Perception is projection

Teaching story

An old man was squatting at the gate of a village. An angry looking man approached him and shouted, “Old man tell me, what’s this village like? I’m moving from my village and want to know if I should move here.”

The old man replied, “What was your old village like.”

The reply came, “Oh, it was awful. It was hell on Earth! The people were crooks, angry, unfriendly. The weather was atrocious. Hot one day – freezing next. I’m so glad to be out of there.”

The old man replied, “This village is exactly the same. You better move on.”

Half an hour later a smiling man approached the same man.

“Dear grandpa, he said, “What is this village like?”

The squatting man smiled back and asked the same question, “What was your old village like?”

The young man smiled and said, “it was heaven on Earth. It was so wonderful. The people were so friendly, helpful and honest. I hate to be leaving there but I’m searching for adventure and pastures anew.”

The old man smiled back and said, “This village is exactly the same. You are welcome.”

Projection as a defense mechanism

According to Sigmund Freud defense mechanisms are ways that the ego uses conscious thoughts to alleviate unacceptable unconscious thoughts.

They include:

  •  Denial.
  • Displacement.
  • Rationalization.
  • Repression.
  • Suppression.
  • Regression.
  • Sublimation.
  • Projection.
There are many other defenses that the ego may use as to not face the truth about the real self.
This post is about projection which is ascribing one’s own unacceptable or negative thoughts and characteristics to others.

Perception is projection

In psychology we have a saying that perception is projection. That’s to say you basically see the outer world as you are inside. If everyone in your world is X, then perhaps you should look inside as chances are you are the X.

An ex-friend calls everyone a jackass. I can understand there may be a few jackasses in the world. Somehow they all seem to congregate around this guy who coincidentally has lost all his old friends.

Another friend belongs to an evangelical supposedly Christian cult. According to him about 20,000 fellow cult members will go to heaven and ecstatically watch the rest of us burning in hell for eternity. He never thinks for himself (about religion, philosophy and politics) but mindlessly parrots the thoughts of the cult leader. However, he thinks everyone else is misled.

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time studying all sides of any issue. I’m not led anywhere since I think for myself. However, the cult follower who is always led somewhere or other thinks all the rest of us are misled.

As I wrote, “perception is projection.”

Third example: a friend is exceedingly jealous of everyone else’s good fortune and yet she accuses everyone else of envy.

When Jesus said, “You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye,”  (World English Bible) he was talking exactly about the issue of projection. Similarly the Babylonian Talmud writes, “Do not taunt your neighbor with the blemish you yourself have.”

How to project less

I’m using lying as an example of projection.

When you notice that you think everyone else has some negative characteristic start looking for it inside yourself. Perhaps it is not that the world is full of liars but you tend to lie a lot.

Ask yourself, “Is it possible that everyone I meet lies?” Start noticing the mendacity within yourself.

According to CG Jung, all of us have an unconscious shadow side in which reside negative characteristics that we project unto the outer world. One way we reconcile ourselves with our shadow is to accept it and bring it out to the light of consciousness. If we see everyone as liars perhaps notice that not all lies are bad. Some are white lies.

By forgiving the lies of others perhaps you’ll end up being more truthful.

Another teaching story:

Typically the little girl was driven to school by her dad. This day he was not available and the mother took her.

Everything was calm and it was an easy drive.

As the little girl opened the door to leave she asked, “Mom, where are all the a..holes today?”

The mother said, “Young lady, you should not use words like that. Anyway, they are all waiting for when your dad drives!”

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