What Is Projection in Jungian Psychology?

Projection, according to Carl Jung, occurs when a person sees in another qualities they themselves possess. This phenomenon goes on daily in most relationships and encounters.

Whenever a person is convinced that the awful qualities seen in another person have nothing to do with him or herself, a projection is mostly likely being engaged. This does not mean, however, that these qualities are not present. It merely means that they probably exist, to some extent, in the person observing them.

The Good News/Bad News Attraction

Another common projection involves envy. When a person envies another, more than likely that person already possesses the qualities in some unexpressed state. Whether observing negative or positive qualities, more than likely that person is engaged in projection and existing under a kind of spell. They are not seeing all that is. How to awaken from this spell and reclaim a true picture of a person or situation becomes an important task in self-development.

The good news is that a person already possesses those qualities they thought they lacked; the bad news is that that a person already possesses those qualities they thought they lacked. What attracts two people is that each possesses what the other wants. The secret is that what the other wants is already locked away in inside themselves.Unfortunately, the rule applies both ways. Whatever a person feels is safely locked away from view can be generally found alive and well in another.

Intimate Relationships

In relationships, both intimate and otherwise, these same principles apply. A person projects onto another whatever it is they need them to be. Regarding intimate relationship, the inner feminine/anima or inner masculine /animus is seen expressed in the other. That person to whom one is fervently attracted, therefore, is none other than the outer mirror for that person's inner self. The Beloved holds the space, so to speak, for what that person seeks inside themselves.

Understanding the difference between what is true and what is only projection can be a challenge. If a person or group of people has really gotten under our skin or the person or situation or thing really gets to us, that person is most likely caught up in a projection or spell of some kind. Likewise, that feeling of falling in love, albeit glorious, may be mere projection.

How to Tell the Difference

Whenever the emotions seem highly charged, more than what the situation might call for, this is most likely a projection. When family and friends ask whats up with so-and so? and the person doesnt seem to be thinking or acting at all clearly, their head is in the clouds, so to speak, these are good signs that a projection is lurking.

When this happens it is called being hooked. The other person or group has unknowingly provided the hook, but it is always the person or group (in other words the object of the projection), who has been caught. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this is not done consciously. Projection is always an unconscious act.

Withdrawing the Projection

Withdrawing the projections is the beginning of becoming whole or, what Carl Jung refers to, individuated. Those parts of the personality that have been caught up in projections start to return giving greater authenticity and feeling of well being. Love, too, is more richly realized as the projections are lifted. Becoming individuated brings a greater sense of freedom as a person feels more like themselves and thus more vibrantly alive.

Sources and recommended readings: To read more about collective projection on national level, read "What is Collective Shadow Projection." Also read how projection was an crucial part of the ancient practice of alchemy. And for more practical shadow work read How to Work with the Shadow in Five Easy Steps.

Samuels, A., Shorter, B., Plaut, F. (1986). A critical dictionary of Jungian analysis. London: Routledge. Whitmont, E. C.. (1969). The symbolic quest: Basic concepts of analytic psychology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.