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Mechanisms of Self Denial

1.       The False Self System

We express a shadow aspect of ourselves when we feed the false self-system rather than stay in our authenticity. Latin Americans have a saying which describes the danger of holding onto the false self “whoever has a tail of straw should not get too close to the fire.” We feed the false self and develop our “straw tails” by editing our thoughts, rehearsing our emotions, performing what we think people want to see, or hiding our true selves. We feed the false self-system whenever we are unwilling to tell the truth, say what is so, or give voice to what we see. Whenever we pretend, edit, rehearse, perform or withhold, we support the development of the false self-system. Through the false self, we develop the art of self-abandonment.

 2.       Self-Abandonment

Human Beings universally abandon themselves for five major reasons:

  1. for someone’s love
  2. for someone’s acceptance or approval
  3. to maintain balance
  4. to stay in a state of harmony

When we abandon ourselves for someone’s love, pretending to be other than who we are in order to get someone’s love, acceptance or approval, it is a form of self-abandonment. Another way we abandon ourselves – in order to keep the peace, balance and harmony – to avoid difficult issues or by not saying what is actually so for us. Whenever we lack courage to be who we are, we move into self-abandonment.

If we are consistently involved in patterns of self-abandonment, our authentic self is waiting to be claimed. Through truth-telling we can collapse our self-abandonment patterns and begin to free ourselves from the false-self… Relationships help us to see where we are able to maintain our authenticity or where we feed the false self-system rather than maintaining our integrity.

3.       Reflective Mirrors: Projections

Many indigenous cultures sew small pieces of reflective glass or mirrors into ceremonial costumes or glue them onto masks to remind us that we are mirrors for each other.  The motif of the mirror, as metaphor of refection, is found cross culturally. For some indigenous people, those who are mirrors for us become teachers, and demonstrate ways that we may reclaim authenticity by speaking our truth. These societies believe each person can be either a clear mirror, a smoking mirror, or a split mirror. Clear mirrors are individuals who we idealize or believe we cannot be like; smoking mirrors are individuals with whom we have difficulty and hope that we are not like the in anyway; and split mirrors are people who we like and admire, yet we experience fear and constriction in their presence.

We know a projection is at work when there is an energetic charge. Projections are unclaimed self-perceptions. Projections are parts of ourselves that are on their way home, yet are still disowned. We find it more comfortable to have these aspects outside ourselves, rather than to embrace them as part of who we are. The concept of the shadow actually means any part of who we are. The concept of the shadow actually means any part of ourselves, positive or challenging, that is not integrated or accepted within our nature. Those shadow parts of us will dominate or persist until they are integrated.

 4.       The Five Stages Of Projection

In 1984, at a conference in San Francisco Entitled “The Dark Side,” poet Robert Bly synthesized psychoanalyst Maria Von Franz’s work on projection and Alice Miller’s work on childhood, and presented the five stages of projection. Projections can be either positive or challenging. The positive aspects of every projection is that it is a disowned parts of ourselves, it is necessary to go through the five stages of projection.

  1. We look around and find the perfect person to hold our projection.  For example, if we have not claimed our leadership or beauty, we will often have difficulty with someone who does express anger. This becomes a challenging projections for us. In this stage we never see people for who they are; we see only what we want them to be for us.
  2. The projections begin to slip. We begin to see that the individual may be something rather than what we projected; however we read just the projection with rationalization and excuses because we don’t want to believe this part of our own nature. For example, the effective leader may have unskillfully handled a situation, yet we rationalize that everyone has a hard day or that the people deserved the treatment. By doing this, the projection that had begun to slip is put quickly back into place.
  3. The projection totally falls off. No rationalizations can be made. We are forced to see who the person is beyond what we projected. In this stage we become disappointed, angry, blaming and judgmental. Now we have the choice to either move to stage four or to pick up the projection and look for another person to carry it for us rather than bring it home. Often we spend years just doing stage one, two, three. We find different people to hold the same projections of those parts of ourselves that we are unwilling to bring home and claim. For example, if we find our own anger difficult to accept, we may often put it outside ourselves and judge or avoid it when we see it expressed in another person. Some indigenous societies would see this stage as the smoking mirrors [This is when a mentor teacher or therapist “falls from grace” and it is a good time to ask yourself, how are you doing your projection? and what part of you are you not allowing to be integrated?]
  4. Recognition. We realize that it was a projection, and we see that it was our own material. It is the stage of grief; grief for the lost parts of ourselves that has been away for so long; and grief for the recognition that we didn’t see the other person for who he or she was, and now recognize the unintentional harm that we may have done in stage three.
  5. Compassion for the integration of the projection. In this stage we have compassion for ourselves and others with similar issues. We model the quality that we once projected rather than continue to place the projection outside of ourselves. We move into a state of objectivity and carry no charge one way or the other about what we once projected.