10/23/2013 02:35 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Something You Don't Want to Know That Could Change the World

Okay, stay with me. This is a chewy one.

Several months ago I was disrespected by a man. Essentially he did not listen when I said "no." He wanted what he wanted, and when I told him that I was not interested, he went so far as to tell me that I was wrong, that I did not actually know what I was feeling. Yes, this is bizarre, but what was even more troubling is that I almost believed him. He was so certain of his feelings in the situation that it began to overwhelm my own sense of self, my own knowing. Does this sound familiar?

Even without the salacious detail, this situation illustrates something that we as a culture do not understand. Something that is extremely confusing and dangerous to us all -- the power of projection.

This man really truly believed that our couplehood was destiny, that I was the Eve to his Adam, and even though I did not have the same attraction, I almost believed him, for his projection onto me was powerful. I got caught up in his delusion, mostly because somewhere deep inside I really wanted partnership (just not with him), and he was singing the right song, saying the right words. Because of my desire for a partnership, I was open to the message and messenger.  

I was teetering on the edge of the precipice, ready to follow his lead, believe his projection, but fortunately I shared the experience with an elder sister who bailed me out by saying a few simple words. "Megan you do not have to return his affections." Blammo. The spell was broken. I feel embarrassed that I could not not do it alone, or even remember that I knew this (sigh). Often we accept the projection because there is something familiar, a certain kernel of resonance in the situation. As illustrated above, for me there was this strong desire, and what he told me resonated with that desire, so I questioned my own knowing and wondered if he was right. Again. Sound familiar?

I think women by nature are more open... porous. It is hard to really know what it is we want from the inside. Those things that emanate from our nature, our deep sense of self. We have been steeped in cultural beliefs, desires and values, in our familial conditioning, which impresses upon us the things we are supposed to want or ways we are supposed to behave (men, too!), such as doing what we are told or being nice. This life-long and deep training makes it very difficult for us to separate ourselves from the opinions of our friends, family, our colleagues and culture in general.

I use this personal (and frankly embarrassing) experience to express what I have learned (over and over again I am afraid!), but projection places us all in great danger, especially when it happens on a global scale. Those parts of ourselves that we do not know, that maybe scare us, aspects of our personalities that we will not accept, or feelings we find undesirable, such as rage, need, repressed desire and even our gifts, can be hidden to us. These things that we do not know about ourselves can  get projected by one group onto another. "Other" can become bad, undesirable and threatening to our survival, or just the perfect mate depending upon the projection. And it all happens  because we do not see or want to take responsibility for what is inside of us.

All we have to do is look in our families. There is the black sheep, where all the unwanted feelings get projected -- worthlessness, neediness, anger (and many black sheep live it out because they also think these things about themselves!). The black sheep unconsciously accepts the parents repressed and undesirable traits, while the golden child holds the family projection of success! Look around. This is happening in all cultures, all communities and all families, essentially, in all relationships.

We may project our creative self onto an artist friend, our desire for power onto those who are successful, our sense of frailty onto a person in our family who cannot get it together (not to mention Republicans on Democrats and vice versa -- it is those guys!), even the family dog holds projections! How many people treat their dog like the child they never had or the way you wished you we treated as a child? I do!

Another good example is happening in India, men's repressed instinctual desire and their own shame of it, is projected onto women who are thought to be dirty, seductive or manipulative... whatever the term, but certainly women have sometimes been presented as root of a problem. Women are sometimes blamed for their own rape. For centuries I think women believed this projection... but things are changing as shown in this great video made by young women in India.  They are tossing off the projection!

I believe projection is a great gift if we work with it, so we can see ourselves in those around us, and the qualities they embody, which we like and do not like. We chose our friends and our life situations to learn, and like a mirror, projection allows us to see what we have rejected inside. Whether it is a friend, a family member or a person from another culture. We are actually attracted to or really repelled by those people who can help us see hidden parts inside. How brilliant is that?

Even though I suffer through this myself over and over again, learning bit by bit, I can see that the system is genius, and whatever being designed it is beyond genius.

I find the more I claim about who I am, the more free I become. I believe my life is about wholeness, claiming all the parts of myself -- not being right, nice or perfect.  I am just humbly (and not so humbly!) learning to be who I am without influence from others.

I wonder as we all try to fix the world if the most useful thing would be to look inside and claim as part of who we are, what we see outside?