Deep in the recesses of our minds lurk many thoughts and feelings that we’d like to deny ever having.
These desires and impulses are so offensive to the conscious part of the mind that it launches various psychological defense mechanisms to keep them out.
One way it does this is by projecting these feelings onto other people (for the most part, but also onto events and objects) in an attempt to externalize the problem.
What does this mean? Well, let’s begin with a simple definition:
Psychological projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when a conflict arises between your unconscious feelings and your conscious beliefs. In order to subdue this conflict, you attribute these feelings to someone or something else.
In other words, you transfer ownership of these troubling feelings to some external source.
You effectively trick yourself into believing that these undesirable qualities actually belong elsewhere – anywhere but as a part of you.
This approach, Freud theorized, is a way for our minds to deal with aspects of our character that we considered to be flawed.
Rather than admit to the flaw, we find a way to address it in a situation where it is free from personal connotations.
By projecting these flaws, we can avoid having to consciously identify them, take ownership of them, and deal with them.
Projecting emotions onto others is something we all do to some degree, and it has some psychological value, but as we’ll discuss later, it also has its drawbacks.
There’s no end to the types of feelings we can project onto others. Whenever any internal conflict arises, there is always the temptation (though unconscious) to shift the troubling feeling elsewhere.
The more upsetting we find the feeling, the greater the impulse to project it onto someone else.
But let’s look at some clear examples to help explain the idea. Here are 8 of the most common examples of projection:
- 1. Attraction To And Arousal By Someone Other Than Your Partner
- 2. Body Image Issues
- 3. Disliking Someone
- 4. Insecurity And Vulnerability
- 5. Anger
- 6. Irresponsible Behavior
- 7. Failure
- 8. Achievement
- The Problem With Projection
- Moving Away From Projection
- What is Psychological Projection (In Layman’s Terms)?
- Common Examples of Psychological Projection
- Shadow Work Journal:
- What Is Psychological Projection and How to Find If Someone Is Using It on You
- Narcissists are renowned for using psychological projection to blame other people, even when it is entirely apparent that they are the ones in the wrong.
- What is psychological projection?
- Ways in which a narcissist will use psychological projection on you:
- 31 Psychological Defense Mechanisms Explained
- Acting Out
- Passive Aggression
- Reaction Formation
- Self Serving Bias
- Social Comparison
- Wishful Thinking
- Don’t Let Others Project Their Negativity on You
- He who criticizes you defines himself
- Learn to counteract negativity
- People Will Always Try To Project Their Insecurities And Issues On You, But That’s Not Your Problem
- Whether it’s a lack of awareness, or refusal to assume accountability, that is not your problem to fix.
- Don’t allow other’s perceptions to define you.
- Disclaimer: We all do it
- Projection in Relationships: Stop it from ruining your connection
- Projection in Relationships: What is it?
- Projection in Relationships: How it shows up
- Projection in Relationships: What to do about it
- What is projection anyway?
- How to manage your psychological projection
- 1. Stop saying I’m fine.
- 2. Try mindfulness.
- 3. Learn the art of self-compassion
- 4. Spend more time alone.
- 5. Question your thoughts.
- 6. Learn how to communicate better.
- 7. Recognise your personal power.
- 8. Track the projection patterns.
- 9. Talk to a therapist.
- Powerful Reactions
- Take Note Of Your Body
- Ask Yourself Whether It’s Really Them, Or You
1. Attraction To And Arousal By Someone Other Than Your Partner
The classic example often used to explain projection psychology is that of the husband or wife who feels a strong sense of attraction to a third person.
Their inner values tell them that this is unacceptable, so they project these feelings onto their spouse and accuse them of being unfaithful.
This blame is actually a mechanism of denial so that they do not have to deal with, or feel guilty about, their own wandering desires.
This sort of projection in relationships can put a great deal of stress and strain on things.
After all, the innocent party is being accused of something they haven’t done. They will quite rightly defend themselves, often quite adamantly.
Before long, you’ve got a breeding ground of mistrust, poor communication, and doubt.
2. Body Image Issues
When you look in the mirror and regard your reflection as in some way imperfect, you might choose to overlook these so-called flaws by taking every opportunity to spot them in others.
Proclaiming someone else to be overweight, ugly, or to have some other unappealing physical attribute is most likely to occur when you have deep-seated image issues yourself.
Projection allows you to take the loathing you may have for your looks and distance yourself from it by focusing it on other people.
You may also project behaviors that you are uncomfortable with onto others.
For example, you may criticize someone for being greedy at the dinner table, or for wearing unflattering clothing in order to hide your own insecurities regarding these things.
3. Disliking Someone
When we are young, we tend to get along with everyone, and this desire remains a part of us as we grow older.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that when we find ourselves disliking someone, we seek to project this feeling onto them so that we may justify our own less than friendly behavior.
To put it another way, if you dislike Joe, but are not willing to consciously admit to this, you might convince yourself that it is Joe who doesn’t like you.
This protects you against feeling bad for disliking someone, no matter what your reasons are.
Because let’s face it, if you had to really say why you disliked Joe (perhaps he is charming and you are not, or maybe he has a successful career and you’re unfulfilled in yours), you’d come face to face with qualities that you don’t want to admit exist in you.
4. Insecurity And Vulnerability
When we feel insecure about some aspect of ourselves (such as the body image discussed above), we seek out ways to identify some insecurity in other people.
This is often the case with bullying behavior where the bully will target the insecurities of others in order to avoid dealing with his/her own concerns.
This is why they will look for the most vulnerable individuals who can be easily attacked without risk of emotionally painful retribution.
It doesn’t have to be exactly the same insecurity that is targeted; often any will do.
So the person who worries that they are not smart enough will pick on the lack of romantic confidence in another who might target the financial anxieties of a third person.
In an attempt to mask the anger that may be raging on the inside, some people project it onto those they are angry with.
During an argument, for instance, you may try to maintain a cool and measured exterior and even tell the other person to ‘calm down’ so as to deny the anger you are harboring.
Or you may use the actions of others to justify your anger towards them, even when an alternate approach could have been taken.
