A handsome, thoughtful young man started talking with me on the bus. He was drunk and was wondering why some things create a highly aggressive reaction in him. I asked what kind of situations trigger such a reaction. He told me that sometimes he feels someone regards him as inferior. Then he wants to show that no-one should think about him like that, so he wants to punch those people.
I was wondering how he could know what another person is thinking about him. He seemed smart so he most probably reacted to his own perception of himself, his own feelings of inferiority and being less than others. Then he projected these feelings onto others. He was reflecting his own picture of himself thinking that other people were regarding him as their inferior.
I noted to him that it should not matter what other people think about him, because it is not necessarily true. It is only someone’s perception of him. The young man stated that he wanted to teach those people that they should not think about him like that, they should think about something else. I thought that punching someone would not change anybody’s views.
This man said he had been punched many times, so to me it looked like a punch would only increase thinking about these unpleasant events. Aggression will grow. A cycle of revenge will start. I understand very well that activation of a negative experience can prompt someone’s agitation, which then rises from zero to one hundred.
I also figured out that revenge would not solve anything. Instead the young man should try to forgive, let go of the hard feelings and accept himself. I did not start that discussion because it would have required a journey lasting a few therapy sessions.
I wished the young man a nice day when our ways parted. In my mind, I blessed his journey and hoped that he would start to respect himself and that he had a calm mind after our discussion.
We are blind to ourselves
My example above may be quite extreme. However, we all reflect the contents of our minds onto other people. It is called projection.
This young man started me thinking. Why do we react so strongly to some issues? We judge others and evaluate what they say or do by our own standards. We think we know how they think – as I probably did when I was trying to make sense of this young man’s world.
As far as I know, not many of us are able to read other people’s minds. So all presumptions about what other people think about us are reflections of our own self-perception. We just dare not look in the mirror and recognise it.
A Course in Miracles says that the things we project are things we dissociate ourselves from and therefore do not believe that they concern us. We regard ourselves different from our target of projections. We have judged the issue in concern, and we try to keep it out of our consciousness. We assume that by attacking towards others we guarantee our own safety, but in fact, we are attacking ourselves. The Course also states that what we project, we believe in, but we can also relearn and free ourselves from aggression.
Projection occurs when we think we are better than others. We are unable to see other people’s real motives. If we look closely, we can find ourselves guilty of the same act, at some point of our lives, that we see someone else guilty of. We are blind to ourselves.
Occasionally, we may admire other people and wonder why someone complains about a minor thing when in our eyes their life seems perfect and they are so skilled in the undertaking that they feel they have failed in. In that case we are unable to see our own skills and performance in a similar situation. Projection has taken place in this case, too. We fail to see our own value but we see it in somebody else.
We blame, judge and compare each other, because we do not value ourselves. We are afraid that we are not valued by others. Fear is lack of love. Fear creates malice. We expect others to accept us, when we should accept ourselves, love ourselves, consequently being able to regard everybody as equal to ourselves.
At this point, I want to introduce the term ego. Ego can be defined as a person’s sense of self-esteem or dignity. The ego can feel being wounded by other people’s comments and deeds, but if we are confident enough and have resilience, we will not be hurt because of others. They can have their opinions. Their views may not always be truthful from our point of view, and thus they do not need to affect us nor do we need to change their views.
A negative ego is essentially full of fear and selfishness. The ego monitors what it will allow to enter into our conscious minds. It controls our minds and when it feels endangered, it will try to keep itself safe. The ego identifies itself with the body and this is one reason why we feel imperfect. We have established extrinsic assumptions of perfection.
Eckhart Tolle sees that the ego can become attached to objects and things by identifying itself with, for example, a profession, an item or a celebrity. The ego creates a point of comparison, which it uses to define what one should be (like) or what one should have.
We have created our ego without love and therefore it does not love us. If we left ego aside, we would not have to defend ourselves, judge or attack. We would understand that we do not need to aim at perfection since we already are perfect.
If we were able to see ourselves intrinsically perfect, we could see everybody else’s perfection as well. Instead of hate, we could feel love towards both ourselves and others. We would be equal regardless of our extrinsic merits or the lack of them.
Thoughts begin in the thinker’s mind
We perceive things through our minds and we project our perceptions outwards. Mind that is led by the ego is conditioned by the ghosts from our past. Therefore, our perceptions depend on what kind of experiences we have had and what kind of thoughts we have created in our lives. Also, the interpretation of the world that we perceive is based on our own assumptions that have evolved through our life experience.
Surely, we have all been part of a group that experienced the same event and yet everybody remembered and interpreted the situation differently afterwards. Someone may think that they were a victim in a situation where someone else did not see anything bad happening. No wonder if the person who felt victimized becomes agitated and even aggressive when a similar situation or comment later reminds them about the past. Maybe the victim tried to do their best but nobody understood them.
Our basic need is to be accepted. Therefore, healing of wounds will start from the depths of our own minds by accepting ourselves and by respecting ourselves.
We do not need to remain prisoners of our conditioned thoughts nor continue to blame others because they do not see us as we truly are. We do not need to change the way other people think about us. We can build a better self-esteem that is not based on extrinsic values.
We must recognize the situations where we become agitated or hurt. During meditation I have come to understand how someone else may have seen a situation. It has helped me prolong my non-reaction, and to see the forest from the trees.
The most important realization has been that I need to forgive myself for feeling hurt by what others have said. They did not necessarily mean to hurt me but my feelings got hurt. I wanted to defend some part of my ego.
Our friend ego can help us unlearn the misconceptions that we have created. Thank you to that young man who taught me to see beyond my assumptions by sharing his own experience with me.
I can hear your whisper
A Course in Miracles
Eckhart Tolle (2016): The Power of Now
Eckhart Tolle (2016): New Earth