Overcoming the Amygdala Part 62
Now that it has been pointed out that anxieties from which we suffer could be the result of our internal projections onto the external world, the struggle becomes to turn inward and to try to peer into that shifting, elusive universe that we normally only glimpse in dreams.
When an individual starts off on this quest, it can seem extremely difficult, akin not so much to finding a needle in a haystack as looking for a candle by its light on a sunlit day. It can take a while before a person realises that this projection of the inner world onto the outer is not something that happens piecemeal or intermittently and has to be sought out as a singular action: it is happening constantly and universally. It’s part of what makes us human.
Jung defines ‘projection’ as an automatic process whereby the contents of one’s own unconscious are perceived to be in others. The process of detecting our own projections becomes reversed, as Jung says in General Aspects of Dream Psychology:
‘All the contents of our unconscious are constantly being projected into our surroundings, and it is only by recognising certain properties of the objects as projections or imagos that we are able to distinguish them from the real properties of the objects.’
He goes on to say:
‘Unless we are possessed of an unusual degree of self-awareness we shall never see through our projections but must always succumb to them, because the mind in its natural state presupposes the existence of such projections. It is the natural and given thing for unconscious contents to be projected.’
So rather than looking for a candle on a sunlit day, we are trying to shield our eyes from our own light in order to get a better idea of things ‘as they really are’.
Imagine taking your inward-looking world and simply splashing it out onto the outer world like paint. Constantly.
Your own created images and ideas are thrown out onto whatever was there in the first place, changing the colour and characteristics of what you’re then looking at with your outward-facing eyes.
Your subjective content is projected outward onto objects in the opposite of introjection. The objective world becomes ‘coloured’ by your subjective world. This happens all the time; it's a natural process.
Why does this happen? Theoretically, it may be an attempt to get rid of pain by placing it outside. But things get more interesting than that.
That inward-looking world which formerly was termed the ‘unconscious’ is vast: it is also, as we saw last time, highly fluid in comparison to the relative solidity of the objective world, containing everything the individual knows, but of which he or she is not at the moment thinking consciously; everything that was once conscious but has now been forgotten; everything perceived through the senses, but not particularly noted by the individual’s outward-looking mind; and everything which the individual feels, thinks, vaguely remembers, wants, and all future things that are taking shape deep within, as glimpsed occasionally through dreams and random images and feelings.
An astute reader can probably appreciate that it is possible by projecting all of this externally to create a series of imaginary relationships that often have little or nothing to do with the outside world as it really is, isolating the individual from his or her environment, changing the world into a copy of one’s innermost face. In extreme cases, projection creates realities which remain eternally unattainable. Think of narcissism, for example, in which the outer world has become a total projection of the ego.
One can imagine the amygdalic effects of all this. Projecting onto the outer world sometimes unattainable ideals or desires can result in a tsunami of ‘pings’ coming back — and a resultant anxiety overload.
How does one begin to withdraw projections so that one can experience the outer world ‘as it really is’ rather than as it appears to be?
Well, the good news is that, as in many other things, in projection there is a spectrum or scale which may be useful.
1. Automatic projection
This is where we are projecting the entire contents of our inward world onto the outer one in complete ignorance, and suffering the often dramatic effects as a result. Our dreams and desires meet frequently opposing and contrary realities and the amygdala rings alarms 24 hours a day accordingly.
2. Partial projection
We are hooked onto the outer world by particular things we’re projecting — perhaps we are in a relationship because we have ‘fallen in love’ with an ideal from deep within ourselves which we have projected onto another. Or we might be in a particular career because we consider it to be a 'dream job’ (literally) and so are willing to overlook the parts that ‘don’t fit’.
3. Aware projection
We are aware of, and occasionally can see through, our projections and maintain a shifting balance between what is projected and what is ‘real’ or actually there. This is the beginning of real sanity.
4. Adjusted projection
We escape from a projected reality and start to live life more as it is. This is done by recognising those aspects of our innermost dreams, desires, drives and so forth which we have been ‘exporting’ to the outer world and, through that recognition, bringing them out into the ‘light’ and therefore defusing them and making them no longer capable of having any hidden effects upon us.
5. Projection free
At this level, we are completely projection-free beings. This is, understandably, a rare condition, as it involves no longer possessing an inward-looking face, in effect. We achieve a unity of inner and outer, but consciously. It’s the 'unusual degree of self-awareness’ mentioned above. Far from abandoning our dreams, or ‘coming to terms with a grim reality’, this is an epiphanous experience, akin to becoming a wizard or angel. At this stage, projection becomes impossible because there’s nothing left to project. This is total command of the self, complete unity with every aspect of one’s being.
To keep things real, we have to try to recognise that we are probably somewhere between 1 and 4 on the above scale.
Does the outer world now look a little different to you?
Can you spot places, people, things onto which you are projecting inner dreams, desires, drives?