Although you probably hear the word “projection” being thrown around a lot, if you are like me (or at least the person I was until yesterday) you might not have a clear idea of how psychological projection works.
I vaguely saw projecting as the act of imagining others to have qualities they don’t actually possess. But what I’ve realized is that projecting is more about actively trying to dissociate from a specific part of yourself, which you then try to see in others. But seeing this quality in others is more of a side effect. The heart of projection is trying to detach from a part of yourself.
Another aspect of projection is that you don’t realize you are doing it. And while it is easy to imagine other people doing things unawares, it can come as a shock to realize you have been doing this yourself.
Yesterday, I experienced this shock when I became aware of a projection I have been carrying on throughout my life. I realized I have always tried to divorce myself from being in any way intellectual, educated, or sophisticated. Instead, I would project these traits onto others and feel in awe of their cosmopolitan qualities, despite the fact that they would frequently be people less “cultured” than myself.
This may seem like a strange aspect of oneself to project, since many people view sophistication as a desirable quality. Astrologically, though, it makes sense. There are a few factors in a person’s chart that determine which parts of themselves they desire to offload onto others. For example, the qualities of any planet opposite to Venus at the time of birth, will tend to get projected. I was born with Venus opposite Jupiter, who rules higher education, philosophy, wealth, and the high brow parts of a culture in general. Therefore, I would want to see scholarly, urbane qualities in others, but never in myself.
I grew up wealthy and as a child my identity was the smart, intellectual one, which never made me feel especially cute. Perhaps this is why I dreamed of being an uneducated hayseed from the country. When I first read Rousseau, his glamorization of the Noble Savage went straight to my heart. I wanted so badly to be that natural, lovable person, uncorrupted by human culture. And it seemed to me that poor people were somehow closer to Rousseau’s ideal.
Eventually I began trying (subconsciously) to associate myself with everything the opposite of the wealthy world I knew. My favorite wine had to be Boone’s Farm, Strawberry-Kiwi. I tried to read harlequin novels and listen to cheesiest forms of country music. I attempted to become a secretary, a stripper, a worker at KFC. Some of which are noble jobs, but to the culture I came from, they were shocking and inappropriate choices. Especially secretary.
It was probably this same projection which caused me to move to West Virginia. I remember as a child how Kentucky (where I lived) was generally ranked second to last in everything. This made me proud. But West Virginia was always dead last in education, wealth, etc, which made me jealous. Being in last place made West Virginia pure. Beautiful.
And the more I convinced myself that I was, in fact, a rube, the more I would take pleasure in being wowed by the wealth and sophistication of those around me. If someone spoke a few words of another language, attended an art gallery, or took a plane ride to another country, I would be floored with admiration. Impressed. Delightfully intimidated. Feelings that gave me an almost sexual thrill. It made me feel warm and rosy to be a nothing, looking up in astonishment at someone else. Again, this was happening subconsciously, at the reptile level.
Over time, the projections grew more extreme. At first, it took a person’s trip to Africa to impress me. Eventually, their trip to the Olive Garden would do the trick. There was a point when I came close to being institutionalized for mental retardation, while just a few years earlier I had been getting scholarships to Ivy League schools. So why did I feel such a desperate need to separate myself from the gloss of education and wealth? What was I trying to gain?
I don’t know. Maybe I felt more feminine and lovable as a simpleton. Maybe I felt restricted by my identity as a smart person. One drawback to being tagged intelligent is that you can only keep that label by expressing ideas that other people find intelligent. While for me, the ideas closest to my heart usually fall into realms which society finds fruit loopy, or sometimes just too far our and individualistic to be considered at all.
Maybe I felt confined by growing up wealthy. When your dinner chairs are valuable antiques, you can’t paint purple polka dots on them when the mood strikes. No one glues dinosaur figurines to a brand new Mercedes. It always seemed as though “the poor” had more options for how to express themselves. Of course, now I see things differently. Whimsical life choices are far more appealing when money is all around. When you are really poor, you don’t want to glue dinosaurs to your car.
Or it could be that we project aspects of ourselves as a response to external pressure. Another person convinces us to leave parts of ourselves behind so he can feed off them. After all, my obsession with being lowly made me eager to give away anything of value that I did possess, and to treat those around me like nobles. Maybe there were people encouraging me.
Causes aside, it is easy to see the damage this sort of projection can cause. Of course, people can project their “negative” qualities as well. If, for example, someone has a testy planet like Mars or Pluto opposite Venus, they will tend to see anger, hatred, and manipulation in those around them. Nonetheless, these projections are still damaging to the one doing them, because we can’t project our aggression onto someone else without giving them our power and agency as well.
So, that is all I have to say. My hope is that by sharing my longstanding pattern of projection with the wide and faceless world, it will be harder for me to keep doing it! 🙂