Projecting anger onto someone else shifts the blame in your mind. No longer are you the reason for the conflict; you see yourself as the attacked, not the attacker.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Spot When You Are Projecting Onto Others
- How To Let Go Of Anger: The 7 Stages From Rage To Release
- 15 Revealing Psychology Facts Everyone Needs To Know
- Intrusive Thoughts – What They Are And Why They’re Perfectly Normal
- The Psychology Of Displacement And 7 Real-World Examples Of It In Action
- The Psychology Of Sublimation And How It Can Improve Your Life
6. Irresponsible Behavior
We may not like to admit it, but we all partake in behavior that could be considered irresponsible.
Whether it’s having a few too many drinks, taking unnecessary risks with our safety, or even being reckless with our money, we are all guilty of doing things that we probably shouldn’t.
To avoid feelings of remorse, we project our irresponsibility onto others and criticize them for their actions.
Sometimes we hone in on things that bear no relation to our own misdemeanors, but other times we scold people for doing precisely the things that we, ourselves, have done (the hypocrites).
When we perceive ourselves to have failed at something, it is common for us to push others to succeed in an attempt to deny our failure.
This is borne out by the parents who enthusiastically – sometimes overbearingly – encourage their children to try hard at something that they, in their mind, failed at.
Take the failed athlete who forces their child down the sporting road, or the musician who never quite made it who pushes their child into learning a musical instrument.
It makes no difference to the parent whether the child actually wants to pursue these activities, because, for them, it is a chance to make amends for their own shortcomings.
This is one of those rare instances where we actually project positive aspects of our own personality onto others, although it doesn’t always come across that way.
Take the animal welfare activist who projects his dislike of cruel farming practices onto everyone else, only to be shocked when they don’t seem to share his concerns.
Or consider the business owner who struggles to understand why his employees aren’t as driven as he is to make the business a success.
The Problem With Projection
This element of psychology may appear to be effective in defending our minds against pain, but there are two fundamental problems that run counter to this argument.
The first is that projection makes us feel superior to everyone else because it allows us to overlook our own faults and inadequacies while simultaneously honing in on what we perceive to be imperfect in others.
This can not only be the source of much conflict, but it gives us a false impression and false expectations of other people. We fail to see all the good in people, because we are too busy examining their flaws.
The second issue with projection as a defense mechanism is that it fails to address the underlying feelings themselves. As long as we continue to deny the existence of these feelings, there is no mechanism that can help us to tackle and overcome them.
It is only when we accept they are a part of us that we can begin to work through them and eventually rid ourselves of them altogether.
The first step is, as you’d expect, the hardest one to take because it effectively invites pain upon yourself.
Yet, until dealt with, this pain is always present, and while you may not feel its full effect when it is being suppressed, it contributes to an unease that never quite leaves you.
Moving Away From Projection
Projection can be a conscious thing, but much of the time, it takes place below the surface as a function of the unconscious.
Before you can begin to tackle the underlying issues, you must first recognize when and how you might be projecting onto others.
While bringing your own awareness to the situation might help uncover some instances, it is not always easy to identify those feelings that you’ve buried deepest.
You might find great value in talking to a psychotherapist who is trained to spot and gently tease out things that we might not immediately be aware of.
They can help to bring these issues to the surface where they can be examined and, finally, dealt with.
Projection is often damaging to our relationships with others, so any attempt to eradicate it as a habit – either by yourself or with professional help – is worth it.
When you are capable of facing unwelcome feelings head on, you’ll find they are far less draining or damaging in the long term.
Are you aware of projecting feelings and issues onto those around you? Do you now think that you’ll be in a better position to stop? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.
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I tend to make assumptions a lot, about everything and everyone.
While I have mostly learned the hard way that most people don’t actually think, feel and reason the same way I do, I realized long ago that the tendency to make assumptions is a form of naivety that we are all born with to some extent.
Unfortunately, making assumptions – which is closely linked to something known as psychological projection – is not only something that we all do, but it is common for us to suffer greatly at the expense of such a habit. If you are a chronic projector you will experience a great deal of anxiety around other people, as well as other unpleasant emotions like anger, disappointment, resentment and prejudice on a daily basis.
Keep reading to discover whether you’re a “serial projector” or not in your daily life.
What is Psychological Projection (In Layman’s Terms)?
What happens when you have a whole bunch of uncomfortable, embarrassing and annoying emotions that you don’t want to unconsciously deal with? According to famous psychologist Sigmund Freud these emotions are projected on to other people, so that other people become carriers of our own perceived flaws. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us, this form of emotional displacement makes it much easier to live with ourselves … because everyone else is responsible for our misery – not us!
As a result of externalizing our emotions and perceiving them in others, we continue suffering terribly, often creating false self-images that portray us as “the victim” or “the good/righteous person” when the reality is that we aren’t.
More In-Depth Help
Want to learn how we project our shadow self onto others? In our Shadow Work Journal, we give more in-depth guidance:
Common Examples of Psychological Projection
The trick to seeing through the guise of projection is to become aware of the sneaky habitual cycles we get into on a daily basis. Some of the most common examples of psychological projection that we all commit are expanded on below:
1. “He/she hates me!”
Whether at home, at work or in any other situation, we have all believed that our bosses, co-workers, mother in laws, extended family members and other people we’ve come in contact with “hate” or “dislike” us for no reason. While we are convinced that the words, intonations and brief looks given to us are reflections of hidden hatred, most of us fail to realize that believing someone “hates us” is often a result of projection. If we have a strong dislike for someone in the first place it is common for us to protect ourselves against this feeling by projecting it into another.
2. “Oh my god, she’s so fat/ugly/slutty!”
How often have you bitched about another woman (or man) whose physical appearance was somehow displeasing to you? You might have felt an immense sense of distaste and dislike for this person, when in fact this chagrin is a protection mechanism veiling your own deeper body-image issues. Likely, you are deeply insecure about your own body, and thus unconsciously project this loathing onto others.
3. “Other people make me uncomfortable.”
Often the anxiety and tension we feel around others is a reflection of the way we perceive ourselves. When we are insecure or have low self-esteem, it is common to perceive the problem as being with other people and not ourselves. This classic form of projection is common amongst those suffering from social anxiety.
