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No. 46 – The Pitfalls of Projection

November 2, 2011

Do psychologists, who work with pitfalls of projection all the time, have answers to our difficulties in radiation risk communication? They most certainly do!! Unfortunately, projection is one of those psychological answers which we may not understand any better than psychologists understand radiation. That is why these posts/blogs are written, i.e. to provide helpful insights to health physicists by transfer of technology from the psychological and behavioral sciences.

Projections are the positive and negative qualities that we see in other people that may not be true for them. In particular, we unconsciously project negative characteristics onto others routinely. For example, we may see others as loud, boisterous, obnoxious, irrational, illogical, emotional, disturbed, lazy, stupid, unethical, dishonest, or corrupt, or any of a host of other negative qualities. Unless these qualities are true (usually they are not true), then they represent a projection of our shadow.

In previous posts, our shadow was defined as a collection of those qualities that we have found unacceptable in ourselves. Our shadow is like a long bag behind us into which we put unacceptable qualities. When we are children, parents tell us that it is not OK to run, shout, cry, be angry or express feelings, so all of those go into the bag, along with the energy they represent. A 2-year-old is a ball of energy who puts into the bag whatever parents, and later teachers and society, say is not acceptable. Most of the energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity of the child go into the bag. So at 20 we see a calm, cool, composed, unenthusiastic, socially acceptable adult.

Our ego will not let us see what we put into the bag all those years. That is why the shadow is so difficult to comprehend. We are only allowed to indirectly see those distasteful traits in the actions of other people, We project those traits onto others where they are safe to observe, because our egos say that is not us. We respond with loathing or anger as we see others as evil or collectively as the enemy.

Projection is the result of wearing red glasses whereby we cannot tell what color the traffic signals may be because they all look red. The truth may be that some are red and then our projection is accurate, but they may not be red and then we are seeing something not really there. The ongoing question for us is to distinguish between the negative qualities which we see in others as true or the result of our projections. Projection without personal contact can be dangerous.

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