Copyright ©1995 The Ares Press

Withdrawl of Projection:



John Wookcock

Projection and Freud

A well known incident in early psychoanalysis is that of Breuer, Freud'scolleague who 'discovered' the frightening power of erotic transference. It chased him out of his profession. Freud and Jung were also burned by this same power. In Freud's early formulations of this bewildering phenomenon, he emphasised the neutrality of the doctor and introduced the idea that the patient transferred feelings from the past onto the doctor - hence 'transference'. The mechanism of the transference was called projection. The healing or cure of the patient lay in a method of withdrawal of projection in which unconscious acting out with the doctor was replaced by memories of early childhood experiences of an incestuous nature. The procedures involved free association along with interpretation of the resulting 'elicited memories' etc. I believe that the idea then was that the patient could return to adult life free to enjoy mature relationships unencumbered by projections of early childhood conflicts.

It is now 80 or so years after psychoanalysis was developed and psychotherapy has evolved considerably. Ideas like projection, transference and the importance of withdrawal of projection as a cure are still very much in vogue, clinically and theoretically. If psychoanalysis or depth psychology as practised today is still attempting to reach the goal set by Freud, that of adult relationships unencumbered by projections, thefact of increasing family disintegration, along with concrete incestand child abuse becomes highly suggestive of massive and profound failure inat least the practice of psychotherapy today, if not the theory. What has gone wrong?

The Crisis in Psychotherapy

My own conclusion is that the practice of depth psychology has not only failed to promote feelings of kinship between adults who have withdrawn their projections but on the contrary has contributed to the epidemic of family disintegration and consequent social anarchy. This is a very painfulconclusion for me as I have personally found Freud's and Jung's pioneering work in the area of projection to be of immense value to me, ofenough value to devote my life to working in the field of psychology. Because I am convinced that both men spent their lives struggling to find a vehicle to bring a new vision into actuality, a vision of human naturethatholds great promise for us, I began to explore the vision itself in an attempt to find out what has gone wrong - why depth psychology has failed to help our society and why it has contributed instead to society'sdisintegration. I discovered a root - a root from which the field of depth psychology has sprung, but from which it has become severed, resulting in its destructive form today. I discovered this particular root of depth psychology in a dream. The dream was very disturbing. In it Jung was acting psychopathically. At the same time a couple was involved romantically. The two scenes were separated. The central idea suggested by the dream was this: If Jungian psychology is separated from its roots in Romanticism, it begins to function psychopathically.

This idea, initiated by the dream was a thunder bolt for me! I believe it opened me up to my own roots in Romanticism. But it also initiated a stream of images and ideas with respect to modern psychological practice, in the light of Romanticism. It is here that I found the evidence for my terrible conclusions about modern psychotherapeutic practice.

Romanticism and Psychotherapy

A central idea in psychotherapy today remains, as it was in Freud's time, that of projection. Transference, for example was understood as theprojection of childhood dynamics onto the therapist. A neurotic relationship is understood as one dominated by projection. Images from the past are imposed on one's present partner, say, and this partner is then caught up in a drama, a re-enactment of past conflictual relationships. It is assumed that the normal state of affairs in adult relationships is one in which mutual projection is determinative. And it is equally assumed that healthy adult relationships are those that are free of projection. This freedom is found only through the method of psychotherapy, a method where the client projects onto the therapist - as - stranger, who uses his status of stranger to help, through greater understanding of projective mechanisms, the client to withdraw his projections and reclaim his memories of a painful past. Then the client returns to life with an ability to generalise his findings from therapy. He is able to enter relationship with strangers without projecting his past onto them.

Though I can appreciate just how very complex our research into projection has become, I also believe that in practice, in the actual work in the field as it were, my description above of the goal and method of therapy holds quite well. I can also say with confidence that this goal (of withdrawing projections) with its attendant methods and procedures is far from being reached and the method has become disastrous for individuals and society. This is because, as I hope to show, the idea of projection and the presumed social and psychological necessity of its withdrawal has become sundered from its Romantic underpinnings and so is functioning psychopathically. It is no longer serving our culture but instead has become an ideology or dogma, an external imposition on individuals and families, a tool of social control.

