Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Getting Past Our Shadow Projection

January 17th, 2022 · shadow projection

Shadow projection is a term you see a lot in self help books these days. It’s been popularized by writers like Connie Zweig, who emphasize the importance of “shadow work”. It really is important for us, especially right now.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

To understand “shadow projection”, we first have to understand “shadow”. As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp tells us, the Jungian term “shadow” refers to “hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized”. Jung referred to the shadow more bluntly as “that which we do not wish to be.”

This part of ourselves which is unacknowledged, either because we’ve repressed it, or because we just don’t know about it, is incredibly important. We all have such a part of ourselves, no matter how “conscious” or “self aware” we might be. The fact that the conscious mind doesn’t acknowledge this dimension of ourselves doesn’t mean that this part of us has no influence upon us. As a matter of fact, the influence of “the shadow” on our lives is enormous.

The shadow can impact us in a wide range of ways. Just as an example, shadow is often very visible when someone is undergoing the midlife transition. People at this stage of life may well connect with parts of themselves that they had completely forgotten about, or which they didn’t ever know were a part of their makeup. This can be very demanding for the ego. The ensuing interaction may take us to places we had never dreamed of going: out of marriages, careers and spiritual/religious commitments, and into entirely new ones, to name but a few possibilities. I mention this solely to illustrate the power of the psychological forces connected with shadow.

Keeping this awareness in mind, I’d like to consider the nature and power of shadow projection. Projection, according to Sharp is:

An automatic process whereby contents of one’s own unconscious are perceived to be in others.

Jungian Andrew Samuels elaborates on this:

Difficult emotions and unacceptable parts of the personality may be located in a person or object external to the subject. The problematic content is thereby controlled and the individual feels a (temporary) release and sense of well being. (Samuels et al, Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis)

So, shadow projection is when we unconsciously take the contents of our own shadow, and perceive them as belonging to another person or group of people. We take muck out of our own backyard, as it were, fling it onto someone else’s face, and are convinced that’s the way they actually look!

Mud, flung onto a wall! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Dangers of Shadow Projection

As may be readily apparent, shadow projection is a very dangerous thing to do to others. It is also an extremely dangerous thing to do to yourself.

When we project our shadow on others, we see our own characteristics as being part of the other person. Let’s say we have two people who work in the same office. One [“the projector”] projects on the other [“the projectee”] that that person is lazy and unmotivated. This may be because “the projectee” has some other unrelated quality, such as a vague resemblance to someone “the projector” knew in the past—or a strange and unfamiliar-sounding last name. In that situation “the projectee” will particularly lose out, because they may well not have this characteristic at all. If “the projector” is a close working colleague, or worse, a supervisor, this may be quite damaging.

However, let’s not lose sight of the damage “the projector” does to themselves with this projection. The projection of laziness or lack of motivation onto another person, serves to make “the projector” less anxious about something in their own psyche. For instance, this individual may have a very strong investment in seeing themselves as a “good employee” who always meets the expectations and escalating demands of their employer. Yet they may be ignoring or repressing a part of themselves that actually deeply resents the demands of the employer, finds them excessive and wants to push back and assert boundaries.

This feeling may well be an essential and important part of “the projector” to which they need to listen. By projecting it, they get rid of some anxiety, it’s true. Yet, this can be at the cost of losing vitality and authenticity.

Facing Up to Shadow

It can be easy to run from our shadow, and shadow projection is one of the most common ways that we do this. It can be so extensive that it turns into a way of life. People can spend large parts of their life avoiding shadow through projection. They can pay a very heavy price for this, in that they fail to acknowledge essential parts of who they really are.

Shadow and Others

We need to be aware that shadow projection can creep into all of our interactions with others in profound ways. We need to stay alert to its possible presence in individual-to-individual interactions, but that is not all. Shadow projection can have an enormous impact on the way that whole groups are perceived by other groups in our society. This can have a profound impact on business, politics, and even the overall social cohesion of a society.

