Twitter learned what projection is a few years back and have been throwing the term in each other's facing ever since. "You're being a dick." "No I'm not! You're projecting, asshole!" As usual, it's more nuanced than that; rather than a more mature way to shout "NO U" at strangers, projection is something we all do every day. If I tell you what a terrible day I've had, and you're able to put yourself in my shoes and empathize, you're projecting your feelings onto me.

But most people on the internet like to talk about defensive projection, which is the shifting of your own unacceptable traits or feelings onto someone else.

James Somerton has this amazing documentary on YouTube on why gay men are so regularly portrayed as criminals in media, beginning with the prime example of the equally excellent anime, Banana Fish. (If you've got an hour to spare, give it a watch and let me know what you think on Twitter.) In it James explains the history, and current reality, of why "be gay do crimes" is such a trope in the first place: particularly, that America is responsible for the lion's share of mass media, and the systematic disenfranchisement of people who happen to be LGBTQ+, Black, brown, neurodivergent, etc. has been, for the longest time, built into America's justice system.

James also mentioned a study from 1996 entitled "Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?" in which scientists sit two groups of straight, non-homophobic and homophobic men down to watch tapes of straight, gay, and lesbian of porn and, uh...measure their responses. As we might expect, both groups were quite happy with the straight and lesbian tapes, but only one group consistently got excited over the gay ones. The answer to the researcher's question: "Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies."

In other words, what pisses you off the most about other people could very well be a reflection of yourself.

For most of us, projections are a great gateway into the shadow work we really need to be doing. According to Jung and Assagioli, shadow work is the process of acknowledging the parts of yourself that you've long since rejected — the subconscious zone where all your defensive projections come from. If you don't think you have a shadow side, think back to the last time someone did something that seemed normal to everyone around them, but made you intensely angry. That person got a reaction out of you without even trying, or wanting to at all. What bothered you about it?

The shadow can't be defined by a single trait you're embarrassed out, but is essentially an amalgamation of everything you refuse to accept about who you are. Things you deny so hard that you bury them in your psyche. But whatever ends up buried in there has gotta come out somehow, so when you see these traits in other people, it's like a subconscious alarm bell goes off and you snap to attention.

The world is full of people doing the weirdest, most uncalled-for stuff that could easily just be projection popping out. Here are a few examples I've seen with my own eyeballs:

  • Doling out the world's flimsiest, bitterest relationship advice to other single people (insecure about unfulfilling love life);
  • Stans insisting on their fave's "self-made icon" status when they 100% have rich parents (insecure about uncertain career trajectory)
  • Blowing up over a debate about Demon Slayer power leveling (challenging core belief of always being right; seriously, it's just anime, relax)
  • Defending Ariana Grande's latest race swap like their lives are on the line (honestly who even knows; y'all really weird for this one)

It's also worth noting that you can project positive qualities that you don't accept in yourself, such as relentlessly championing your friends' creative pursuits while being secretly insecure about starting your own. I'm not trying to armchair-psychoanalyze anybody with this mess; I just think it's worth considering where your knee-jerk reactions to other people's actions are coming from and why. It's step one in working towards integrating the parts of yourself that you've turned away from, so you approach life with a lot more confidence.

What's going on in the Shadowverse lately?

  • Jessie Gender's extremely thorough analysis of celebrities getting canceled, and the millions of fans' polarizing projections about them. Watch on YouTube.

What I'm reading in class this week:

  • Adams, H. E., Wright, L. W., & Lohr, B. A. (n.d.). Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal? 6.
  • Daniels, M. (2021). Shadow, Self, Spirit. Andrews UK Limited.
  • Friedman, H. L., & Hartelius, G. (2015). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.