Projection as a psychological idea is based on Freud's original discoveries which I will reiterate. He observed that individuals in analysis would catch the analyst up in a reenactment of past relationships. But these 'past relationships' were not the ordinary, on the surface kind of relationship at all (Mom and Pop in bed on a Saturday afternoon, as Hillman puts it). No, Freud accounted for the intensity and complexity of the analytic relationship in terms of transference (via projection), not of perceptions of actual mother and father, but of unconscious mythological Mother and Father.

The World that is reenacted in the analytic relationship by projection is a Romantically inspired one. This world is one filled with murder, lust, envy, jealousy, incestuous longings, retribution, punishment, tragedy, love and death. This world finds its epitome of expression in say, Wagner's operas. The Romantic view is that this world lies behind and under our ordinary world of superficial appearances. I believe it is this view ofReality that finds a modern expression in Freud's use of the word, 'unconscious', which is what he named as the location of the dramas of this reality.

Most crucial to my own conclusions regarding the destructiveness of modern psychological practice is the fact that there is a growing body of evidence that Freud's patients probably did not discover this Romantic vision within themselves at all. Rather it seems that Freud alone did and his 'therapeutic procedure' was really one of indoctrination. He persuaded, cajoled and even bullied his patients into accepting his interpretations of their adult problems in terms of presumed erotic, murderous etc. fantasies. On the whole it seems, his patients did not themselves experience this Reality underlying their actual relationships with their parents. What was rationalised as withdrawal of projection was in fact an enterprise of indoctrination into Freud's Weltanshauung or World vision. It is therefore no accident that many of the people Freud successfully analysed ended up as psychoanalysts themselves, forming a close knit group with all the markings of a group of initiates. It was Freud himself, not his patients, who was indeed in the grip of a vision and that vision was based and rooted in Romanticism and his life was a devotion to the work of bringing that vision into actuality. His psychoanalysis seems in retrospect to be more a form of indoctrination into the Romantic vision and culture (when it was not shared by his patient) or a form of initiation (when the patient was so Romantically inclined).

Freud's and Jung's lives remain exemplorary of the central importance of the idea of projection and its withdrawal when coupled with its root in a Romantic vision of the world. The schools and clinical practices that followed these two pioneers remain exemplorary of the disastrous social consequences that generate when the idea of projection is divorced from its Romantic underpinnings and is used as a tool of goal oriented ego-therapy, imposed upon individuals, families and society as a form of social program without any consideration of the World View of those same individuals, families and societies.

We have each suffered the consequences of this psychopathic functioning of an idea. How many arguments today between couples involve the torture of telling each other where each is projecting: "You're projecting your goddam mother onto me" Therapists are no better even if they are less explosive about it: "Well, it seems to me that the hostile feelings you are having go beyond our relationship. Do you recall any similar incident from your past?" And so on. What can be more destructive to an individual than to be told in a moment of passion that he is projecting? Can any verbal action be more destructive to connection between individuals? I remember a beautiful saying from a wise man where he claimed that people shout at one another not because they are projecting, but because they are not being heard (the reason for the shouting). Lovers, he said, always whisper!

Claims that another is projecting are no more than a social program of indoctrination. It involves forcing people to withhold aggression, love, jealousy, or whatever passion they are having in the moment and instead turn in on themselves with an imposed idea of self. "I am projecting my bad parent here, or my jealous child." There can be no inner change here, no inner development. Instead an increasingly harsh and punitive critic emerges as a form of social control. And why would we 'want' this form of social control? Well, what would happen if people allowed themselves to feel, to actually experience the effects of our current society, the way it is functioning today, with its increased degree of specialisation of function at the cost of wholeness in the individual?

Projection Revisited

The idea of projection remains for me a beautiful and profound idea when left coupled, (how romantic!) with its background of Romanticism and central to Romanticism is the knowledge that one discovers the Veiled World of Romance (heroic epics, gods, goddesses, little people etc.) only through a form of personal initiation into it. One does not discover it by indoctrination, persuasion, explanation, or interpretation. The idea of projection and its withdrawal, when left connected to its roots in Romanticism, is nothing less than a modern form of initiatory experience into the Veiled Reality behind the surface of ordinary life. For one who is not so initiated, the Reality behind and informing appearances is at best an interesting entertaining idea, the stuff of fantasy (ie made up by egos) and at worst a danger to stability (psychosis and so on).

