Overcoming the Amygdala Part 64

The idea that human beings project things onto the outer world is not a new one. Rumi, the Sufi mystic, wrote ‘We are the mirror as well as the face in it. We are the pain and what cures the pain, both. We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.’ (Barks, The Essential Rumi, p. 106.) Jesus of Nazareth said ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3 NIV). The Dalai Lama said ‘We are weaving our dream every moment. All of life is a projection. The director is the sum of our karma – all we fear, all we desire, all we have cleared and the debris still left to clean up.’

What is suggested here is an inseparable relationship between the subject and the object; what is outside cannot be separated from what is inside. What we are afraid of, what we want, what has been healed within us and what is still left unhealed, is being projected onto the world around us every day, all day. Our amygdalas, in response, send back ‘pings’ whenever they detect a departure from our most wanted projections, and they are what trigger our nervous systems.

Ignorant of this, we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, including other people. Much of what goes wrong in human relations is to do with this: we naively project our own psychological landscape and needs onto our fellow human beings. Individuals therefore create a series of more or less imaginary relationships based on the projection of their desires.

We are usually not aware that certain aspects of others stem from our own projections. This can be seen clearly in the world around us, especially in the realms of politics or conflict, but we can also see it in personal quarrels. We see it as well in so-called ‘primitive’ societies in which objects, plants or animals are said to possess qualities akin to individuals.

How does projection arise? How is it sustained? And, importantly, why does all this happen?

When the boundary between the outward-looking view and the inward-looking view becomes blurred, either intentionally or unintentionally, the individual has difficulty differentiating between what belongs to inside and what belongs outside. The two blend with each other. Whether it is a person, a plant like a tree, an animal or an object, it becomes an emblem or projected form of something inside the individual.

This is a natural process of the human psyche, not an illness. But as a prime source of amygdalic anxiety, and a basic mode of operation in Life, it needs to be examined.

It’s the inward world which projects onto the outward: experiences, feelings, temperaments, attitudes, memories, thoughts, talents, ambitions, weaknesses, failures, hopes, yearnings, and so forth — everything we have repressed, forgotten, or not yet discovered, all the scanned content of our lives that has fallen inside us, all the things of which we are not immediately aware, is available for being projected upon our outward world.

Automatic and Conscious Projection

Most projection is entirely automatic and unintentional — it just happens, below our awareness. We fall in love when we first meet someone, or overreact to someone incomprehensibly. Human beings more or less passively receive the effects of whatever material is being projected. We call this ‘Life’.

On the other hand, we can actively and consciously project ourselves into someone else’s situation, imagining what it’s like to be them, picturing what they must be going through. If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one, you might feel grief, and ima