Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where Art Thou, Beauty?

“As a rule, a beautiful woman is a terrible disappointment,” Jung remarked. Why would he say this? Why would he make such a gross generalization? Truthfully, I do not know the context of this quote, but here is my take on it: Beautiful women and men are terrible disappointments because of a little psychological menace called projection.

Projection is a phenomenon in which we perceive our own personal traits, whether positive or negative, as outside of ourselves—like a film projected onto a screen. Many of us think, either consciously or unconsciously, that beauty is something other people have—not us. And not just beauty, but ideal, transcendent love—the kind we can really only get from our connection to God and ourselves. If we’re unsuccessful in experiencing this kind of love within, we look for it without—by getting involved with unsuspecting “beautiful” people. And maybe for a while the projection is successful—time stops, we’re euphoric, we think we have fallen in love. Until, that is, the beloved person behaves in ways we don’t like, proving to be something other than the glorious image of All Things Wonderful that we have projected onto her or him. Usually, we become extremely disappointed when this happens—hence Jung’s remark—and we want to leave our formerly fabulous lover, perhaps demonizing her or him along the way. But as a very wise woman once said to me, the real relationship begins when the projection falls. It takes courage and the willingness to look at ourselves to stay with someone after we’ve perceived his or her foibles.

Think about this: If we are sinking into disappointment about our beloved’s sudden lack of stellar qualities, maybe the person we are really displeased with is ourselves. Why? Because we failed to see our own beauty—and then went looking for it in another! Viewed in this light, we can see our disappointment as serving the sacred purpose of returning us to the source of that which we seek: our own hearts. Our relationships become powerful teachers of the most valuable of life lessons: the love and beauty we crave is within.


  1. i think all you said about projection is very true, and it really makes me think about how I've been going about things and situations in my life. i don't know how i will be able to help myself, because i find this urge that i need people to love me even though i hate myself.

    on the other hand, I'm not quite sure that is what Jung's quote is referring to..

  2. I think that it's very brave of you to acknowledge your desire to be loved by others, even though you aren't particularly fond of yourself. I think many people feel that way, but don't admit it. And I also believe that just being aware of what you want from others and how that differs from what you feel about yourself is half the battle of creating relationships based on authentic love.

  3. Melissa, do you have any ideas on how to overcome projection? I've struggled for years and years in psychotherapy, with Jungian psychotherapists of the highest order. But even they seem to have little idea how to get over this "menace".

  4. I remember when I learned about projection and I proclaimed “That’s it! I will stop projecting and be done with this nonsense” and I thought that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, it seems that as long as we are still alive it is very hard to stop projecting all together. What we can do is to try and learn from the projections. What is it that our subconscious mind is trying to tell us? When we realize that what we are feeling is a projection I would offer that we need to make an attempt to learn as much as we can about that person. If it turns out they have little in common with our projection than the illusion may then fade. If on the other hand they have more and more in common with the projection I wonder if it may then be strengthened? In both cases I think the only thing to do is to try and learn as much as we can about the real person behind the projection as well as learning as much about the projection (that undiscovered part of ourselves) and in the end coming together.

  5. Idealised transference, on the other hand, is a term for liking another person. In "Finnigan's Wake" Joyce writes of being "Yung and Freudend".