When this idea of projection is kept firmly connected to its Romantic
roots, we arrive at some crucial questions about psychotherapy and culture. First and most important to me is the question of to whom is this idea important or relevant? As I said above, when projection is severed from its roots in Romanticism, it functions in a way destructive to family and culture. Why so? Because it is then generally believed that withdrawal of projection is good for everyone, the rationale being that projection and unconsciousness are destructive to family life and to the individual. But they are not!

This pervasive belief in psychology is based on a scientific fantasy about projection. But unconsciousness and projection are not scientific terms. They are cultural terms. They belong only in the culture of Romanticism. They do not belong in, say, a culture of ScientificMaterialism. As currently practised therefore, under the mantle of science, the technique of withdrawal of projection is nothing less that the programmatic indoctrination of individuals and families into a culture that they have notthemselves chosen, a culture that many therapists have no idea is informing their practice, while all other cultures are demeaned. Functioning this way, it is the present practice of therapy that is destructive to family and individuals, not unconsciousness and projection on the part of family members.

Returning to my question then, for whom are these terms relevant and important, it seems to me that our cultural history is of great help here, for the myths, folktales, epics, personal accounts are in agreement in terms of addressing this question: The individual who experiences the living force of the ideas of projection, unconsciousness, awakening, lifting the veil, life-as-drama or dream etc., has been called to do so and such a Calling constitutes an initiation for that individual, and most crucially, the initiating power is the Veiled Reality itself (personified as a daimon, elf, animal who speaks, etc.). Another human being may assist the initiatory process but only in the capacity of One Who Has Been There and Knows. Never does he function to indoctrinate unwilling or unknowing victims.

This Veiled Reality is what Jung called the unconscious, so another way of saying it is that only those who have been called or prompted by the unconscious should be involved at all in the process of withdrawal of projection. Such a process takes the individual out of participation in Life, like any Mystery does. There should be no demand at all on anyone else to follow suit as happens so often in families. In fact the initiate might instead consider an attitude of gratitude to those who continue to keep Life going while he is undergoing a withdrawal - a withdrawal that is a burden to society.

The next question follows quickly. How do we know when an individual has been called into the necessity of withdrawal of projection? Well, we can be sure that it is not the ego of the therapist who says so. But this is what many therapists do, becoming unwitting participants in indoctrination of others. We can only know if we can recognise the signs of the Call. And we can only do that if we have been there ourselves. The signs come from the Veiled Reality or, today what we call the unconscious. But that sign must be coupled with an experience that has convincing power, as our myths and fairy tales tell us. I'll take some examples.

Many dreams are presented to therapists which show the therapist in, shall we say, configurations that would be troubling to an ethics committee. Mostly, these dreams are treated in practice as projections onto the therapist and are discussed that way. But these discussions hold no convincing power in the sense that I mean. They are instead a means of persuasion into a point of view that usually is favorable to the therapist's self image. And as many of us know, the 'projection' continues to functionquite unmoved by the discussion. There is no Call here initiated by the unconscious, no convincing experience. Just the therapist's program.

On the other hand, I had an experience in my own therapy that I'll tell here. I went to my analyst with a dream. I was excited by it. It featured a very virile young man on a magnificent horse leaping to the top of a cliff. I began to relate this dream but when I came to 'horse', I said, 'hearse'. I laughed and tried again. Same thing happened. Three times I tried. So my analyst simply picked up a dictionary and we began to examine the word, 'hearse'. My excitement had vanished and I began to feel a sense of dread creeping in the room. The sense grew in me that
before this dream could be lived, Death had to be addressed. The next few years became the fulfillment of this Call. I say Call because neither of us expected it. It emerged from the unconscious. It also carried great convincing power for me and became initiatory for me as I followed its effects in our session after giving up the ego strivings with which I had begun to tell the dream.

