Understanding The Phenomenon of Projection by Van K. Tharp, Ph.D.

van tharp bkA note to readers: While Dr. Tharp’s content is timeless, this article is from our newsletter archive and may contain outdated information, missing links or images.

A presupposition of my book Trading Beyond the Matrix is that the world we live in is all made up. We create it through our language, through our beliefs, and through our evaluations about things. What’s out there in the real world is just energy, vibrations. Our sensory systems pick up a small portion of those vibrations. For example, the cones in your eye pick up the light spectrum between 620 and 750 nm. van tharpYou get a certain experience that through language you have learned to call “red.” But it is just your brain’s way of representing that frequency of light — it’s not the energy or vibration itself. This is why Alfred Korzybski made his famous statement, “The map is not the territory.” And in this simple example, red is not the same as the energy wavelength from 620 to 750 nm. It is just your brain’s way of coding it. In fact, when the cones transmit the signals for red to the occipital lobe (part of your brain having to do with vision), all that your brain “sees” at this point is a form. The form doesn’t become red until the signal then moves to your association cortex where the brain remembers, “oh, that’s the kind of signal I call red.” So you are really creating the experience of red and you just assume that the color red is out there in the world.

Now, language does other things too. For example, every language separates the energy spectrum out there into a subject, a predicate (verb), and an object. So we take all the energy out there and assume that there is a ME, interacting with things in some way. Through language, we label all of this.

The simple phrase “I see Mary” uses language to make a number of presuppositions. First, that you exist (and that you are probably a body). Second, that you — through your eyes — are engaged in a process of seeing. Notice that I just turned a process into a noun (seeing) and by doing so created what NLP calls a nominalization — an activity turned into a noun or a thing. Last, the statement also assumes that another person exists as a body out there and is called “Mary.”

Similarly, the market is a process that we turn into a thing, a noun. The market is a process of organized buying and selling but we like to look at charts and call that “the market”. If you were to look at a tick chart for some period of time, where a tick is defined as the minimum change in price, the price might not change for a while. What you’d see on a chart is a dot or line representing the price. The average person never sees tick data but instead they see bar charts (or candlestick charts). Each bar represents the price movement over a particular period of time (let’s say 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 week). If you look at the underlying tick data, however, you will see that often, a bar chart does not accurately represent the movement of price. In fact, you are doing an injustice to the tick data to represent it by a bar chart, but that’s what most of us use to represent the market. Some people don’t think that a series of bars has enough information so they use moving averages, stochastics, MACD or any number of other studies to re-represent the market. Then, they form beliefs about the market which they trade. So you can probably begin to see why I say, “You don’t trade the market, you trade your beliefs about the market.”

Byron Katie on Naming

Author and teacher, Byron Katie expresses some of these ideas quite well in her book “A Thousand Names for Joy” with the following quote:

When the mind believes what it thinks, it names what cannot be named and tries to make it real through a name. It believes that its names are real, that there’s a world out there separate from itself. That’s an illusion. The whole world is projected. When you’re shut down and frightened, the world seems hostile; when you love what is, everything in the world becomes the beloved. Inside and outside always match — they’re reflections of each other. The world is the mirror image of your mind. (reference… it’s in the first section).

Byron Katie on the Solution (The Work)

Thoughts flow through your mind and then you tend to believe them, and that’s what creates suffering. As a result, Katie created a process that she terms “The Work.” You take each belief that seems to cause suffering through four questions and some turnaround questions.

The four questions are:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know this is true? (This means if you were God and knew everything about everything, would it still be true? If you answer this question with a “yes” then you probably are not taking on God’s viewpoint.)
  3. What happens when I have that belief?
  4. Who would I be without the belief?

And then you take the belief through three turnarounds, which are:

  1. You apply the belief to yourself.
  2. You apply the belief to the other person.
  3. You apply the opposite of the belief.

Now let’s say that you are angry at your spouse because she did X. In this example I will use the terms she and “wife” but you could just as easily use he and husband. So a basic belief that you might want to examine might be “I’m angry at my wife because she lied to me.” So let’s take this situation through the process.

  1. Is it true? You’d probably say, “Yes, I’m pretty sure she did lie to me.”
  1. Can you absolutely know it’s true? Well I’m not sure of her intention, so perhaps it’s not completely true or at least “lying” would have a slightly different meaning.
  1. What happens when I have that belief, “I’m angry at my spouse because she lied to me.”
    1. I feel tense inside
    2. I don’t trust her any more.
    3. I think our relationship is weakening.
  1. Who would you be without that belief?
    1. I’d feel more at one with her.
    2. I’d trust her more.
    3. She’d be my best friend.