In our era, social differences on issues can be so polarizing. We see this in the tensions, stigmatization and vilification surrounding issues like “pro vax vs. anti vax” during COVID. How easy it is to lose sight of people in their individual uniqueness, and pigeon-hole them through unfair and demeaning stereotypes! In this era of social media, this is another type of “epidemic” of which all need to be aware.

Dealing with our shadow projection, and doing shadow work can be a great deal easier when we don’t have to do it in isolation. A close, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can often be of tremendous support in this work. If you feel that you’re dealing with issues of shadow and shadow projection, I strongly recommend you seek out support from a qualified Jungian analyst.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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New Year: Building Resilience and Meaning in Uncertainty

January 10th, 2022 · resilience and meaning

It’s very early days in 2022, and I think that most readers will recognize the need for resilience and meaning in this uncertain time.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In my home province of Ontario, as of today we’re once again still in lockdown. This is due to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Schools and many retail businesses are closed or facing restrictions. Gatherings of people are also once again strictly limited in size. There’s a general feeling of restriction and uncertainty. No one is sure how long these restrictions will last, or when we’ll finally return to a sense of normalcy.

As the seemingly less virulent but highly contagious Omicron spreads, there’s hope that COVID might be changing from a pandemic to something much less threatening. Yet no one is certain if or when that might occur. It seems that we’re being called to patience and endurance—yet again.

Not surprisingly, the uncertainty of the present time is generating anxiety for all of us. How can we deal with our anxiety in such a way that a sense of hope and solidity is actually directing us? Where can we find resilience? Two things, a sense of resilience and meaning, are very relevant here.

Resilience and Meaning

How do we find resilience and meaning in challenging times? Resilience is that quality that enables an individual to face adversity and to come back from it with strength to meet challenges. When we’re discouraged and thwarted by setbacks, we can become more risk averse and more shut down as a result. However, the resilient person is someone who springs back from such experiences, and even uses what they learn from the setback to help them. Resilient people are characterized by a basic overall optimism, and a capacity to live their lives in the face of circumstances that others might find discouraging.

There are a number of factors that go into resilience. Some of them are founded in things we can’t change, like genetics. Yet there are a great many things that we can focus on that will build up our capacity for resilience, and enable us to deal with setbacks and experiences of disorientation—like the latest wave of the pandemic.

The Capacity for Resilience

One of the things that will help with resilience is to develop an attitude of kindness, starting especially with directing kindness toward ourselves. In difficult circumstances, many people find it easy to let their inner critic savagely beat them up. An experience of failure, for instance, can be something about which individuals rake themselves over the coals, often endlessly.

So, a starting point for building resilience is the willingness to work on seeing ourselves and our lives in a kinder light. This goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to work on treating ourselves better, in many ways. These include getting the sleep we need, perhaps driving ourselves less, and they go right through to the story we ultimately tell ourselves about our lives.

This last point is directly connected to another factor that builds resilience, namely finding ways to root our lives in a sense of meaning. There are many possible sources of gratification or “feel good” in life, but one of the greatest of these is a sense of meaning. This was a bedrock foundation of the psychology of C.G. Jung, as reflected in the following quote:

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

And in this quote:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

We can be curious about our lives, and our own particular experience. We can identify parts of our lived experience that carry a particular sense of meaning or value or truth. We can find aspiration or hope to live for that connect us to a sense of lasting or indestructible meaning. Living for these things can give us a tremendous amount of resilience, if we can just find them and hang onto them.

What is your greatest hope, now?

How Can I Connect with Resilience and Meaning?

For many people, a key part of coping with the pandemic experience centers around finding resilience and meaning. This is generally true in life, but our experience of the pandemic highlights this reality. If we can find meaning in our particular experience of life at this time, and find a value in it, this heightens our resilience, and shows us a way to get through it. This work of finding meaning may well become an essential part of our daily life. What has meaning for you?

This ongoing search for meaning in our own unique, particular lives can often be enhanced by working in a supportive therapeutic relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. The ongoing “living lab” of depth psychotherapy can allow us to becoming much more discerning about where meaning really lies—and to center our lives on it.

Wishing each of you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

© 2021 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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