Understanding Projective Identification in Astrology
The term “projection” … seems to me to designate quite correctly the illusion and unconscious assumption by which I ascribe to my fellow man what largely belongs to myself. I lodge it in him, so to speak. – Carl G. Jung
Projective identification is a psychological process that can happen between any two persons, especially when one of the two partners has a deep inner need to get rid of some of her or his own parts. When such a person finds a good projection target he or she dumps all those unwanted parts onto the other person. Projected qualities are not always negative, even our good qualities may get buried deep within and then projected out without our conscious knowledge.
In one sense projection and projective identification are natural processes – we use projections to connect ourselves with life and other persons. Often our projection target is someone with whom we already have a relationship and whom we know well, yet we may do some projecting in all our associations. Even distant targets will often do if there are no suitable targets around. Sometimes projections are used as an illusory bridge between two people – it may work well for some time but usually the target eventually wants to shed the projected image.
Usually we can see our projections only when they hit a suitable screen, but even then we may not always recognize those projected qualities as our own. In beneficent projections there is some real similarity between us and our target, our projections may even support or empower the other person. In negative projections – shadow projections – we usually meet the shadow side of others, as their response comes from the shadow level too.
Being married was like having a hippopotamus sitting on my face…. No matter how hard I pushed or which way I turned, I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t even breathe… Hippopotamuses aren’t all bad. They are what they are. But I wasn’t meant to have one sitting on my face. – Faith Sullivan
All the planets can do both some projecting and some identifying, yet trying to get something out of our system, and in any way we can, is a typically Plutonian phenomenon. Often Pluto creates such an inner pressure that a Plutonian is almost compelled to project a part of the pressure on to others, often being totally oblivious of the devastating effect an intense projection may have on the target.
In studying Plutonian projections dwads are often very helpful as they reflect the deeper level, where all kinds of buried slights, resentments and unconscious power struggles may get mixed up with collective unconscious contents and then pour out empowered by collective forces. Such projections can be unbelievably powerful and very hard for the target to resist. In dwad-projections Pluto may truly act like an unconscious volcano releasing pent-up energies using any means available. Those energies sometimes totally overwhelm everyone around.
Especially Sun-Pluto combinations – light and darkness together – may create difficult shadow side projections, sometimes real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situations. As we know, Pluto can be quite ruthless in forcing itself into another person’s life, perhaps invading irresistibly her or his psychic field. The target, often a Neptunian, or at least a psychically receptive person, may be unconscious of the intruder until it’s almost too late to do anything to stop or to avoid the intrusion. Other planetary aspects usually show the details of the projection process: For instance, with Mars the intrusion may be an aggressive attack and thus more easily recognized, with Venus it may happen under the mask of love and be very hard to recognize for what it is.
In evacuating disturbing unconscious contents the Plutonian often totally denies that those contents were her or his to begin with. In fact, in order to really get rid of those qualities they have to be denied. Pluto is often quite able to shut the shadow side completely out of consciousness. With a suitable target Pluto can lead – as Jung said – “the provisional life”, undisturbed because it has given its own shadow over to the target and thus no longer feels responsible for its own characteristics.
Yet the projected shadow doesn’t disappear, it stays there hiding somewhere in the deep recesses of the targeted Neptunian, just waiting for an opportunity to return to the original owner, the Plutonian. And often in an overdone and caricatured form, because it has become contaminated with strange contents. Although Plutonians may not know what they are doing – and Neptunians may not know what hit them – the process may be plainly obvious to those not involved. One of the hallmarks of a projection can be the intensity of emotional reaction, for instance somebody hating another person with absolutely irrational vehemence is often a good indication of a projection.
A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves. – Simone Weil
Usually there are no clear demarcation line between benign and abusive projections. The same relationship may be involved in both, perhaps at different times. The more intense the relationship, the more difficult it will be to make the distinction, because in intense relationships partners exist in a kind of mutual psychic energy field, thus they cannot easily see what belongs to whom. Yet the distinction is important, at least in unhealthy relationships. If you do not know who is doing what, you will not know how to protect yourself from being invaded…
In benign projective identification the target is not changed in the process, at least not permanently or to a disturbing degree. Projective identification is then used mainly for communicative purposes, not to get rid of something or to control the target. In malignant projections the other person “is not recognized for what he is but rather as a container of disowned aspects of the self”, wrote Tom Main. The target is then often quite unable to resist destructive feelings and disowned parts projected onto her or him.
The person doing the projection then controls those feelings in another person without any danger to herself or himself. Such abusive projections are common in difficult parent-child relationships, but they may easily happen in any relationships lacking in equality. In some relationships both partners use the other one as a projection target but in most cases one partner acts as a poison container for the other one, the container cleanses their mutual system, detoxifies dangerous emotions. Which is a hard job for anyone.
EFFECTS OF PROJECTIONS
The inner psychological state is projected outward, gaining physical reality … Knowing this, you should try to realize what your psychological state is and change your conditions for your own benefit. – Jane Roberts through ‘Seth’
We may project our characteristics not only to individuals, but also to groups or even onto ideologies. Astrologers and astrology students may project their own power and characteristics on to planets (‘planetary gods‘), which may lead to an attitude where everything – even the smallest detail – in our lives is seen as cosmic forces influencing us. Then, like in any projections, we may become quite obsessive about astrology because it is our way – or perhaps even our only way – of communicating with ourselves. We have invested our whole power onto it.
But astrology can also be very useful in studying the nature of projections. If somebody projects, for instance, her or his repressed aggressions and other negative feelings using Mars-Neptune or Mars-Pluto configurations, it may not be just a question of aggressive feelings or energies being transferred. Such a projection may act as a negative magnet in the target’s life attracting other negative energies around the target. Thus the projection may start as an individual one: one person projecting her or his Martian energies onto another. But it may become a collective one: one person projecting her or his own energies strengthened by collective energies (Neptune and Pluto) as well.
Such a projection, with all those attached collective psychic energies, may cause – in addition to uncomfortable feelings – many kinds of negative events, for instance accidents or violence. Jane Roberts’ Seth said that each individual sends frequently replica images of herself or himself out, though the degree of the materialization may differ. They have a definite effect upon the atmosphere, they make room for themselves, sometimes they create ‘inexplicable’ psychic phenomena.
Both Uranus, Neptune and Pluto can be behind such phenomena. Being a target of such projections can create very deep and mysterious negative feelings in the target, depression, exhaustion, aggression. Although some forceful projections create, for instance, psychic poltergeist-like phenomena around the target, there are many dangerous projections without any outward danger signs. The person doing the projecting may be totally unaware of her or his participation in creating or invoking negative feelings or events around the partner.
In family life projections such are very common. The parents may get relieved from their own inner pressures by living them through their children. In such cases they become quite dependent on their children and usually do all they can to bind the children to themselves. And they also do all they can to keep their children in the role needed for the projection, because otherwise the parents would lose contact with the projected parts of their own inner selves. Losing a projection target often creates severe frustration. And either a frantic search after a new projection carrier or an equally frantic and desperate attempt to force the target back to the old role.
Losing the target the person may even break down, because being used to having a projection carrier, he or she may have failed to develop other means of handling problems. This may create some difficult but often unwarranted guilt feelings in the target, especially if the target is – as is very common – an empathetic Neptunian. Yet in such cases the Neptunian should remember that everyone has a right to protect herself or himself from destructive projections. In the long run it is best for everyone concerned.
If you do not oppose, you will be led into places that are not called hells.- Markku Envall (Sun conjunct Pluto)