4. “If I can do it, other people can as well.”
This is perhaps one of the most nauseating types of projection others make – which, while flattering and motivating in some ways, is completely unrealistic in others. How often have you heard commercials or advertisements with happy shiny people proclaiming, “I lost 30 kilos in 3 weeks – you can too!” or, “I earned $1,245 dollars overnight – you can too!” This is a common example of projection that fails to take into account the fact that everyone has a different level of capability. It is also common for us to personally commit this kind of psychological projection as well. For example, with our children we might think, “If I was a good athlete, she will be as well” or with our co-workers we might think, “If I could organize that project, he can as well.” Often this form of projection creates a lot of frustration and disappointment.
5. “That is gross/bad, get it away from me.”
What we react the most strongly to says the most about what we place the most importance in. For instance, if we can’t stand watching sex on TV this could very well be a reflection of a hidden sexual shame or insecurity we have in ourselves. Homophobia as well is also often a type of projection, especially amongst religious people (for instance, did you know the highest amount of gay porn is consumed by “Bible Belt” states in the US?).
Shadow Work Journal:
Go on a journey through the deepest and darkest corners of your psyche. Embrace your inner demons, uncover your hidden gifts, and reach the next level of your spiritual growth. This is deep and powerful work!
6. “He/she is having an affair.”
The fear that your partner/spouse is having an affair or is untrustworthy is often a reflection of the way you feel about yourself. All normal people functioning in relationships feel attracted to other people at one point or another, and sometimes this self-discovery is met with fear and shame which is then often projected onto the other partner.
Remember that these six examples only reflect what sometimes happens, not what always happens. For example, your partner may indeed be cheating on you, in which case something must be done about that. However, psychological projection shouldn’t be ruled out either.
We all project in our daily lives to protect ourselves against emotions, thoughts and perceptions that we judge as being too “bad,” “ugly,” “shameful” or “uncontrollable.” Often these disowned aspects of ourselves form our shadow self and can only be reintegrated through shadow work. This is why it’s important to identify and become aware of what types of projection impact us the most.
What forms of projection have you experienced in your daily life?
Everyone’s reality is different, we know. But what does that mean, really? For famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung this translates to: “Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be.” This, in a nutshell, is the very definition of the art of projecting, which Jung goes on to explain: “There is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality…we go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.”
Of course, our relationships with others aren’t completely imaginary, and Jung isn’t suggesting that. However, in our very real interactions with others, we have an unconscious tendency to take our own thoughts and feelings and assign them to those with whom we interact. The kicker? Because we don’t generally recognize we’re doing this as it’s happening, we start to believe our own story about the other person.
“We’re not given a lot of tools to help us learn to acknowledge and accept our own uncomfortable feelings,” says Ryan Dawson, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, and adjunct professor at Naropa University. “When we don’t have those tools, we’re more likely to project our feelings outward rather than acknowledge them.”
While we often project onto strangers and acquaintances, it can be especially easy to project onto those who are closest to us. Everyone can admit that our loved ones are usually the bearers of the brunt of our bad moods. Dawson says projections we make onto our partners and family members is what contributes to a lot of conflict in relationships.
“We have habitual ways of relating to those who are closest to us,” he says. Take, for example, a family dinner, when you and your siblings are all back at your childhood kitchen table. Because your interactions with your family are so engrained, it’s easy to slip back into old roles that feel familiar—which makes it tougher to pull back and notice that what you’re feeling isn’t actually about your brother or mother; it’s that you’re feeling vulnerable, perhaps, or angry. “When there are familiar or habitual ways of relating, that makes noticing that we’re projecting our own feelings onto others harder,” says Dawson, warning that this sets us up to stay in that pattern of projection.
Related: Can Others’ Bad Vibes Affect Your Practice?
While projecting our own “stuff” onto others isn’t exactly ideal, it’s important not to beat yourself up for doing it. After all, at the heart of this unconscious tendency is a defense mechanism. It’s simply us trying to protect some part of ourselves, and that’s inherently OK. “It’s just that a lot of times, this defense mechanism doesn’t actually serve us,” Dawson says. So, instead of avoiding projecting, which may be impossible, Dawson recommends you learn to notice and own what you are feeling in the present moment, and have compassion for yourself when the tough emotions comes up.
“We all do this—often. The more we can slow down and notice when we’re hooked into a story about someone else that feels especially charged or emotional, simply look at it as a sign to take a breath and ask yourself, ‘What am I actually needing right now? What am I not willing to feel that’s uncomfortable?’” says Dawson. “When you can acknowledge that you will project—and work toward developing a practice that helps you slow down and notice when you’re doing it—it gives you a chance to reflect inward instead of projecting outward.”
Here, Dawson outlines a few signs that can help you notice when you’re slipping into a pattern of projection.
1. You feel especially charged.
Do you feel hyper-emotional? Are you having a visceral reaction (i.e., heart racing) to someone or something that others can’t quite understand? One of the signs that you’re projecting something onto someone else is if there’s intensity around your experience, says Dawson. If this is the case, ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is really about the other person—or if your own feelings and thoughts are at play.
2. A situation feels “sticky.”
Most of the time when we have a reaction to someone, we have our experience and then it dissipates quickly. Sometimes we’re even able to recognize that we’ve misjudged someone, and after we acknowledge that (possibly even directly to the person), we’re able to move on. However, if an interaction feels “sticky,” says Dawson—when it lingers long after you walk away—or if you feel rigid or stuck in one idea of how another person is, it can be something to look at. “The difference between projection and common error is that an error can be corrected, without difficulty, by better information—and then dissolve like morning fog in the sunlight,” writes Marie-Luise von Franz in the book Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology: Reflections of the Soul. “In the case of a projection, on the other hand, the subject doing the projecting defends himself, in most cases strenuously, against correction.”
3. You’re putting someone on a pedestal.
While we often think of projection as negative, there’s also positive projection. For example, you might have an interaction with someone and think that person is amazing, marveling at how he or she is able to “have it all” or come across as so intelligent and charismatic. While this kind of positive projection may seem harmless, it can also be tricky, says Dawson. “A lot of times when we’re projecting something positive, it’s because we’re not willing to own our own greatness, or to see something wonderful within ourselves,” he says.
