Seeing Ourselves in Others
Our dreams are typically populated by various figures chosen from our life, our memories and popular culture. Whilst such figures may even be well know to us in our outer life, they often represent unknown, unrecognised or undeveloped aspects of our own selves.
How figures from our life come to represent aspects of ourselves is known as the psychological mechanism of projection. Through projection we see in others what we fail to see in ourselves.
One may have a positive or a negative projection. Figures upon whom we have a positive projection we tend to admire and love, those upon whom we have a negative projection we find loathsome and irritating. Yet, either way, for the sake of psychological wholeness, we are required to recollect our projections and integrate that aspect of ourselves which we see in the other.
Negative Projections and the ShadowNegative projections stem from the projection of one’s own shadow. The adventurer, who sees himself as free and wild, will often project his own undeveloped shadow on to such a figure as a headmaster or policeman (whom he sees as a regimented and repressive character). Yet, on deeper inspection, the policeman would also reflect his own undeveloped civility and capacity to live within the confines of established society.
Similarly the strong and independent business woman may project out her own unlived maternal nature onto the mother or housewife (whom she sees as weak and dependant), whilst the caring and supportive housewife will project her shadow upon the business woman (who see sees as hard and callous).
Yet, inevitably the adventurer will dream of the policeman, the business woman of the housewife and the housewife of the business woman. And the aim of these dreams is to help integrate that which is projected.
I would estimate that over ninety per cent of what turns up in one’s dreams must be owned and integrated. Only occasionally does a dream address that which belongs truly outside of one self. During the initial stages of dream analysis one must often withdraw several shadow projections and own that which is flawed and unrefined in oneself. This means recognising the faults in others as belonging to oneself as well as questioning where ones own attitude may be limited and lacking in balance.
Owning your own shadow is a humbling experience. At the same time, the integration of the shadow is a major step towards wholeness. Owning one’s shadow serves to ground and balance the individual. No longer can we remain proud or righteous. Our experience of the shadow teaches that there is a whole lot more which we may become.