I went on a blind first date not too long ago and after mentioning that I'd written a memoir that takes a frank look at my coming-of-age through the lens of psychotherapy, my date asked: "So, will I like you more or like you less after I read your book?"
I laughed, because this was the same question I had asked myself many times.
Shit, I have sometimes thought, are people going to like me less now that I've thrown light onto some of the shadowed corners of my psyche? Will acquaintances slowly drop me from their Facebook friend lists? Will I receive sideways glances at parties, while conversations I do engage in end more and more abruptly with, "I have to go to the bathroom. Nice to see you!" Maybe my close friends would feel they had never really known me.
But then, wait, I would think, maybe people will like me more. Maybe they will say "I relate!" and feel that something they have experienced in their own life but never spoken of has been validated.
What happens when you expose yourself -- whether it's something you write in a book or just something honest you say in conversation?
Jung and Freud talked a lot about "projection," so much so that it's one of the more well-known concepts in psychology, even amongst non-psychology types. In short, it's the idea that the judgments you make of another person -- and especially a person you have never met, have just met, or don't know well -- can be overwhelmingly colored by the silent, unconscious judgements that you're making about yourself.
For example, you might be annoyed by an exceptionally confident co-worker -- a trait you've identified as arrogance -- because you yourself are too embarrassed to be as assertive at work as you would really like to be.
Here is one of Jung's most famous lines on the topic: "Projections change the world into the replica of one's own unknown face."
Whenever I read this, I think of an advertisement for Toostie Rolls that was on television when I was a kid: Animated cartoon children roam and play in their neighbourhood, singing, "Whatever it is I think I see becomes a Tootsie Roll to me!" while slowly all the cylindrical shapes of the landscape, passing vehicles, and even their toys turn into Tootsie Rolls.
Certainly, our psyches are more complicated than a chewy, delicious candy, but like kids wearing Tootsie Roll goggles, sometimes we see delicious things about ourselves in other people. A story that person on the other side of the table tells you may bring to light a deep-seated personal fantasy that you never knew was dying to be fulfilled or your date might manifest a personality trait that has been sitting latent inside of you and that you are now inspired to engage. (To be somewhat cynically reductive, you might even say this phenomenon explains 'love at first sight'. Or at least, as my date put it, like at first sight.)
But there's a dark side of projection, too. Jung said this happens when we project what he called our "Shadow," all the negative or inferior-seeming attributes of our own psyches that we reject or repress, so much so that we have no choice but to detest and fear them in other people.
Here's a pretty good quote from Jung along these lines: "We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior ‘soul' has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves."
So, maybe if my date ends up reading my book, she will see parts of herself that she fears -- her own personal witches and werewolves. It could happen and in that case, yeah, she'll probably like me less.
A guy I worked with at a movie theatre when I was a teen once told me: "As you get to know someone, you either start to like them more and more, or you like them less and less." I believed that for a long time, but now I'm not sure he was right. It seems to me as you get to know someone -- and while you are still projecting your own personal Tootsie Rolls and Shadows onto them -- both might happen at the same time, and could go on for quite a while. Isn't this an explanation for all the fights and reconciliations that make up relationships?
"I don't know, I think you'll probably like me more," I said to my date. (What did she expect me to say on a first date!?) "There's nothing too creepy in there, because I'm not a creep," I reasoned. But the fact is, I had no idea what she'd find creepy. One of the frustrating and beautiful things about getting to know someone is that you are still blind to what they're made of, and consequently, what they might be projecting onto you.
Perhaps it was ill advised, but I decided to add: "Maybe you'll like me more and less." I couldn't tell if she was pleased with that answer -- it would depend, of course, on whether a predilection for taking risks despite uncertainty are part of her conscious personality or are rather hidden in her shadows -- but I think it's probably closer to the truth.
Luckily, Jung was not one-sidedly a doomsayer on this topic. He also felt that there was a, ahem, withdrawal method by which you could halt your projection and thus see a person clearly for who they are. But that's a topic for another day, and definitely not before a third or fourth date.