The ego and its projections


Diagrammatic representation of the human head. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images, Satcakranirupanactiram Svami Hamsasvarupa Creative Commons

Self-realization is an ever evolving process of coming into greater awareness of the Self.  This is a movement toward wholeness, integration, and Oneness.

The process of becoming whole, of cultivating Self-knowledge, involves coming to terms with shadow elements of one’s personality.  This is not always an easy task. Carl Jung tells us:

“To become conscious of it [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.” (CW 9ii, para. 14-15).

The shadow refers to the dark aspects of the personality. The ego finds these dark aspects of the personality undesirable, and thus banishes them to the unconscious. However, they return with a vengeance, with a sort of demonic quality.  In psychological terms, they may return with an obsessive or possessive quality. Jung says:

“Closer examination of the dark characteristics– that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow– reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality.”

The banishment of shadowy emotions also isolates us from aspects of our self, diminishing the wholeness of the self. Through awareness may we come to reclaim these shadowy aspects. Reclamation does not mean acting out or living out the shadowy side of the personality. Instead, reclamation brings the ferocity of mindful awareness to confront and tolerate our dark aspects. From the perspective of awareness, we want to be with and be aware of the ‘little demons’ and ‘shadowy figures’. In bringing our mindfulness to them, their potency will dissolve, enlarging the circumference of our self-knowledge.

If we are unaware of our shadowy emotions, they are likely to be projected outward onto others and the world around us. With projection, we experience not only a diminishment of self-knowledge, but a diminishment of our relationship to world around us. Jung explains:

“While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s own personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in other person. No matter how obvious it may be to the neutral observer that it is a matter of projections, there is little hope that the subject will perceive this himself. He must be convinced that he throws a very long shadow before he is willing withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object… As we know, it is not the conscious subject but unconscious which does the projecting.” (CW 9ii, para. 16- 17)

Our projections isolate us from our environment, from other human beings, and most importantly from our Self. Projections block the formation of deep relationships with the people in our lives. If we are busy seeing our own projections, how can we see our self or others as they truly are?

“The effect of projection to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projection changes the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face… The more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the ego to see through its illusions” (CW 9ii, para. 17)

As Jung understood, each of us must come to terms with the ways in which we have projected parts of our personality onto the world. Doing so, we can enlarge the scope of our personality, leading to greater wholeness. Jung says:

“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, course– for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him.” (CW 9ii, para. 18)

Both analytic psychology and the enlightenment traditions agree that self-knowledge is key to the development of the wholeness of Self. Pulling back our projections, our self-knowledge grows. Such work enlarges the scope of our awareness about ourselves, our world, about the nature of existence. On a more cosmic level, such awareness opens the potential to understand not only the nature of our own self, but that of Ultimate Reality.  Such understanding leads to the deepest and most profound states of integration and Oneness possible in the human lifetime.


  1. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self is Part 2 of the Volume 9 in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung
  2. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)

5 thoughts on “The ego and its projections

  1. I’ve been thinking and writing for a while now about our need for enemies. My experiences on Facebook through the U.S. presidential election, and now the gun control battle, have provided some fodder for my thoughts.

    I credit this blog about The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight with starting me on this road, but in the background of my thoughts for years is the admonition by Aristophanes “The wise learn many things from their enemies”.

    In my darkest and most cynical hour (literally, awakened around 3am) I came to see that we need our enemies to be particularly evil, because the more evil they are, the more virtuous we become simply by not being that evil Other. It isn’t enough for the far right that Obama wants to raise taxes. It is necessary that he is a burgeoning fascist who is coming to take their guns and put their families into FEMA death camps. Likewise for the far left, it isn’t enough that the US has restricted civil liberties through the PATRIOT act and NDAA: the US government must also be harboring fascist intent of classifying all protestors as terrorists and detaining them indefinitely.

    Recently I started reading about Jung and the Shadow and wondering where mine was tripping me up. Later that night I had a dream where I grabbed a man’s head and repeatedly bashed it into a wall until his skull cracked. I recall being both mortified and mystified at my behavior in the dream itself.

    My takeaway lesson from that dream is that no matter how much one practices “love your enemy”, one still cannot banish the shadow that way alone. It takes deeper work on the self. For the last year or so my recurrent nightmare has been a body hidden deep in my basement that no one else knows about, but which is on the verge of being found out. I do not know whose body it is, nor whether I was responsible for the person’s death, but have a fear in the dream that I will be in trouble when it is found. This comes after some an extended and very thorough examination of my life with clearing/completion work with everyone significant about everything I can recall ever withholding from them. Something is still withheld, but I cannot tell what.

    This being the week we honor Martin Luther King, I’ve been toting this quote around:

    “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

    -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Thank you for this blog and more food for my thoughts.

    P.S. In the quote you posted that begins “The effect of projection…” the first sentence is repeated again immediately after itself.

  2. Also: “banish the shadow” was a bad (but telling) choice of words on my part. Obviously integration is what we’re after.

  3. Your blog is awesome! I think you may really be interested in reading the blogs of my teacher Marc Bregman, who has written a blog of commentary on the Red Book called Carl-Me: He is a strong follower of Carl Jung and has developed a technique of dream interpretation that is very successful at guiding people into understanding their projections and getting in touch with their souls. He also has a blog about the fundamentals of his work, which you can find here:

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