So, How Can We Start to Look Inward?
Breaking down your projections takes attention and self-awareness, which is why it’s important to look at this as a practice, and not something that you can master immediately.
The first step toward understanding when you’re projecting is to ask yourself, What’s my piece to own in this?
“We are all responsible for our own emotions,” says Dawson. So, if you notice yourself blaming something on someone else or projecting your own thoughts or feelings onto another, take a step back: What are you needing right now or not acknowledging? The goal, says Dawson, is to bring the focus back to your experience rather than focusing on others.
To do this, try to remove yourself from the situation when you find yourself projecting. You might take a walk, or simply go to the bathroom. Creating physical space will help you dive inward. Next, do anything that brings you into the present moment. “The quickest way to do that is through your body,” says Dawson. You might shift your attention to something you hear or see, or bring your mind into connection with your breath. “Focusing on your own experience of the present moment will help you get off the train of focusing on other person,” says Dawson.
Finally, ask yourself a few important questions:
What am I needing right now?
What do I not want to feel right now?
What feels familiar to me about this situation?
Once again, your answers to these prompts can help you see what’s really going on for you underneath your knee-jerk reactions.
Overall, Dawson stresses the importance of being kind to yourself as you develop this practice of looking inward and start to work through the thoughts and emotions that come up. “Recognize that this is something we aren’t taught how to do,” he says. If you can begin to get curious about your patterns, bring your focus inward and start to own your own experience, that’s a big win.
What Is Psychological Projection and How to Find If Someone Is Using It on You
Narcissists are renowned for using psychological projection to blame other people, even when it is entirely apparent that they are the ones in the wrong.
Whichever way they can, they will project the blame, stating that the other person made them do it, was responsible for their own bad behaviour or simply did not do what they asked.
What is psychological projection?
It was psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud that first coined the term projection, describing it as a way in which an individual projects their own undesirable thoughts and beliefs onto someone else.
Examples of psychological projection:
- Parents who have not achieved their goals in life demanding that their own children succeed.
- Fearing your partner will cheat on you is often a reflection of how you view yourself.
- Believing someone hates you could be signs of your hidden intense dislike for that person.
With regards to the narcissist, they too can have deep and repressed feelings, this is because their view of the world is so cut off from real life. It is often the case that a narcissist will blame their partner when their boundaries or rules are challenged. When this happens, a narcissist will suddenly experience a loss of control that threatens the very façade and world they have created.
It is not that a typical narcissist fails to know the difference between right and wrong. They do, it’s that when they themselves fail, they feel such an incredible sense of shame that they cannot deal with it.
Their delicate ego has to be protected at all costs and so the blame for the failure has to be directed elsewhere.
This leaves the other person in a constant state of anxiety because the narcissist’s reasons for blaming them are so irrational and ridiculous.
A few examples of psychological projection might include:
- I performed badly at work today because you wanted to watch that late night film last night.
- I was late for an important meeting because you asked me to collect the children.
- My presentation sucked because you didn’t clean my shirts properly.
A narcissist will blame his or her significant other for every single thing that is wrong in their life. They are extremely judgemental and command total perfection from their loved ones. This, however, is certainly not reciprocated.
If a narcissist does something, however small and insignificant that is deemed to be a mistake, and they are caught out, they explode with a rage that is entirely inappropriate to the situation.
Ways in which a narcissist will use psychological projection on you:
- A narcissist might be particularly rude or abusive towards you, but when you get upset and call them out on their behaviour, they blame you for overreacting.
- A narcissist might cheat on a partner first and then blame the partner, saying they knew they would cheat so they did it first.
- They will avoid the problem then blame the partner for bringing up upsetting feelings.
- Give out silent treatment for no apparent reason and then blame the partner for some minor incident that happened in the past.
- Manufacture a problem and then refuse to discuss it, then blame the partner for wanting to talk it through when they say it was nothing to worry about.
- Leaving the partner saying that their partner was going to leave so they got in first.
It is unreasonable to expect anyone to be able to live under these shifting boundaries and rules. You are constantly in a state of free-floating anxiety, trying to live up to your partner’s unrealistic expectations that change by the minute.
Never knowing when the bomb will drop and your partner will explode about something that was never in your control in the first place. And inevitably, if you get the courage to leave a narcissist, it will always be your fault.
But this type of personality doesn’t sound like a very good romantic prospect, so how do people get sucked into dating a narcissist in the first place?
Experts in the study of relationships believe that narcissists target people who have very high emotional IQs.
Narcissists also focus on people who rate highly in characteristics such as empathy, integrity, ability to compromise, authenticity, accountability, and the capacity to love on a mature level. These just happen to be the exact characteristics a narcissist is lacking.
A narcissist is basically an empty husk of a human being who manufactures an attractive exterior in which to fool the people around him or her. Narcissists do not know how to feel love, pain, empathy or guilt, and seemingly surround themselves with people who have the exact qualities they lack.
A narcissist cannot continue putting up their mask to the world on their own forever. They need constant reminders of what it is really like to function as a normal human being. So they look for these types of people and emotionally entangle themselves with them.
However, even mixing with high-functioning people doesn’t allow them to keep up their façade. Eventually, they will go through the typical cycle of devaluing and discarding their partner before moving onto their next victim.
If you are involved with a person that is always projecting the blame onto you, you might be better off looking for love elsewhere.
31 Psychological Defense Mechanisms Explained
In our last article, Defense Mechanisms: Psychological Techniques We Use to Cope With Anxieties, we looked at the way in which the psyche deals with unconscious anxieties. We identified a number of common defense mechanisms which we often use without even realising, in order to avoid the anxiety caused by unreasonable impulses originating in the id and the resulting guilt which the super ego’s moral conscience applies in reaction to these feelings.
Whilst defense mechanisms such as repression, sublimation and identification with an aggressor can often be identified, there are also numerous other mechanisms that have been identified since Sigmund Freud first noted them more than a century ago.
