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The Psychology of Projection

by Roy Masters

I don't like that picture on the wall," said my little grandson one day. He was upset with his mom because she refused to give in to one of his little, willful demands. Just for the record, my daughter-in-law is a wonderfully patient mother, so her son’s frustration was illegitimate. His mother, who is as firm as she is patient, is well capable of repelling one of his tantrums, which he well knows. So he diverted his anger to a picture on the wall, an object not associated with his defeated confrontation. Projection, then, is the diversion of any sentiment originating from an external source, onto another person, place or thing.

Because the command to "honor your father and your mother" is deeply encoded in every child’s psyche, any guilt arising from hostility toward parents compels some children to first conceal, then deny, their shame. This invariably causes the volatile rage to internalize itself inside the child. Then the unavoidable happens, the child begins a life-long, quicksand-like struggle to regain its parents’ love by one means or another.

Hostility toward authority, first toward parents and teachers and later toward all authority, eventually finds expression in innocent victims. As in my grandson’s case, the hated picture on the wall could easily be a person, an abused cat, an accidentally-on-purpose broken piece of furniture. All of this typifies the principle of projection. It works this way: a child or adult responds to a situation (person) with anger. The inability to confront the hate object, sometimes a parent, causes the angry one to foist upon a weaker person or object, the wrath of his rage. In choosing a scapegoat there is only one requisite. The goat always lack the ability to fight back.

Only as the last straw do desperate victims turn against their abusers, having sensed the bully’s hidden fear. It is important to understand that all bullies are cowards. But such bully vs. victim relationships are childish. Now that you have reached physical and spiritual maturity, you must realize you are no longer a little child. You must overcome your pattern of projecting your resentments onto others you know cannot repel your attack.

If you can do this, you will regain your long-lost courage. You’ll develop the natural strength to stand up for yourself, no matter the physical or mental size of the aggressor. Failing this, you will find yourself projecting your unspent rage toward all authority, good or bad. This constant rebelling and conforming against those who resemble your original hurters trap you away from your true self. You become a failure instead. This is the psycho-drama that characterized the ’60s revolution.

Young well-to-do white students who hated their parents sought to victimize the entire nation, beginning with sit-ins that shut down universities all over the U.S. Black Americans are no different. Raised too often in mental squalor, many learn to deny the horror of their cataclysmic childhoods. But what do they do with all that rage? Many project it onto white America, hating those who built the very nation that makes transcending the squalor possible.

The proclivity to internalize, and then vent, pent-up anger is psychologically inherent in the human condition. This is the root cause of bigotry, racism and the need for an enemy. The birthplace of this rage is the family or lack of one. From here it moves to the battlefield, in war...

All warfare begins in a nation’s homes, as Jesus once said to his countrymen. They looked for a messiah to free them from the hated Romans. "Your greatest enemy isn’t out there (in Rome). It is inside your own homes!" Such wisdom itself became the target and the projection of Israel’s hate. Collectively, they later chose to free a murderer, Barabbas, while killing forgiveness incarnate.

Israel’s behavior was not a Jewish thing. They were the temporary stand-ins for the entire human race. Their collective mind-set is present today in every nation. It manifests itself in war after war, as predicted. Young men literally look forward, with a gleeful rage, representative of their nation’s tainted soul, to spilling the blood of the enemy. No matter the facts. When people are angry they think others deserve their meaness.

The symptoms of this schism were obvious in Korea, the Balkans, and even the Mideast. We join alliances to punish an enemy, often in order to extricate our own internal hostility, one that quietly developed with the degrading of our national soul. But who did more degrading? Foreign enemies who don’t have one-hundredth our military power, or Hollywood Marxists? And why don’t we ever pick on someone our own size, like Russia or China? To them we hand over the people’s hard-earned tax dollars. We prop up trade policies to favor them, while our own economy limps. While I love my country, the strong-before-the-weak principle is evident throughout our history.

Whether nation or individual, internalized rage is not always vented. It is often turned inward toward the self. This is the way of weak conformists. The results are volcanic emotional eruptions and pathological harm that eventually manifest as disease. In fact, this is the origin of cancer.

More often than not, the real harm of projection awaits the event of marriage and parenting. At that time, the abused child becomes the abusing parent, husband or wife. The once timid, submissive child now emerges as the bully, strong before his or her weak and helpless family.

Projection assumes many forms, but the one with which I'm sure you are most familiar is when you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s pent-up frustration. As the weaker vessel in the face of torment we mostly internalize our reaction to the tormentors. We become angry.

Be careful not to seduce others with your need for a tyrant, one you develop a love to hate. This sets up the precondition which allows you to project your hidden rage. You may even come to embrace such a relationship, created from your seductive civility.