That’s an example of applying the four questions so now let’s do the turnarounds. I love The Work because the questions and especially the turnarounds give you a totally new perspective on a belief and allow you to see that it’s all you making it up. The turnarounds, however, seem to confuse a lot of people so I’m going to explore the turnarounds with a slightly different viewpoint.

Two Kinds of Turn Arounds, Type One: Emotions

First, if there is an emotion involved, look at the emotion as a separate sort of process. According to A Course In Miracles (ACIM) we are a creation of God (with all the creative powers of God), but at some point we had the thought, “What if I am separate from God?” And having the powers of God, we were able to create a separate illusory reality in which we are separate from God. Ask yourself, for example, “Do you believe you are separate from God?” Most people will answer yes to that. Some people might think it’s blasphemous to have even a thought that we are one with God. And thus, the illusion. I’ve already discussed how that might come about through our senses and through changing our brains to speak a language that sorts the world of energy into subjects, objects, or predicates and even turns predicates into nouns.

Anyway, getting back to the emotional topic. ACIM states that emotions like anger, depression, anxiety all stem from the primal fear of being separate from God. We tend to mask the fear by projecting in out into the world and thinking that the causation is something else, such as a person or an object we see. Thus, we get something like SHE MAKES ME ANGRY. Or MARKET MAKERS MAKE ME SO ANGRY WHEN THEY XXXX.

Now, if you do the turnaround on the emotional part of the beliefs the seems to be causing you stress, then you begin to see that it is all you.

So let’s look at our example. I’m angry at my spouse… and we’ll just work on this part.

First, turn it to the opposite which is I’m happy with my spouse and we find three examples.

  1. I’m happy with her because I know she loves me.
  2. I’m happy with her because if she did lie to me it was probably to protect me from getting upset, so her intention was good.
  3. I’m happy with her because she devotes herself to taking care of me.

(If you can find one, you can find many)

Second, let’s turn it around to the other. In other words, my spouse is angry at me and we find three examples again.

  1. She’s angry at me because I’m upset at her for no good reason and she doesn’t feel it is justified.
  2. She’s angry at me because I sometimes lie to her to protect her.
  3. She’s angry at me because I’m judging her, which makes my love for her dependent upon her behavior.

Third, let’s turn it around to myself. In other words, “I’m angry at myself because….”

  1. I’m angry at myself because my love is not unconditional. I don’t seem to be able to accept her just as she is and love her no matter what.
  2. I’m angry at myself for believing my thoughts about her which may or may not even be true.
  3. I’m angry at myself for forgetting to be happy for no reason.

So when you do that exercise, you begin to realize that the emotion is all you projecting your issues into another person. And if you do the exercise enough times, then you really begin to get that projection is the way you and most people operate in the world. It’s all projected. You invent the Matrix.

Two Kinds of Turn Arounds, Type Two: Beliefs Out of Context

Now let’s look at the other type of belief, the non-emotional part. In the case of our example, it’s “because she lied to me.” Or worse, yet, “because she’s a liar.”

The first version of the belief involves taking something that happened and giving it a lot of real significance. The second version is extreme and labels the person according to a way that they behaved in the past — as if that’s who they are. This is what Korzybski calls over-identification and we talked about this in a recent article, Why Science Evolves and Humanity Stagnates, in the context of recent events in North Carolina.

Any belief has some context (often a very narrow one) for which the belief is true or useful. But when applied to all contexts, no belief is ever completely true. For example, the belief “if I fall 100 feet I will probably die” is useful under conditions in which there is gravity but it’s not useful under conditions where gravity is practically absent. The problem is that people want to be right and they regularly apply beliefs universally. Beliefs are just made up and probably only work (are useful) in the same context. So if you can do the turnarounds on the non-emotional beliefs part of any statement, then you will see that it is probably taken out of context and made much more significant than it really is.

So let’s apply the three turnarounds to the belief: She lied to me.

The first turnaround is to turn it around to the opposite.