Let’s take a look at some common and less well known defense mechanisms that a person might deploy, along with some examples of how the mind might use them:
Acceptance of a situation that has been causing anxiety is one technique that we might use to live with an undesirable circumstances or feelings. For instance, someone may acknowledge that they have behaved unreasonably towards their father owing to an Oedipus Complex, or accept their new circumstances after separating from a partner.
When the id component of the human psyche signals the desire to act on an impulse, the ego and super ego will often counteract it if they feel that that behavior would be counterproductive or immoral. A person may want to curse after falling over in a busy street, but the ego, perceiving this as contradicting social etiquette, will often lead to them holding back on the expletives. On some occasions, however, we may not be able to balance the impulses of the id and will defend the ego by simply acting out the irrational desires.
For example a person might “act out” by theatrically storming out of a stressful meeting when they would otherwise stay calm and hide their unease.
The anticipation of a potentially stressful event is one way a person might mentally prepare for it. Anticipation might involve rehearsing possible outcomes in one’s mind or telling oneself that will not be as bad as they imagine. A person with a phobia of dentists might anticipate an appointment to have a tooth filling by telling themselves that the procedure will be over in just a few minutes, and reminding themselves that they have had one previously without any problems.
An act of goodwill towards another person, known as altruistic behavior, can be used as a way of diffusing a potentially anxious situation. Altruism may be used as a defence mechanism, for example, by being particularly helpful to a person who we feel might dislike us or neutralising an argument with kind words and positivity.
When a perceived situation creates anxiety, one convenient option is sometimes to avoid it. Although avoidance can provide an escape from a particular event, it neglects to deal with the cause of the anxiety. For example, a person might know that they are are due to give a stressful presentations to colleagues at work, and take a sick day in order to avoid giving it. Avoidance in this situation might be only a short term option, however, if the presentation is rescheduled to another day. Someone may also avoid thinking about something which causes anxiety, preferring to leave it unresolved instead of confronting it.
Conversion is a defence mechanism whereby the anxiety caused by repressed impulses and feelings are ‘converted’ into a physical complaint such as a cough or feelings of paralysis. Freud observed this physical manifestation of anxieties in clients such as Dora, who complained of a cough, losing her voice and feelings resembling appendicitis. Upon investigation, Freud attributed her cough to fixation during the oral stage of psychosexual development, and linked her appendicitis to a “childbirth fantasy”.
The self denial of one’s feelings or previous actions is one defence mechanism to avoid damage to the ego caused by the anxiety or guilt of accepting them. A married woman might deny to herself that she hold affections for her husband’s friend, rather than accepting her true feelings. A person might also deny to their physical behavior, such as theft, preferring to think that someone forced them into committing the crime, in order to avoid dealing with the guilt should they accept their actions. Denial is an undesirable defense mechanism as it contravenes the reality principle that the id adheres to, delving into an imaginary world that is separate from our actual environment.
Displacement occurs when a person represses affection, fear or impulses that they feel towards another person. Accepting that it is irrational or socially unacceptable to demonstrate such feelings, the psyche prevents them from being converted into actions. However, the feelings are instead displaced towards a person or animal whom it is acceptable to express such sentiments for.
A person who dislikes their teacher after being given low grades may feel that they would be punished if they express their hostility towards them. Therefore, they may unconsciously displace their antipathy onto their best friend, making excuses for treating them badly without justification.
In the case of Little Hans, Freud believed that the boy had displaced a fear of his father onto horses, whose blinkers and facial features reminded him of his parent. Instead of misbehaving towards his father, he felt anxious at being in the presence of horses and would avoid leaving the house when possible.
People who use dissociation as a defense mechanism tend to momentarily lose their connection to the world around them. They may feel separated from the outside world, as though they exist in another realm. Dissociation often helps people to cope with uncomfortable situations by ‘removing’ themselves from them. The may enter a state of daydreaming, staring into space and letting their mind wander until someone nudges them, prompting them to acknowledge reality once more.
A case which Freud analysed after reading an autobiographical account of an illness was that of Daniel Schreber, a German judge who described the dissociative feeling that he and the rest of the world were separated by a veil. Schreber felt as though he was not entirely a part of his environment and that he was in some way separate from it.
When life seems mundane or distressing, people often use fantasy as a way of escaping reality. They may fantasise about winning the lottery or idealised outcomes of their lives changing for the better in some way. Fantasies help us to explore alternatives to situations that we are unhappy with but unrealistic expectations of them being fulfilled can lead to us losing touch with reality and taking more viable actions to improve our lives.
George Vaillant described the use of humor as a “mature” defense mechanism – a primarily adaptive technique to help us to cope with tense or stressful situations. Looking for a funny aspect in an environment in which we lack control can help us to endure it, and can even be an altruistic act in helping others to better cope as well.
Showing humility involves lowering our expectations and view of our self importance, sacrificing our pride and often focussing on others. Humility can enable us to pacify those around us in tense conflicts and encourage cooperation with other people to take place. For example, someone who is known to boast about their abilities may show humility whilst trying to complete a difficult task. This might encourage others to empathise with, and help, them.
Idealisation involves creating an ideal impression of a person, place or object by emphasising their positive qualities and neglecting the those that are negative. Idealisation adjusts the way in which we perceive the world around us and can lead us to make judgement that support our idealised concepts. People often idealise their recollections of being on holiday or memories from childhood, seeing them as ‘happier times’, but fail to recollect arguments or stresses during those periods. We often idealise the image we hold of people we admire – relatives, partners or celebrities, making excuses for their failures and emphasising their more admirable qualities.
According to Freud’s concept of the Oedipus Complex, a child may experience feelings of resentment towards their father as they compete for the affection of their mother and the resulting castration anxiety – an irrational fear directed towards the father – may lead them to feel the need to appease the father. In order to pacify a person whom we perceive to be a threat, we may emulate aspects of their behavior. By adopting their mannerisms, repeating phrases or language patterns that they tend to use and mirroring their character traits, a person may attempt to appease a person. This defense mechanism was described by Anna Freud as identification with an aggressor.
A person moving schools or countries, starting a new job or entering a new social circle might adopt the social norms or attitudes of classmates, neighbors, colleagues or other people whom they seek acceptance from, for example, in order to avoid being rejected by their new peers.
