This article isn’t about dream interpretation, though the analogy is apt. The post is about how projection, which is a staple in dreaming, occurs in waking life and affects what you see. It is about no longer walking through life in a dream like state and taking the time to delve inside of yourself, to interpret your life.
In Gestalt dream analysis, everything in the dream is you. Other theories, though not outright stating everything in the dream is subjective, recognize that projection is apparent. After all it is your mind creating the images, not an actual person invading your dream. Your unconscious projects an image. The real meaning of the image lies within you, not outside in another.
Dream interpretation is very interesting and can provide clues to the unconscious. The purpose of this post is to discuss how the waking hours can do the same. There are aspects of reality we all agree upon: the weather; who won which bowl game; there is little about these aspects of reality anyone will argue. There is a great deal of room in daily interactions and activities, however, for one to have their own truth, their own perception of reality. In fact, it could be contended that the vast majority of occurrences in a day have a large element of projection.
Projection is when an individual attributes something within him or herself onto another. Basically, you see what you are. This is not new; there are numerous quotes that impart this meaning: Anaïs Nin stated, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Henry David Thoreau proclaimed, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Carl Jung said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” These quotes, and likely many others, point to the theory that humans project their unconscious onto others. Simply, what one finds in the world is a reflection of one’s unconscious.
The idea that one is projecting much of what he or she perceives maybe difficult to accept. People rely on their thinking beyond reproach. This is understandable; one has more access to his or her thoughts than any other material. One’s thinking has likely served him well. The thought of not relying on thinking could be terrifying. However, the alternative is to walk through a dream world never interpreted.
In previous posts I have touched on the theme of subjective reality. One of my more popular posts is, “The Truth Will Not Set You Free.” The suggestion is similar here: question thinking. Evaluate it. Step outside of thought, look at it objectively and with an inquisitive mind, and evaluate it. Could all of these learned and insightful people, some of whom developed theories around projection, others who use the theories to assist others to increase happiness, have been wrong? Isn’t it possible or perhaps likely that what one sees is affected by their unconscious, by their experience, by their history? As such, how is projection affecting your vision?
To approach this differently, it is not being suggested that one simply cease having confidance in every thought and question everything. Nothing would get done. Automatic thinking serves the human race well. It helps discern between dangerous and benign situations. It allows for much more productivity. It eases living immensely. To be without it would be to become infantile.
Always functioning and trusting thinking, nevertheless, has its costs. Often one is not completely present in interactions, as the mind, the ego, is determining the next move. This might be what to say or considering what is next on the agenda. By not being completely present, and by allowing automatic thinking to operate unquestioned, one does not perceive reality accurately. Prior experience taints the present. One may not be able to see past their impression. Opportunities may be missed. Negativity focused on rather than positivity. Potential acquaintances judged and discarded without really knowing who they are. Others allowed into one’s life that one might have been better off without. All because an overused, albeit handy, tool has gone unchecked.
It is not the intention of this post to persuade one to give up on initial impressions or hunches. Often they serve an incredible purpose. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”, he does an excellent job of describing how intuition and first impressions can be incredibly positive; while at other times they alter perception in a negative way leading to horrible outcomes. The purpose of this post is simply to encourage the questioning of thought and judgment, especially when it is leading to negative feeling and action. A good beginning would be questioning what we don’t like in another. Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Another time to begin self-evaluation is when you misunderstand someone. It is likely you were projecting your own unconscious into the misunderstanding.
Evaluating oneself can be a daunting task. Days are filled with activity, deadlines, and tasks. Automatic thinking permits a smoother, and more efficient life. Evaluating if you are projecting the unconscious takes time and an open mind. It can be an arduous task to interpret the representations you put on another, or on a situation. Questioning one’s thinking, looking within, peering into the possible ugliness that lies in the unconscious is challenging to say the least. But self-understanding, a potentially less outwardly conflictual existence, and being in the present moment more often are worth it.
Copyright William Berry, 2013
Gladwell, Malcolm; 2005; Blink.