This week I want to talk about the concept of psychological projection. According to Wikipedia, Projection is defined as: the unconscious act of denial of a person’s own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, the government, a tool, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings.
This is a topic I’ve not heard discussed very much in the facilitation arena and one that if better understood, might resolve many of the issues we face. Not to mention the issues that separate various ethnic groups, religious groups, and nations throughout the world. Perhaps this topic isn’t brought up so much because it’s so hard for most of us to accept that our own minds could be the source of so much we dislike in the world. And, the situation becomes especially difficult when we’re actually in the throws of projection.
So let me give you an example of what I mean. Let’s suppose you encounter a participant in your group, we’ll call her Jill, who frequently complains of being overrun in groups, especially by men.
Over time you notice that while she can be very outspoken and insightful, at times she retreats and withdraws from the group. One day she makes a comment about feeling beat down and overruled by dominating males and that while she very much wants to stop this pattern, she doesn’t know what to do about it.
Upon further observation, it seems to you that Jill is actually beating herself down. While at times she clearly demonstrates the ability to project her power, at others, it’s like that power gets turned inward and she shuts herself down. So while it appears to her that men are shutting her down, she is actually shutting herself down and projecting the cause on them.
How do we recognize and work with projection in groups?
1. I’m upset because. Whenever someone points to an outside source causing them to be upset, you can almost always be assured that projection is in play.
2. Introduce a pattern interrupt. When someone is triggered and running a projection, it’s like they are running on automatic. Do something to interrupt their pattern. Encourage them to take a break, slow down, and breathe.
3. Look for new interpretations. When projecting, we mistake judgments for facts.
For example, “Men always shut down powerful women!” Or, “You can’t trust the government.” Or, “My people just don’t take responsibility.”
In these cases, suggest that there may be more forces at work than we can see. Ask them to be specific about the outcomes they see and to explore alternative causes for them. Encourage them to ask the group for help seeing other perspectives.
4. Encourage ownership. Projections exist because at some point we found the necessity to repress some behavior or ability. Note that this intervention goes a bit deep on the intrapersonal level and may be inappropriate depending on the scope and context of the work in which the group is engaged.
If it is appropriate and the participant has given permission to work on an intrapersonal level, ask them if they’re willing to look at shifting their inner views around this issue as a possibility of gaining control over it. If they agree, ask them to consider how their outer experience may be a metaphor reflecting something about their relationship to themselves.
For example: “When you check inside, is there some way in which you find this pattern going on in:
a) your relationship with the person or situation you are referring to?
b) your relationship with yourself?
c) your relationship with your Creator?
These are questions that might also be explored through independent journaling with later followup.
Are there projections you’re running that you’d like to stop? Please share your thoughts, stories, and experiences around this topic in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!