worries, fears, joys and happiness, where they are at now (as opposed to looking through the lens of the past), things they have never expressed to anyone else and are most oftentimes impossible to put into words?
“There is no telling how much I might change in the future. Just as one wouldn’t draw a lasting conclusion about oneself on the basis of a brief experience of indigestion, one needn’t do so on the basis of how one has thought or behaved for vast stretches of time in the past. A creative change of inputs to the system — learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention — may radically transform one’s life.” – Sam Harris
Sometimes when I get into an argument with a friend and we trigger each other, or when I become annoyed/”reactivated” by others in daily life or on the internet, I think how easier it all would be if we could just inhabit the other person for a minute or two, feeling and thinking exactly as they do, from their perspective. It’s a simple relational practice which helps me to get more in touch with compassion and empathy. Maybe we need to put on these ‘exchange’ glasses more often (if only the technology already existed!), or at the very least, understand the message of this video, and remember it when we find ourselves triggered in everyday life.
Our world is a moment-to-moment classroom of constant lessons. With the rise of social media, I see a lot of bullying, gossiping, and pseudo-psychoanalyzing happening over the internet, alongside an endless shower of ad hominem attacks. In part, the worldwide web represents a reflection of people’s own shadow being triggered and subsequently projected; essentially offering up their own unconscious individualized pain for all to witness.
Think of Monica Lewinsky what you will (especially with regards to the conspiracies which lurked beneath the Clinton incident), but this is great talk about this topic – an issue that is like an elephant in the living room of our post-modern cyber age. It doesn’t always have to be on as grand of a scale as she has experienced it – some people seem to feed off of that kind of behavior, aside from the obvious trolls and “agents” who try to give genuine debaters a hard time.
When there is no rational, compassionate interaction and feedback with each other (but rather, just a retreat into personal attacks and shaming – even if it’s hidden behind humor and sarcasm), then we have already lost that which makes us human – and, in a sense, become what we’re fighting against. The abuse of humor is a topic of its own, regarding when “comedy” and “jokes” are used to attack others with passive aggressiveness, or to cover up our own wounds, due to our unconscious fear of facing the shadow within.
Moreover, looking at it from a hyperdimensional perspective, there are certain entities which feed off of that drama and fighting, given the”buffet table” of negative emotions, passive/overt aggressiveness, sarcasm and projections that arise during such occasions.
All of this shows the negative side of social media and the internet, when people only communicate by typing words on a screen. It tends to cut us off from our body and emotions. A lot of communication happens non-verbally when we look into each others eyes while sharing physical space together. Body language and energetic impressions oftentimes reveal more than words which are spoken or typed. Words are very limiting as well.
Expressing what I feel and have experienced through language has, at times, been very challenging. This is often due to the fact that many people project different meanings into words, or that we use certain words but are actually trying to convey a different meaning. Personal contact, as in face to face connections, also helps us to be more compassionate towards one another, looking into each other’s eyes. Sometimes, we also just need a hug and to be approached with compassion – even (or especially) when we make mistakes, and seek understanding without being condemned, judged, psychoanalyzed and labeled for our “issues”; especially if we share views that challenge people’s beliefs, which often leads to being prosecuted by strangers behind a computer screen.
I remember working with a professional Gestalt therapist a couple of years ago. She embraced everything that came up for me without any judgment, but with plenty of empathy and compassion – there was no psychoanalysis or application of any psychological labels, no reading quotes to me from psychology books or telling me that I should read this or that, no informing me that I should feel ashamed or bad for my failings and mistakes (which were actually not “mistakes” but unconscious defense mechanisms which served their purpose).
On the contrary, she helped me to feel good about myself – not so that I could rationalize away anything I did or thought in the past, but so I could experience forgiveness for myself and others, and so that I could understand how all of it related to things in my upbringing which I was not fully aware of; mostly childhood wounding, past life trauma and energetic karma. This was all accomplished by guiding me into my body and emotions, a place where the rational analytical mind cannot go. This process and empathetic approach helped to release and heal deep wounds. I was crying many times during these sessions as my psychological and bodily armor was dissolving. Doing this kind of work one-on-one in a private safe container with eye contact is also very important. Something way deeper emerges if we take this kind of “physical” approach, which is impossible to replicate in an online consultation.
Besides imparting to the reader the positive effects of professional embodied psycho-spiritual therapy, the point of this recollection is to reinforce the importance of relating to each other with more compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. You don’t need to be an “expert” in psychology to do this.
“The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we have to heal each other, the enormous power in the simplest of human relationships: the strength of a touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you just as you are and finding in you an unsuspected goodness.
“Everyone alive has suffered. It is the wisdom gained from our wounds and from our own experiences of suffering that makes us able to heal. Becoming expert has turned out to be less important than remembering and trusting the wholeness in myself and everyone else. Expertise cures, but wounded people can best be healed by other wounded people. Only other wounded people can understand what is needed, for the healing of suffering is compassion, not expertise.” ~ Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
This article was excerpted for Wake Up World from Bernhard Guenther’s essay Individuality, Embodiment, and the Anchoring of a Higher Frequency.
About the author:
Bernhard Guenther has had a lifelong interest in exploring the mysteries and hidden knowledge surrounding our planet and humanity’s origins, questioning the roots of what constitutes “reality”, and how social (and spiritual) conditioning impacts upon our collective search for the truth in all aspects of life.
His blog Piercing the Veil of Reality is a wide-ranging collection of articles, essays and films ranging from spirituality, psychology, politics and history, to the UFO phenomenon and hyperdimensional realities.
Besides reading, researching and writing his material, Bernhard works as a professional bodyworker in Topanga Canyon, California, helping individuals in their path towards healing and holistic wellness.
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