Projection is actually found in the Bible, though not exactly with that word which finds its roots in modern psychology. In Matthew 7:3-6, Jesus is discussing projection when He says:
- And why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the log that is in your own eye? 4. Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the splinter out of your eye; and, behold, a log is in your own eye? 5. You hypocrite first cast out the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to cast out the splinter out of your brother’s eye. 6. And why do you notice the splinter that is in your brother’s eye, but perceive not the log that is in your own eye?
So why do we see the speck in our brother’s eye and don’t see the log that is obscuring our vision? Projection is a way of distracting ourselves from our own uncomfortable faults by focusing on those of others. And usually, the ones we see in others are the ones we struggle with ourselves. Notice the splinter and the log are made of the same things. What does this mean?
Jesus addresses this too when He says in Luke 6:45:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
I think Jesus is talking about how our own hearts act as filters for how we perceive the world. If we are liars, we think everyone else is a liar and untrustworthy. In fact, it is we who cannot be trusted and we have projected this onto the world. This is why jealous spouses are often guilty of infidelity. They judge their spouses based on what it in their own heart – lust.
So here are four common examples of projection to watch out for. I suggest we all start by peering into our own hearts before looking for projection in others. I suppose you can project projection!
1: He/she hates me!
Rejection is the most common area of projection. It stems from a deep sense of being rejected or from not being good enough. Those of us who don’t particularly like ourselves are most commonly guilty of this particular projection. We then snub others before they have a chance to snub us! I think there is a proverb that says He who would have friends must show themselves friendly.
I freely admit that I have assumed that this or that person didn’t care for me. Sometimes all it took was a bad first impression. In the end, it rarely proved true. So if you have a list of enemies or worse, frenemies, you might want to check it again. It may, in fact, be that you don’t like them. That is a harder task to deal with, the enmity in our own hearts. And who knows, you might make some good friends.
If I can do it, you can too.
I know that I have pulled this one on my kids. And as a longtime professor, I have learned that every person is unique and has challenges that are individual to them. But parents often force kids to do things that the parents were good at without taking into account the preferences and abilities of the child. Not all children are athletes, musical, brainy, artistic, or whatever our preferences are as parents. We need to nurture their abilities, not assume that they are a projection of who we are.
Why don’t they just get over it?
A corollary of the previous one, this one shows itself in a lack of compassion. If we have not experienced the loss of a child or a spouse, or perhaps depression or anxiety, we do not understand the journey of others. We may wonder why they don’t just get over it. By doing this, we are projecting our own emotions onto others. And if we have experienced something similar and still feel critical, it may be that we haven’t truly faced our own wounds.
Knee-jerk reactions, accusations, and critical judgments.
The most stereotypical of these projections are the mean high school girls who criticize everyone else’s style or lack thereof. They reveal their own insecurities when they judge the other girls’ looks. Homophobia is a common projection as well. If a young man hates homosexuals enough to harm them, chances are he has feelings that he is uncomfortable with. Don’t believe me? The Bible Belted South leads the way in homosexual porn by far and is also the least friendly to gays. We hate in others what we fear in ourselves. Hate the sin but love the sinner? What if the sinner is you?
I have learned two basic principles in life which so far have always panned out. The first is: No one hates you like someone who does you wrong and has been found out. I think this is a sort of projection of its own. If we harm someone, we assume they hate us. They represent our failures and sins and so we hate them when it is really our own failings we hate.
The second is: Those who accuse are almost always guilty of what they accuse others of. Now I am not talking about crime. Rape victims or victims of abuse ought to speak up, and yet rarely do. I am talking about those who constantly complain and criticize others. The laziest coworker I ever had constantly complained about how no one did their job. The worst pastor I ever knew railed against lust in the pulpit and had a couple side chicks.
So if you want to spot projection in yourself, sit with your criticisms and gut-level judgments for a while. It may be that you are really mad at yourself and it just feels better to be mad at someone else. After all, a beam in one’s eye is pretty uncomfortable. Who wouldn’t want some distraction?
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