The Ego and its Projections

The process of becoming whole, and getting in touch with the sacred Self, involves coming to terms with the shadow elements of one’s personality. This is not always an easy task. Carl Jung tells us:

“To become conscious of [the shadow]  involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance…

Closer examination of the dark characteristics– that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow– reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality.” (CW 9ii, para. 14-15)

Carl Jung says that our shadow is closely related to our projections. Because we are unable to see the shadowy aspect of our own personality, we project them onto other people. Jung explains:

“While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s own personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in other person. No matter how obvious it may be to the neutral observer that it is a matter of projections, there is little hope that the subject will perceive this himself. He must be convinced that he throws a very long shadow before he is willing withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object… As we know, it is not the conscious subject but unconscious which does the projecting.” (CW 9ii, para. 16- 17)

The problem with our projections is that they isolate us from our environment and from other human beings. Our projections block  the formation of deep relationship with the people in our lives. If we are busy seeing our own projections how can we see others as they truly are?

“The effect of projection to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projection changes the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face… The more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the ego to see through its illusions” (CW 9ii, para. 17)

According to Jung, each of us must come to terms with the ways we have projected parts of our personality on the world. It is only in doing so that we can reclaim the wholeness of our personality.

“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, course– for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.” (CW 9ii, para. 18)

It takes time and patience to work with the shadow element in ourselves. Carl Jung’s work is a testament to the power of doing such work, and of being honest with ourselves. It is through the process of pulling back our projections that our personality (and our true being) comes fully into the world. And from this place we can come into a deeper and more true relationship with the world around us.

5 thoughts on “The Ego and its Projections

  1. I’ve been thinking and writing for a while now about our need for enemies. My experiences on Facebook through the U.S. presidential election, and now the gun control battle, have provided some fodder for my thoughts.

    I credit this blog about The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight with starting me on this road, but in the background of my thoughts for years is the admonition by Aristophanes “The wise learn many things from their enemies”.

    In my darkest and most cynical hour (literally, awakened around 3am) I came to see that we need our enemies to be particularly evil, because the more evil they are, the more virtuous we become simply by not being that evil Other. It isn’t enough for the far right that Obama wants to raise taxes. It is necessary that he is a burgeoning fascist who is coming to take their guns and put their families into FEMA death camps. Likewise for the far left, it isn’t enough that the US has restricted civil liberties through the PATRIOT act and NDAA: the US government must also be harboring fascist intent of classifying all protestors as terrorists and detaining them indefinitely.

    Recently I started reading about Jung and the Shadow and wondering where mine was tripping me up. Later that night I had a dream where I grabbed a man’s head and repeatedly bashed it into a wall until his skull cracked. I recall being both mortified and mystified at my behavior in the dream itself.

    My takeaway lesson from that dream is that no matter how much one practices “love your enemy”, one still cannot banish the shadow that way alone. It takes deeper work on the self. For the last year or so my recurrent nightmare has been a body hidden deep in my basement that no one else knows about, but which is on the verge of being found out. I do not know whose body it is, nor whether I was responsible for the person’s death, but have a fear in the dream that I will be in trouble when it is found. This comes after some an extended and very thorough examination of my life with clearing/completion work with everyone significant about everything I can recall ever withholding from them. Something is still withheld, but I cannot tell what.

    This being the week we honor Martin Luther King, I’ve been toting this quote around:

    “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

    -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Thank you for this blog and more food for my thoughts.

    P.S. In the quote you posted that begins “The effect of projection…” the first sentence is repeated again immediately after itself.

  2. Also: “banish the shadow” was a bad (but telling) choice of words on my part. Obviously integration is what we’re after.

  3. Your blog is awesome! I think you may really be interested in reading the blogs of my teacher Marc Bregman, who has written a blog of commentary on the Red Book called Carl-Me: He is a strong follower of Carl Jung and has developed a technique of dream interpretation that is very successful at guiding people into understanding their projections and getting in touch with their souls. He also has a blog about the fundamentals of his work, which you can find here:

Comments are closed.