When a person is attached emotionally to an issue, they may be tempted to consider it in intellectual terms. This often involves standing back from the situation and attempting to take a cold, neutral view of it. For instance, a person who has been made redundant after twenty years of service to a company may intellectualise it, acknowledging the management’s view that redundancies needed to be made for the company to survive. However, this defense mechanism of intellectualisation would not necessarily prevent the person’s passionate feeling that they have been betrayed after committing to work for the company for so long.
Introjection occurs when a person takes stimuli in their environment and adopts them as their own ideas. This may involve internalising criticism from another person and believing the other person’s points to be valid. A person may introject religious ideas that they have heard at church, or political opinions that friends espouse. Behavior can also be introjected – the mannerisms of a father may be observed by his son and then replicated.
The defense mechanism of isolation can lead a person to separate ideas or feelings from the rest of their thoughts. In distinguishing an emotion or impulse from others in this way, a person attempts to protect the ego from anxieties caused by a specific situation. For example, a person with a particularly stressful job may use isolation to separate their work life from their family life, avoiding the stress affecting their relationships.
Displays of aggression are considered unsociable and undesirable in many societies, so when aggressive or violent impulses are experienced, people tend to avoid them as much as possible. However, the remaining energy driving such aggression may prove to be more difficult contain, and may manifest in other forms, known as passive aggression. A passive aggressive person may be uncooperative in carrying out their duties or other tasks, may deliberately ignore someone when spoken to and might adopt a negative view of their situation, such as their job, and of those around them (e.g. colleagues).
When we experience feelings or desires that cause anxiety, or that we are unable to act on owing to the negative impact that they would have on us or those around us, we may defend the ego from resulting anxieties by projecting those ideas onto another person. A person who is afraid of crossing a bridge with a friend might accuse them of having a fear of heights, for example, and in doing so, avoids accepting their own weaknesses. In the case of Daniel Schreber, who accused his therapist of attempting to harm him, projection may have occurred when he attributed his own feelings and desires onto his therapist, Professor Flechsig.
Rationalisation occurs when a person attempts to explain or create excuses for an event or action in rational terms. In doing so, they are able to avoid accepting the true cause or reason resulting in the present situation.
Examples of rationalisation include a shoplifter blaming the high price of sweets to justify their theft of a chocolate bar, when in reality they simply enjoyed the act of shoplifting. If a person fails an exam, they may excuse themselves from blame by rationalising that they were too busy to revise during the revision period.
When the insatiable desires of the id conflict with the ego and super ego, a person may formulate a reaction to those impulses. Often, this action is the direct opposite to the demans of the original desire, and helps to counteract impulses which may be unacceptable to act out or fulfill.
For example, a man may experience feelings of love towards a married woman. The super ego recognises that the fulfillment of his desires would contradict social norms regarding acceptable behavior, and so a reaction formation would occur – the man may experience feelings of dislike towards her – the opposite of the original feelings.
Repression is perhaps the most significant of defense mechanisms in that repressed feelings and impulses can lead to the use of many other mechanisms. According to Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory, the impulsive desires of the psyche’s id are prevented by being fulfilled by the ego, which observes the Reality Principle – that our actions are restricted by our environment, including social etiquette. Moreover, the superego acts as our moral compass, inducing feelings of guilt at having experienced the irrational desires that the id creates.
Tensions inevitably arise between the id, ego and super ego and the guilt induced by the latter can lead to feelings of anxiety and shame. In order to live with such feelings, Freud believed that our minds repress the thoughts at the source of our anxieties: instead of contemplating them consciously, they are ‘bottled up’ in the unconscious mind, emerging in symbolic dreams and unexplained patterns of behavior.
Freud and his colleague, Josef Breuer, used techniques such as hypnosis, regression and free association to encourage clients to recall and accept repressed memories and impulses.
Regression occurs when a person reverts to the types of behavior that they exhibited at an earlier age. Stress of adult life and the associated anxiety may lead to a person seeking comfort in things which they associate with more secure, happier times. They might regress by eating meals that they were given as a child, watching old films or cartoons, acting without thought for the consequences of their actions.
Self Serving Bias
The self serving bias arises from our need to protect the ego from self criticism and to defend ourselves from the complaints of others. We show a self serving bias when we exaggerate the importance of our own achievements – after passing a test, we might over-estimate the significance of that particular exam, and take credit for completing it without acknowledging the role that tutors played in our success. Similarly, when faced with potential criticism we might deflect blame, apportioning responsibility for failure to anybody but ourselves. Whilst many of us show signs of this self serving bias, it can be an ineffective method of defence as it distort our view of reality and our ability to rationalise and interpret events effectively.
When people feel that they have been victims of unjust actions, they may defend the ego by comparing themselves to those worse off. Similarly, we may see similarities between ourselves and others in a better position to improve our self image. These defense mechanisms are known as download or upward social comparisons. For example, a man who has broken a leg and confined to a wheelchair may make a downwards social comparison with a person who has been diagnosed with a more serious condition to make their own situation seem less troublesome. Alternatively, a person might seek to identify with a person of a perceived higher social position, such as when they learn that a celebrity is eating at the same restaurant as they are.
Splitting occurs when the ego attempts to reconcile multiple aspects or rationales, but resorts to understanding the world in “black and white” terms. A person who experiences splitting may take an “either-or” approach when making evaluations of the world around them, including objects, situations, and people. They tend to view ideas as either right or wrong, with no middle ground or compromise. Similarly, they may take a “good versus bad” approach in relationships, admiring one group of people whilst completely rejecting those who do not live upto their expectations.
Sublimation is considered to be a more adaptive defence mechanism in that it can transform negative anxiety into a more positive energy. Psychiatrist George Vaillant identified it as a mature defense mechanism, which we can use to adapt to arising anxieties.
When the energy of the libido surfaces in the form of impulses in the psyche’s id, these desires are disabled by the ego, and the super ego may produce guilt at having experienced unacceptable feelings. Whilst these impulses may be repressed, the energy behind them remains. Instead of converting this energy into socially unacceptable behavior, a person may use sublimation to redirect this motivation into more acceptable, even productive, endeavours.