  1. She was honest with me (and find three examples).
    1. She was honest with me with her intentions as she didn’t want to hurt me.
    2. She is honest with me in almost every situation I can remember.
    3. She is honest with me when she says, “I love you.” The second turnaround is to apply it to the other.
  1. I lied to her (and we’ll find three examples).
    1. I lied to her by not expressing how upset I was when I thought she lied to me.
    2. I lied to her the other day when I told her X.
    3. I lied to her when I kept it inside and didn’t express it for an entire day. And the third turnaround is to apply it to yourself.
  1. I lied to myself:
    1. I lied to myself when I believed my thoughts about her being a liar.
    2. I lied to myself when I continually believed my thoughts were actually her and applied it to her for the rest of the day. I’m not seeing God inside him/her.
    3. I lie to myself all the time when I cheat on my diet (or anything else).
    4. I lie to myself much more than I lie to other people. (probably applies to most people)

If I suddenly equate the behavior I’m judging as bad as actually being inherent to her, then I’m really going overboard. She’s a liar. What I’m really saying then is that everything she does is a lie, that I cannot trust her at all. That she constantly lies. This is what starts wars. It all begins inside of you.

If you’d like an example of this on a large-scale, I invite you to read the feature article in our April 27th newsletter. There, we explored this topic in the context of the thought “North Carolina is discriminatory” inspired, in part, by the hot-button topic of HB2 (aka The Bathroom Bill). This thought sets an individual’s mind to believe that everything about North Carolina is discriminatory, and can even be taken as far as believing that the state must be somehow punished.

The Same Belief in a Different Context

Example 2: Let’s take another example. Let’s say you are wondering when you can escape from your marriage and you come up with a similar belief, “I’m angry with my spouse because she lied to me.” So let’s look at the turnarounds in this particular context:

First, turn it to the opposite, which is I’m happy with my spouse because … and we’ll find three examples.

  1. I’m happy with her because she’s given me an opportunity see to my part in the mess our marriage has turned in to.
  2. I’m happy with her because she’s actually being honest with me in showing what she really felt at that time through her behavior. Perhaps this is a sign that I should move on, but only once I’ve cleared up my part in our relationship.
  3. I’m happy with her because she gives me a chance to see God in someone that I have huge filters against and thus find it difficult.

Again, if you can find one, you can find many, even in this totally different context.

Second, let’s turn it around to the other. In other words, “My spouse is angry at me because …”

  1. She’s angry at me because I’ve been cruel to her in many ways and not treated her like a treasure in my life.
  2. She’s angry at me because I sometimes lie to her to protect myself.
  3. She’s angry at me because I’m judging her, which makes my love for her conditional upon her behavior. (This one fit both contexts).

Third, let’s turn it around to myself. In other words, “I’m angry at myself because….”

  1. I’m angry at myself because my love for her was not unconditional. I don’t seem to be able to accept her just as she is and love her no matter what. I can’t see God in her even though God is in everyone.
  2. I’m angry at myself for believing my thoughts about her which may or may not even be true.
  3. I’m angry at myself for forgetting to be happy for no reason.

All of these were the same as the other context, so I’ve added a fourth.

  1. I’m angry at me because I can now see my own part in destroying this marriage.

So when you do an exercise like that you begin to realize that the emotion is all you projecting your issues onto another person. And if you do the exercise enough times, then you really begin to get that projection is the way you and most people operate in the world. It’s all projected.

The Second Part, New Context:

Let’s apply the three turnarounds to the second part of the belief in a new context — of a marriage about to fall apart: She lied to me.

The first turnaround is to turn it around to the opposite.

  1. She was honest with me (and find three examples).
    1. She was honest with me in that she really is expressing how she is.
    2. She was honest with me in saying that she was going out (just not with whom).
    3. She is honest with me in probably 80% of the situations that I can think of.

The second turnaround is to apply the belief to the other.

  1. I lied to her (and we’ll find three examples).
    1. I lied to her by not expressing how upset I was when I thought she lied to me.
    2. I lied to her when I don’t tell her I want out of the marriage.
    3. I lied to her when I don’t express my part in destroying this marriage and assume it is all her.

And the third turnaround is to apply it to yourself.

  1. I lied to myself:
    1. I lied to myself when I believed my thoughts about her being a liar: that that’s her essence. She’s really not a liar. Probably more than 80% of what she says is true.
    2. I lied to myself all the time when I cheated on my diet (or anything else).
    3. I (like most people) lie to myself much more than I do to other people

Conclusion:

If you really want to go within, notice your thoughts and become aware of contexts, then do an exercise like The Work to explore a belief, it is not so difficult. Notice how I’ve been able to show projection in two different contexts: being upset at a spouse for a white lie in a functioning marriage and being upset at a spouse for a blatant lie in a dysfunctional marriage. Hopefully, these two examples begin to open you up to how you produce suffering in yourself.

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