Unfortunately, deep down inside something horrible is happening. The very nature of the tormentor is taking shape inside us. Deeply rooted and watered daily with dozens of little irritations, our rage shocks us the first time it blows. Unaware of the fact that we have become changelings, we are compelled to become one of two types. We become victims, compulsively seeking the love of tyrants, or the very thing we hate, a mental clone of our tyrant.

The child who submits to a tyrant parent will marry the tyrant child of another broken home. The vicious cycle continuous exponentially, from generation to generation, creating the hell we know all too well.

Tyranny is awakened and fed by man and woman coming together in marriage, or for that matter, in any relationship. What a perfect world this would be were there no cowards, no weak-before-the-strong bullies who perpetuate the reign of misery upon us all. You may believe that you have forgiven your offenders for their past sins of omission and those of commission. But if this were true for all who make this claim, we would live in a very different world. A closer look at your present suffering reveals the projection of unfinished business upon your spouse and your children.

Allow me to cite a typical story. Little Cindy’s alcoholic father was so fixated on womanizing and pornography that it made her an early convert to hate. She felt unworthy and inferior. To say that her mother was unkind would be an understatement. Mom resented her husband. Being unable to deal with him, she projected her anger onto her defenseless daughter. This is as common as sliced bread.

Almost all demoralized children grow up to be broken, demoralizing parents. They eventually engineer in their own children the very same harm. Try to understand that you have inherited this proclivity. It is all a matter of programming, unconscious, compulsive and unstoppable — that is, until you find the truth that sets you free. Most parents are oblivious to what they are doing wrong, and God help the child who tries to make them conscious of it. Children with such a stout spirit are quickly labeled rebellious brats. They often grow up doubting what is obvious. This erodes the confidence needed later to make it in the world.

Like most children coming from similar circumstances, Cindy grew up feeling abandoned. She believed that God had rejected her. To be sure, it was never God who rejected her. This belief was projected onto God from her experiences as a rejected child. This is the itinerary of projection, especially in the child who sees clearly that his parent(s) are crazy.

Usually the child who is singled out and often labeled as the "black sheep" is the one in whom the light shines brightest. They fill the jails and prisons as well as the gangs and the whorehouses and are even some of the homeless. They are often tormented with the nagging feeling that something was so wrong with them, as children, that all their troubles originated with them! Feelings of inferiority makes them settle for the low-life.

It was never because you were unworthy. You were actually more worthy! Without knowing it you proved a cogent threat to parents and politicians who opposed your clear vision. Their deflective mind games were angrily internalized by you and carried forward into sexual maturity.

Cindy’s belief, like your own, that God had rejected her, led to the false conclusion that the only hope of fulfillment was in the eyes of a man, one she could make into a god for the purpose of excepting her. To achieve this goal, her submissive programming dictated that she give herself too easily, especially to weak men with characteristics most like her father. By trying to be the very best wife a woman can be, she often attempts to make her husband happy, sexually if in no other way. Many women believe in the beginning that such a man will complete their needs with his love.

Unfortunately, spoiling him rotten sets the stage for more disaster. The ripe fruit of this is a manipulated love. This love doesn't come from the heart. Affection received in this fashion not only will never satisfy, it demands even more of what cannot satisfy also. Such people are damned if they get love and just as damned when they don’t.

To satisfy the inordinate need of misplaced love a weak man is required to give more and more attention to his wife. He becomes entirely absorbed in her. In exchange for the sexual validation of his ego he works harder and harder to satisfy her increasing, unreasonable demands. Such a man feels himself being devoured. He drinks, gambles, plays too much golf or frequents the red-light district, trying to soothe his growing anxiety. This same syndrome drove Cindy’s husband into the arms of other women. In turn it further complicated Cindy’s already burgeoning resentment toward her father and now her husband.

It is at such a time as this that Cindy, and perhaps you, became grossly pathological in a hate-based projection of rage. This process in Cindy eventually developed into a hatred for all men. Turning toward her sons and daughters for that warped affection, she also drove them away. This is the face of projection. For all the Cindys and Toms of the world, projection is a way of passing along, from oneself, the burning anger handed to them by someone else.

Cindy was left alone wringing her hands hopelessly in despair. Like so many, she thought she had forgiven her father, but that was only her feeble attempt to deal with the spiritual pit bull of rage. Temporarily, this afforded her a distracting but false happiness. Her self-imposed deception and momentary escape from the past was lost in the hope of a future love.

For some, like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, this happens over and over again, until death or a Betty Ford-like clinic claims you. Sooner or later it is the destiny of all those who seek love in all those wrong places. Eventually, all experience the devastating shock of disappointment.

