07/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ask Maddisen - How to Recognize and Claim Your Greatness

Dear Maddisen:
I've been "working on myself" for a long time -- through reading, workshops, journaling, meditation, coaching, support groups, etc. All of it has helped me in becoming more self realized and happy, but I'm honestly tired of rummaging through my old baggage, and am feeling a bit discouraged and down. Do you have any advice?
Thanks, M

Dear M,

I acknowledge you for your continued devotion and commitment in realizing your full potential and happiness. Bravo! And yes, I have a few suggestions.

I can certainly relate to what you're sharing. It sounds like you are in the part of the cycle where you may need to pause for a few deep breaths, take stock of your accomplishments, and build your strength for the next go round. These peaks, valleys, and plateaus reflect normal and healthy phases of the human experience, so go easy on yourself M, practice self forgiveness (which is covered in one of my earlier columns), and pick it back up when you feel ready. Meanwhile, in answer to your excellent question and in service to evolution, let's explore an inspired approach to self realization, and one that you can add to your self-care repertoire.

We'll begin with some background on Sigmund Freud's theory of psychological "Projection." In this context, Projection is described as a defense mechanism of our egos, where our egos project or assign our unacceptable and threatening feelings onto other individuals or groups in an attempt to repress or externalize the unwanted feelings -- perhaps to protect ourselves, or perhaps to make the feelings visible so that we can address and heal them.

For example, one fellow judges his need for love as weak and inappropriate, so perceives and accuses his partner of being too clingy; or, a woman feels ashamed of her unrealistic financial planning, so ascribes that label to her husband and resents him for being a failure with money; or, an employee lies about his hours, and then labels the boss as mean and deceitful; or, an unfaithful partner suspects their mate of infidelity. Etc.

Can you think of an undesired feeling that you have disowned by projecting it onto another? I can, and most likely everyone can.

Now, let's take this concept of Projection a step further, and see how our projections can help us by providing information about how to better fulfill our own authentic natures and desires.

In working with myself and my clients, I have observed that we sometimes project seemingly offensive or undesired qualities onto others to remind ourselves of something we are lacking or of something else we'd rather become. For example, let's say that my fictional client Jasmine, who is very shy and habitually close-mouthed, judges one of her friends as overbearing and opinionated, when in fact, Jasmine herself desires to be more gregarious and verbally expressive in her own unique way.

Without being aware that she's projecting, Jasmine might continue to contract in her friend's presence, feeling judgment and discomfort, and even distance herself from her. However, through our counseling and Jasmine's knowledge of projections, Jasmine realizes that her friend is actually projecting what she herself hasn't allowed -- the expression of her truth with others -- so takes this as an opportunity to claim and begin practicing her gregarious and expressive qualities. This in turn dissolves Jasmine's defensive wall with her friend, and fosters deeper levels of intimacy and friendship between them. Big wins for Jasmine and her friend, and all involved!

Can you think of an example of this kind of projection in your own life, and how you might reframe it and change your behavior in service to your growth and happiness?

And finally, we'll take Projections even further, and experience how they can be inspiring, uplifting, empowering, and even enjoyable.

Positive Projections

At this point, we have some understanding of the challenges and rewards in facing and owning our negative projections. Similarly, we also have the opportunity to identify, own, and take on the positive projections that mirror our inherently divine qualities. These are called "Positive Projections" -- my favorite!

Grab a pen and paper, or use your computer, and follow these steps:

Step 1: Who inspires you?
Think of a person who inspires you, and write down his or her name. It can be someone you know, or someone you don't know personally but who you greatly admire. If there is one specific situation that pops into your mind when you interacted with or observed this person as a great inspiration, you can write about that as well.

Step 2: What qualities do you most admire in them?
List all of the qualities you admire in this person. Be specific and thorough, writing down everything that inspires you about this person.

Step 3: Identify and claim your positive projection
What is the mirror reflecting to you about yourself? Reading over all of the qualities you listed about the person in Step 2, now list all of their qualities that you see in your self.

These are your positive qualities, which you projected onto someone else! Reclaim them and breathe them in!

There may be times in doing this exercise when you identify a positive quality in the other person that inspires you but that you have yet to develop in yourself. That's wonderful. Just set the intention to invoke that quality in yourself in your own unique way and be patient as it blossoms within you.

Step 4: Own your positive projection
Now that you see your positive and inspired qualities, your next step is to own them and commit to living and sharing them with yourself and others. Write down a few ideas of how can you share these qualities with yourself, and how can you express and share these qualities with others?

Step 5: Commit to and practice your positive qualities for 30 days
To anchor your positive qualities and express them routinely in your daily life, consider reading your list of positive qualities for at least 30 days. For example, read them when you first wake up or before you go to sleep. Perhaps, print out your list of positive qualities and take them with you, or post them on your bathroom mirror, by your computer, or in the kitchen! Try reading them aloud and prefacing each quality with "I am...", for example, "I am kind, I am intelligent, I am generous, I am loving..."

Practice Self Forgiveness
As always, if you notice any judgments or irrational thoughts or beliefs coming to the surface while or after you do this exercise, practice self forgiveness until you feel quiet. The core phrase is, "I forgive myself for judging myself for...", and you can follow it with, "Because the truth is..." Refer to my earlier column on Self Forgiveness for details on this process.

And so, dear M, I hope this provides you with a healthy and uplifting alternative to rummaging through old baggage! Just knowing that you can perform this Positive Projection process at any time may shift you permanently into feeling happier and more empowered.

I close with an excerpt from Marianne Williamson's famous quote, which seems so suitable for this week's topic: "...We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Begin recognizing and claiming your Positive Projections - today!

Your Coach, Maddisen

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