Another example comes to mind of dreams in which a familiar outer figure appears but with a little difference ( wearing a cocked hat where the outer person does not, a limp, bearing a child where the outer person does not etc). These dreams demonstrate that a shift in projection is taking place, as the outer person is no longer identical to the dream image.

Thus withdrawal of projection becomes a Call with convincing power when simultaneously, the dreamer experiences a withdrawal of projection from the outer world and an awakening to the existence of the psychic image which is not a pale reflection of the outer world but has an autonomous existence, according to the Romantic tradition. The characteristic phenomenology that marks the beginning of this process as a Call is that of dying to the world and an entering simultaneously to another world that lies behind or below or interpenetrating the ordinary one. Myths of going to Hades are very helpful in elucidating this phenomenon.

All of this is as I said initiated by the unconscious but it is crucial that it be noticed by the therapist in order that the therapist can function as a guide to the ego of the dreamer, naming the experiences that the ego is having in ways suggested by the dreams themselves. In this way the ego feels support as it undergoes the initiatory experiences into the culture of Romanticism.

Romanticism in Today's World

Having suggested that projection and its withdrawal belong only to the cultural tradition of Romanticism and have no place anywhere else, many questions come to me about the enterprise of therapy and its place in society today. Its current place as I have said is as an agent of social control, an unwitting servant of the worst oppressive and destructive forces in society today. I believe there must be a clear and distinct separation between forms of counseling that seek to help individuals adjust to society or to even deal with the many problems of living and a particular, very narrowly specified form of therapy that seeks to assist those who are called to an initiatory process, the fruit of which is a living experience of the Veiled Reality behind the world of appearance. Probably this second, initiatory form will not be called therapy.

In my judgement, all references to projection and its withdrawal belong only to the second form of therapy and not to the first.

Since the individual who is called into an initiatory process which leads to a Romantic World View did not expect or even want it and who certainly did not lead the way into it, a question remains regarding responsibility. Having been led into a Romantic World View, what responsibilities does he have in this modern world whose Weltanshauung remains Scientific Materialism? This question puts us right in the middle of world events for answers to this question have had huge consequences. Nazism grew out of values, horribly distorted, that belong to German Romanticism, for example. Various individuals, including Hitler had convincing experiences about the Veiled Reality but then drew up a political program of indoctrination along with an elimination of all other differing cultures.

This problem as I see it rests on the historical fact that Christianity with its roots in Judaism conquered Paganism in Europe. This means that individuals who share this heritage and who have a convincing experienceof their pagan roots (with its Romantic Weltanshauung) usually try to understand those experiences with a mind rooted in Judaism which is a mind of literal thinking, the pathology of which is paranoia.

Thus what such individuals want to do is to take the findings of their Romantic experience and shape them with missionary zeal into literalisms leading to monomaniacal actions in the ordinary world, dominated by fantasies of World Domination. I hear faint echoes of this problem when Jungian groups get anxious over dropping membership and start to organise their presentations etc. for the purpose of 'getting new members'.

So, with these dreadful consequences which we have already suffered from, the responsibility of any individual who is initiated into the Romantic Weltanshauung becomes relatively easy to formulate. Such an individual must learn to take the findings of Romanticism as they impact his Christian-Judaic consciousness and apply themto himself. Such an individual must learn to see behind and below himself. By this I mean he must learn to de-literalise himself by learning how to see the deeper background of his cultural heritage as it functions in his consciousness. He must come to experience how his pagan roots are interacting with his Judeo - Christian ethics, producing a dynamic, creative but very complex and difficult psychological structure, which has a very dark shadow. Then and only then will he be ready to re-enter the actual world with his vision, not as a missionary or fascist but as an ordinary person, with a cultural heritage just as everyone has. He becomes more able to hold true to his vision and share its fruits in a way that contributes to, not destroys, the diversity and richness of our pluralistic world.

If I sound idealistic, I do not apologise. After all, ideals belong to Romanticism.

John Woodcock

9950 Lake Washington Blvd. NE
Bellevue WA 98004
Phone: (206) 455 4392

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