When we are made to believe that we are so unworthy that even God has rejected us, then our only recourse is to appoint a god, making us a god maker. We can even secretly hope to be recognized by our creation. But there are two serious problems with this avenue of escape. First, there is the real God, who is no coward. Secondly, anyone who would accept such an appointment is bound to be a bigger disappointment than the last. This sends us back to the beginning of the vicious circle. In the absence of real answers we are forced to recreate our failing parents in our mates.

Cindy’s unhappy life typifies our own misery, in one form or another. Her servitude, masquerading as undying love, was in reality power-food for a tyrant. It compelled her to play a crucial, ancient role in the next generation’s despotism.

Unforgiveness sets us all upon similar paths. Unresolved hate, especially hate hiding behind a serving, sweet smile, predestines us to play the role of slave or tyrant. Until this hidden cause is revealed and resolved, our lives will go from bad to worse. For your own sake you must develop loads of compassion for your wayward, trapped parents. Forgiving them is really letting go of their debt to you. Only then will the past free you from a hellish, compulsive future that will surely rain down the hot tar of hell onto your own family’s heads.

As a married person you will most likely find yourself in your parents’ shoes. You’ll discover, to your horror, that you can no more keep yourself from hurting the ones you think you love than your parents could keep from hurting you. For better or for worse, every father is a bureaucrat. By default of his heavenly role this was ushered onto him by original sin. His job should have been that of a centurion, in regard to his child’s innocence. But like most fathers he became a disappointment and the child’s first violator!

Children, without ever being taught, associate fathers with God. Any rejection or disappointment with him becomes the automatic equivalent to a rejection of God. The way children feel about the father they can.

The way a person feels about the father they can see tends to be the way they feel about the God they cannot see. Positively, the genuine love of father becomes a roundabout way of embracing God, the wordless truth within.

The love of a good father is not a love that comes directly from him. Instead, it comes though him. This love exhorts you to take a firm grip on the same wordless love in your own heart, exactly as he has done. In other words, he inspires you to have the same faith that becomes what is known as confidence. The good you see in dad is not really him. It is a higher good he embraces in his heart.

To love the representative of good is to experience completeness in your own soul. This works when good projects from a good father, a good teacher, or the good-hearted grocer you buy your milk and eggs from. His or her love can be the catalyst to finding the gem of faith in yourself. Such a faith frees you from any bondage to your lower self.

A young girl whose joy is complete by loving her father is naturally drawn to serve the good in a special man. Her future husband isn’t special because she makes him so. He was special before she knew him. She chooses her husband for the characteristic she loves in her father. The man of this woman’s dreams is not weak for that twisted, counterfeit love. He carries no inordinate needs, typical of weak men. A noble man, respected for his integrity, can never be spoiled by a woman’s love. What he has found inside is better than her love. Honest women know and respect this. He is loyal to her for no other reason than a genuine concern for her well-being.

This rare breed of man/woman is loyal to what is right in their own heart, first. In the same manner that hate is projected from an angry heart, so goes the opposite. Genuine love extends to everyone in its proximity. It finds completion in wife/husband, children and even community. This is the way that real love becomes the building blocks for the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Take heart if you find yourself the typical projector. There is no need to be dismayed because your father failed you. You can find God just as easily as if you had the best of dads. The way back is simple. If you will find it in your heart to forgive your cruel, confused, drunken, absent father (mother), that will work in the reverse of projection. It is the same as loving your abusive parents, even if they are in the grave. In turn you will not project the hate you inherited onto your children. You will project a love your parents never knew how to give you. You will break an ancient chain, connecting you and your children to hope and happiness.

If we continue to blame the generation before us, who was dumped on by the generation before them, the effects of original sin will never be stopped. But if you would be part of the solution, you must be willing to take on to yourself, not the sins of the world, just of your own family, your parents. Real love does not use excuses like ‘I was traumatized as a child, I have a right to project onto someone else.’ No! Take on the hell in your family as if you were responsible for it long before your time. Here’s where you can start.

Consider forgiving your befuddled father, first. It is the tilt of your heart toward him which projects onto your spouse and children. Then forgive your mother for all her quiet manipulation. This will restore you to a right regard for the women in your family. You will find that this order works best. If you love a good father, that's good. But if you don't hate a bad father, this is a better good.

The power to forgive your dad comes from a genuine longing for God, your spiritual father. You have never realized that God has always been with you. By forgiving and being the father your father couldn’t be, you loosen the grip of your own resentment. This is the road map back to real happiness.

In real time it will be a much longer and painful journey, to be sure. But you can take comfort in the compensation which lies in appreciating (loving) your heavenly Father, progressively. You know the old adage: He who sins much and is forgiven much, loves much. Forgive and you will be forgiven.


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