Twenty-five years ago, getting pissed off sitting in a Sweat Lodge next to a man who could not sit still, I thought, “WTF, can’t this man just relax?”. It took everything I had not to say something – then suddenly, the power of the Sweat Lodge came through. In the next moment I realized not too long ago I was that man. My projection was all me. I was the hyperactive guy, continually moving. I went from anger bordering on rage to compassion for the man and myself.
In that Lodge, I learned how my projections are just that – mine.
The decades spent in men’s groups continue to teach me that we all project onto others what we do not own as ours. Sometimes in our past, we had an experience(s) that was too much for us and the emotional environment in that moment. That energy has to go someplace; it often goes outside ourselves toward someone else.
For most men, expressing anger was not okay as a kid. I had two younger siblings to direct it toward. Today I notice that when I am tired and do not have any patience, I direct it toward my partner, Dalia.
When your past collides with your present and neither feel they have a direct way to express themselves, the energy is often directed toward another person — frequently toward your partner. Like the beginning of my Sweat Lodge experience, we find fault with another. It seems obvious that that person is wrong, mean, selfish….they may be all those things, but what is not happening is us feeling how we are or were that way ourselves. Or how we disconnected from and dishonored that part in us.
Jealousy as a form of projection can teach us that someone has something you want and do not have. Rather than own that we want that thing, we become jealous of the person who has it.
When a man says he does not know what he wants, I will often ask, “Who are you jealous of? What do they have you do not have?” In stepping beyond the jealousy to feel our want, we begin to open up to a desire that we denied ourselves.
Using Projections to Grow
Some of the most powerful work in groups happens when a man comes in pissed off at another man, and he at least accepts the possibility that it is not entirely the man. When a man can allow the anger he may not have felt and likely directly express to come out, it can transform his life.
In the MELT Manual, we lay out our Projection Journey and in the Foundation Training we teach you how to lead it. You do not need to know how to do the journey to assist a man. You need to create a safe space and the man who is upset must be willing to experience what is driving the upset. If he is upset at a man in the group, then the man who is the focus of the anger must be willing to have the anger directed at him, knowing that it is not about him.
If you notice you are projecting, use the ROC (Relax, Open, and Connect) Formula to slow down to feel what is behind the upset. Ask yourself how that person is like others in your life going back to your childhood. Feel what you could not feel in the past. Feel your survival physiology ramped up and feel the vulnerable feeling(s) that are driving it.
You are allowing the current situation to be the catalyst to release past held stress and trauma. Allow yourself to feel the energy/emotion of the projection in you. Be with the self-judgments and discomfort. Once owned and experienced – ask it what it wants. For me in the Sweat Lodge, my deeper desire was to accept my need to always move so I would not feel emotions that were not okay to feel.
By feeling those emotions in the Sweat Lodge, my anger melted away and were replaced by my love for that man and for myself.
To go further, under what circumstance and to whom do you project toward? If you can name what drives it, great. Many of us had parents who projected their incompletions onto us.