Freud believed that artists’ creative energies were often a refocusing of carnal impulses or other anxieties, through sublimation, onto their work. Athletes may also use sublimation to concentrate their energy on productive activities such as training.
The somatization defence mechanism occurs when the internal conflicts between the drives of the id, ego and super ego take on physical characteristics.
Josef Breuer, a colleague of Sigmund Freud, observed this in the case of Anna O, who sought help from Breuer for hysteria. Breuer discovered that Anna’s anxieties had resulted from traumatic events that had been repressed, but later manifested themselves physically. For example, she experienced paralysis on one side, which Breuer linked to a dream in which she felt paralysed whilst trying to fend off a snake from her bed-bound father.
Unlike many other defense mechanisms, the suppression of thoughts and emotions is something which occurs consciously and we may be entirely aware that we are attempting to suppress anxieties. Suppression involves attempting not to think about a memory or feelings – a person may try to think of another subject when an uneasy thought enters their mind or they might preoccupy their minds by undertaking an unrelated task to distract themselves. A person may also suppress feelings of love or dislike towards a person, behaving normally towards them as though they felt dispassionate towards them.
When we act on an idea or impulse that we later regret, we may adopt a defense mechanism of attempting to “undo” that action in order to protect the ego from feelings of guilt or shame. A person may intentionally push past someone in a shop, but realising that the person was frail, feel guilty with regards to their behavior. They may try to undo their action by apologising or offering to help the person.
We all engage in wishful thinking to some extent in an attempt to avoid facing undesirable realities. A football fan might deceive themselves that the ailing team that they support will miraculously turn themselves around and win all of the future matches of the season. Such wishful thinking enables the person to avoid disappointment and sadness for as long as possible.
Don’t Let Others Project Their Negativity on You
Who has never received any criticism? All of us have at some point been victims of people who felt envious of our job, who were angry about how we were acting or how we are, who simply felt bad and needed to project their negativity on someone else. Maybe you, too, have been in this position at some point.
“Not even your worst enemies can hurt you as much as your own thoughts.”
Criticism can do us a lot of harm. Depending on the day and how strong our self-esteem is at that time, we can ignore it or let it hurt and affect us. Yes, you are the one responsible for how all of that negativity that they projected on you affects you. Because you cannot control how others will act, but you can control how much you let it affect you.
He who criticizes you defines himself
We are not all the same. Maybe your best friend is not affected by what others say to him, but you are. To change this, it is important for you to start seeing the situation from the right perspective. Why would someone criticize you with the aim of hurting you? Maybe that person is criticizing what defines them.
We often project our insecurities and fears onto others. Needs that we shoot like poisoned darts at others because they aren’t fulfilled or being solved. In this way, we try to feel better about ourselves. We do not realize that instead of solving the problem, we are running away from it.
Each time someone projects all of his negativity onto you, think about the fact that this is a defense mechanism. That person is trying to defend himself from all those impulses, actions, and thoughts that he does not want to recognize as his own. His inner negativity leads him to project them onto you so that he does not have to assume responsibility for his problems, accept and solve them.
“I’m on a diet from bad thoughts, destructive people, and things that are not good for me.”
Let us look at a common example. Think about romantic relationships, where one of the members accuses the other person of being unfaithful, without really having signs to suspect that this is the case. For this situation, there can be many explanations.
What is happening in this situation, concretely, is that the person making accusations has had those unfaithful thoughts, but they do not accept them because they consider them negative. In their need to feel better, they project their insecurity on their partner: they send them them their fear of thoughts that they do not know how to manage.
But what is important here is how you will actually act. Will you let all of that negativity that they are projecting on you win out? If you keep that person at your side who is spitting harmful words at you, if instead of refusing to do something that you do not want to, you do it because if not, they are going to see you in a negative way or criticize you, maybe you want to feel good?
Learn to counteract negativity
Sometimes it is difficult to remain calm in the face of a person who is not behaving the right way towards you. However, it is necessary for you to make an effort, because this will be your best weapon to avoid letting the fears and insecurities of the other person affect you. In this way, you will also be able to better analyze the reasons that may lead them to act that way. In the best case scenario, you can even get something positive out of it.
Do you know what the best way is not to worry too much about this kind of situation? Laughing may seem silly to you, but it will be an essential tool. A smile at a difficult time can help us, whether we believe it or not. Start putting this into practice today and you will find out that every critique or judgment will have much less emotional impact.
In the same way, do not forget that a criticism is just an opinion. As such, it should not affect you in a significant way, since not everyone can have the same view about a circumstance or an action. Furthermore, how many times has someone criticized you without really knowing you?
It is also very important for you to pay attention to how the person behaves who is criticizing you. Normally people who project their needs or thoughts on others are very emotional. Their words are overflowing with emotions that lead everything to look much more serious than it really is.
“The best thing about criticism is not that it responds to the desire to harm, but to the freedom of judgment.”
-Fernando Sánchez Dragó-
When this is the case, you are dealing with a person whose words are not aimed at you, but at themselves. Their fears and insecurities are being projected on you, but you do not have any problem, you are not doing anything wrong. They are the one who is afraid to accept what they do not consider to be right, but that is obsessing their thoughts.
Throughout your life, you are going to run into a lot of people who fit this description. Many of them will be toxic people who can fill your life not only with negativity, but also with hurtful, harmful emotions and feelings that go against you. The best way not to allow this is to remain calm and to trust in yourself. What they say is not always true, but sometimes it is the fruit of fear and discomfort with themselves.
People Will Always Try To Project Their Insecurities And Issues On You, But That’s Not Your Problem
There are two things that we’ll always encounter in our day-to-day lives:
1) People who seem unaware of their insecurities and seem to lack a general type of self-awareness (there’s an emphasis placed on seem for a reason)
2) People who, once again because of their disregard of self-awareness, decide to project all of their inhibitions onto others
However, just because other people may insist that it is your responsibility to share their precarious nature, does not mean you have to participate in that interaction.
It also doesn’t mean or automatically suggests that you are the problem. There are a million and one reasons behind another person’s anxiety and problems, and we’re so prone to believe that their behavior toward ourselves means we are ultimately to blame. Depending on the person, they may also attempt to persuade you to believe that their self-doubts are actually yours. If they succeeded, then you understand the annoyance behind finally realizing that you were and are as normal as originally self-believed.
