We are all familiar with projection, whereby my self-perception becomes projected outward and becomes my perception of others. The following line captures the concept well:
And to accept the limits of a body is to impose these limits on each brother whom you see. For you must see him as you see yourself. (T-26.I.3:7-8)
So, if you accept that your body limits you, then you will see each brother as limited by his body, “For you must see him as you see yourself.”
What is not so well known is the exact opposite dynamic, in which the way we see others determines how we see ourselves.
As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. (T-8.III.4:2-4)
Notice the direct reversal of projection. “As you see him you will see yourself” is the direct opposite of “For you must see him as you see yourself.” Here, causation travels the other way, so that however I decide to see another automatically determines the way I see myself.
And this idea is not just flowery rhetoric. Jesus really means it, so much so that, in personal guidance to Helen and Bill, he said that if, through psychological testing, they diagnosed a brother as mentally ill, and believed in the reality of that mental illness, they would experience that illness inside themselves:
As you see him you will see yourself….If you see one of your brothers, who happens to be a patient, as exhibiting signs of a thought disorder, then you will experience this same disorder in your own perception. For whatever your thought may be about anyone determines how you will respond and react to yourself and everyone about you. (Special message, June 19, 1968)
Notice the opening sentence, which is, word-for-word, the same sentence we saw before. We also see a near duplicate in Lesson 250: “As I see him so I see myself” (W-pII.250.2:3). To be repeated so much, this idea, which I am calling “reverse projection,” must be important. (We could call it introjection, but since the Course doesn’t use that technical term, I’ll not use it either.) In fact, it is so important that the entire system of the Course, to a significant degree, is built around it. This is why the Course’s focus is on forgiving others, for by forgiving others we come to see ourselves as forgiven:
Forgive and be forgiven. As you give you will receive. There is no plan but this for the salvation of the Son of God. (W-pI.122.6:3-5)
Why do we talk so much more about projection than about this concept? My speculation is that projection fits better within the self-focus that is so prevalent in contemporary spirituality. It paints a picture in which my views of others are really only views of myself, so that everywhere I look I see only myself. This sometimes get carried to the absolute extreme, in which other people are nothing more than my projections, so that nothing else actually exists but me.
With projection, furthermore, there isn’t necessarily any serious penalty in seeing my brother in a negative light. That’s merely the mirror that shows me how I’ve been seeing myself. “Oh, OK, the mirror is showing me I’ve been loathing myself. Interesting.”
Reverse projection, however, doesn’t really fit with this narcissistic orientation. In this view, I am still the cause of how I see the world and myself, but the specific point of causation occurs in how I decide to see other people. Perception of others becomes cause, while self-perception becomes merely an effect. Now, I am not just seeing myself wherever I look. You could say that, according to reverse projection, I am really just seeing my brothers wherever I look, even when I look at myself. As you read that line, can you feel the challenge to the general spiritual mood out there?
Further, according to reverse projection, if I am to grant value, importance, and genuine personhood to myself, then I must first grant these qualities to my brothers. Likewise, if I am to see myself as a Son of God, I must first see my brothers as God’s Son. The Course is quite explicit about this: “Your holy Son is pointed out to me, first in my brother; then in me” (W-pII.357.1:2).
Therefore, whereas projection can easily slide into the idea that others are merely projections of our own minds, reverse projection puts us and them on complete par. According to it, if we are to see ourselves as fully, unshakably real, we must see others that way. If we hold that they are mere projections, that’s how we’ll see ourselves.
If reverse projection is true, the implications for our lives are massive. Normally, my mind’s gravitational pull leads me to put others down so that I can feel lifted up, to judge others so that I can feel innocent, and to dismiss others in honor of my cosmic importance. If I really grasp reverse projection, however, I will pour my energy into seeing others as inestimably valuable, supremely important, and purely innocent—as shining and untainted Sons of God Himself, fully worthy of my love, my respect, and of all else that is mine.
