Psychology Today has an unofficial definition for the term projection – “attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another.” (Source)
In recent times, I’ve been noticing a great deal of projection going on in the public sphere. I’ve heard politicians and other public figures project onto opponents the very things that these folks are guilty of. A book I’m reading has given example after example of religious people who have done the exact same thing. It’s also popular to do on social media too.
Projection is all the rage apparently. It’s caused me to be more intentional in listening to statements made by folks, especially those in positions of power. Projection never comes across in a positive way – as in projecting stability and happiness. Rather, what is projected are those unacceptable things from within ourselves and attributing them to our target. People are really good at projecting all sorts of things onto others – violent intent, lies, dubious efforts, corruption, claims of intolerance, phobias, fears, anger, chaos, lacking a backbone, etc.
I’ve now started to listen a bit differently to public figures and what they are really saying when they are critical of someone they have deemed as their opponent. It has me wondering how much of what is being said is a projection from the speaker onto someone else.
Projection is a way of scapegoating – thrusting our own sins onto someone else to be sacrificed and dehumanized. When we scapegoat, we get to claim that we are innocent and that the target of the scapegoating is carrying all the sin. Scapegoating is as old as humanity.
When we are scapegoating or projecting, it carries the same effect – avoidance of dealing with out our own issues. It is so much easier to thrust them on to someone else, than to deal with them ourselves. Yet, we seldom learn or grow when we do this. We just avoid something that we have determined is painful in the moment. And we forget that this avoidance only lasts for a short time. And then we have to decide again – do we deal with our own stuff, or do we project it onto someone else again? The easy way out is to keep doing it. But the problem with that is that it never ends. And because it never ends, we’ll never be free from our own brokenness. We are captive to it and cannot free ourselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It never does. It takes courage to stop the addicting cycle of scapegoating and projection and instead look inward and deal with your own stuff. It takes vulnerability to do this kind of word – a vulnerability that is open to change. It takes grace and mercy. It takes forgiveness. It takes a way of peace. It takes a willingness to see how human we truly are. It takes an acknowledgement that we don’t know and we aren’t in control. In other words, it takes letting go of so much. In theological terms, this is the very nature of life, death, and resurrection that we proclaim. That isn’t just something for a fabled future, but rather for right now. May the broken part of you die, so that you may experience resurrection.