What is the basis of reverse projection? Why does the mind have to work that way? If the idea is going to have practical power for me, I need to understand that. I can’t just take it on faith. In reviewing relevant passages, I see two rationales for this idea:
First, the integrity of the mind. Several of the passages chalk the idea up to the inability of the mind to create compartments within itself that are at odds with the rest of the mind’s belief. Whatever the mind believes in one area will wash through to all areas, becoming a general decision about the nature of everything. Here is perhaps the best encapsulation of this view:
You cannot perpetuate an illusion about another without perpetuating it about yourself. There is no way out of this, because it is impossible to fragment the mind. (T-7.VIII.4:1-2)
Because “it is impossible to fragment the mind,” anything I think about you will automatically generalize and become what I think about me.
Second, the equality of the Sonship. The passages that express this view imply that we all possess an innate recognition that, whatever we are, we must be fundamentally like each other. Despite surface differences, we can’t be really that different. As the Course says, “Your brother is like you” (T-24.II.10:5). In the following passage, this becomes the basis for reverse projection:
You cannot know your own perfection until you have honored all those who were created like you. (T-7.VII.6:6)
The logic here seems to be that, since deep-down you realize that others were created like you, you can’t really see yourself differently than how you see them. Therefore, until you honor their perfection, you will not know your own.
Finally, these two rationales—the integrity of the mind and the equality of the Sonship—seem to come together somehow. In both cases, there is an innate recognition that the part cannot be separate and different from the whole. Part of my belief can’t really be kept separate from all of my belief (integrity of the mind). Part of the Sonship can’t really be different from the rest of the Sonship (equality of the Sonship). There is, in other words, a unity of part and whole that we just can’t escape. Here is a passage that seems to include both the integrity of the mind and the equality of the Sonship:
You can think of the Sonship only as one. This is part of the law of creation, and therefore governs all thought. You can perceive the Sonship as fragmented, but it is impossible for you to see something in part of it that you will not attribute to all of it. (Original version of T-7.VI.1:1-2)
What I get from this is that we possess some innate knowing of the unity of part and whole. This knowing is part of the very fabric of the mind, “and therefore governs all thought.” I am therefore “doomed” to experience my decision about each small thing as a decision about everything, and more the point, to experience my perception of each and every person as a perception of myself.
As I said, the practical implications of reverse projection are truly massive. I tried to capture those implications in something I wrote recently, a commentary on Lesson 359:
The principle is this: We realize we are basically like others; maybe not exactly the same, but at least roughly so. Therefore, whatever we decide they are, we will also decide we are.
It is impossible, therefore, to say, “You suck. You suck. And you suck. You all suck. Human nature sucks. Thank God I’m the exception.” Can we really give our conviction to that kind of blatant inconsistency? Isn’t it more likely that after “Human nature sucks,” we whisper to ourselves, “I guess that leaves only one option for my nature”?
Therefore, our strategy for happiness must be to go around releasing everyone from their belief in their sinfulness. If we can tell them, “All those sins of yours were really just mistakes,” then we can heal all their pain, we can replace all their misery with joy, we can open all their prison doors. And if we do, we will one day look inside ourselves and realize that all the while we were doing that, we were secretly saying to ourselves, with mounting joy, “I guess that leaves only one option for my nature.” And then we will look up and find our own prison door standing open, beckoning us to walk out into the fresh air and sunshine.
How would we live if we held the truth of reverse projection before our eyes at all times? If we realized that any value, importance, or goodness we wanted to see in ourselves we needed to first acknowledge in others? The following powerful passage gives us a hint. It is about specialness, by which we try to lift ourselves up by putting others down, but which ends up belittling us as well. Instead, Jesus says, we need to take all the devotion we have poured on our specialness and shower it instead on our dear brother, for only then will it truly be ours:
The holiness in you belongs to him. And by your seeing it in him, returns to you. All of the tribute you have given specialness belongs to him, and thus returns to you. All of the love and care, the strong protection, the thought by day and night, the deep concern, the powerful conviction this is you, belong to him. Nothing you gave to specialness but is his due. And nothing due him is not due to you. (T-24.VII.2:4-9)
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]