Whether it’s a lack of awareness, or refusal to assume accountability, that is not your problem to fix.
Many people have the tendency to become too comfortable with masking their problems, rather than dealing with the discomfort associated with facing them. Don’t get me wrong, working on yourself is real work. Depending on whatever causes those certain internal issues can cause it to be very difficult to look inwardly.
Without a consistent self “check-in,” there is a larger possibility that we will become uncomfortable in our skin. If we don’t love the person on the inside, we will not be cascading an outflow of love to the person on the outside. There’s always the possibility that people don’t even realize they’re reacting to certain events from the past. I’m not one to judge, because it’s true that we never know the complete extent of what another person has gone through.
However, no matter the difficulty in looking inward, we all can make the decision to confront ourselves, or avoid the issues bothering us, too. No one can force us to participate in the former. We can’t force other people to make any necessary changes to their lives or actions. Just because other people can’t step out of the comfort zone they have created for themselves, doesn’t mean you have to cross over into their territory because they invite you to join them.
Being a secure and confident human does not have to end because it makes another person anxious. Think about everything that has made you nervous, but you still decided to be honest with yourself. (If you are really happy and loving life than you’d probably experience this the most because many are going to feel insecure around another person who gives no f****.)
Don’t allow other’s perceptions to define you.
People will always try and project things onto you, and simply allowing others to just write all over you as if you’re a blank slate is a naive and self-negligent decision. Just as it’s important for other people to treat their anxieties, it’s equally relevant to continue reminding yourself of who you are. Without taking the time to become aware enough of what defines the factors that compose you, it becomes a lot easier for other people to have us questioning whether or not we are the problem.
Although helping another person feels like the right thing to do because I can absolutely be the type of person who will offer a helping hand, you are more than likely not going to resolve anyone else’s situation if they’re searching to lower people rather than for help.
The more people search for contentment in other people than the more they will continue to not find any source of happiness. Those who actually do fall blindly into the trap of lowering their boundaries, energy level, or delight are only going to begin feeling the same level of disconcertment. With this as the end result, who’s actually helping whom in the end?
In other words, no matter how kind and caring of a person you are, there are few valid reasons to believe in the insecurities other people will place on you in an attempt to console their emotions. It’s not going to make you any happier, and it will definitely not end up making anyone else experiencing any feelings of unease any contentment, either. You, the person who already has to balance their own needs alongside the requests of others, should always come first.
Disclaimer: We all do it
The bottom line? We may have all had a tendency to do this at one point or another. Acting in such a way probably felt great and well-needed at the moment. All of the emotions we were experiencing were just as valid and sincere, too. I won’t lie and say that there weren’t moments where I just felt things and did not want to talk about anything having to do with those feelings.
I quickly learned that being upfront and vulnerable to everything I have experienced is the only way I reached any type of emotional or inner-resolution. From my experiences, I can say that acting as if my problems belonged to other people didn’t get me very far. However, being comfortable in vulnerability with the right people, actually helped me out more than I thought.
Projection in Relationships: Stop it from ruining your connection
“The particular egoic patterns that you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but that you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself.” ~Eckhart Tolle from A New Earth
Does this ring a bell in your relationship?
There is a human tendency to focus on certain behaviors in others (the very traits we have denied in ourselves) so that we can point at them outside ourselves. In this way we declare our (illusory) separation from—and victimhood to—the patterns we abhor.
Projection in Relationships: What is it?
This tendency to disown the qualities we don’t like about ourselves and see them in others is projection.
Projection is the single most derailing and destructive phenomenon in intimate relationships. Its power lies in our inability to see it. Because it is a subconscious defense mechanism, we are most often blind to our own projections.
We are SURE the fault lies within our partner, and fail to see the part we play.
The result is that boundaries get blurred and blame sets the tone for communications. Partners waste a great deal of time focusing on the wrong things, and fail to see what really is happening in the moment. Projection hurts our partners by casting them into a false role, and blocks authentic communication.
Projection in Relationships: How it shows up
You can tell if projection is affecting your relationship if you often struggle with questions like: “Is it me? or is it them?”
You may be accused of something by your partner who is a perfect example of the exact same thing (in spades) that they notice in you. Or, maybe your partner has said YOU are guilty of what you blame them for.
An example might be that you are attracted to another person outside of your relationship. You have not fully admitted this to yourself. Then you end up accusing your partner of being unfaithful. Really, the desire to be unfaithful lives within you, but you see it in your partner.
Another example could be that your partner accuses you of being selfish because you take time for yourself away from family responsibilities. But your partner has a deep wish for self care and “escaping” responsibilities. They believe these desires are selfish. Thus they resent you for taking time for yourself, because they don’t.
Anytime you disown parts of yourself, you are at high risk for projection.
Projection in Relationships: What to do about it
The thing to remember is: Everybody does it. It’s human and serves as a defense against threats to our ego.
So the first thing to do is accept this fact. Don’t beat yourself up about it (or your partner), and most importantly expect that it will crop up now and again.
As long as you are aware that neither you nor your partner is immune to it, you can use it projection as an opportunity for self-awareness, emotional connection, and growth.
When looking at strategies for coping, there are two situations to consider: One is that you are the one projecting, and the other is that your partner is projecting onto you. Let’s look at each separately.
When you are projecting:
If you try to blame your partner for what you are feeling, thinking, saying or doing, then you are likely projecting your issues onto them. One defining characteristic of projection is the level of intensity and degree of focus you feel. You will have a very strong urge to blame.
The best antidote to projection is setting these three intentions:
1) Look Within. Every time you are triggered by your partner, take a moment to look at the part of you that is just like them. Are you annoyed because your partner is lazy? Maybe your whole being would rather lie on the couch and do nothing, and you hate this about yourself. If you are honest, you will usually see some part you play. When you do, the intensity of judgment will fade.
2) When you get triggered, stay with the feelings. Avoid acting or speaking out while still triggered UNLESS you are able to merely share your own reactions, without identifying with the judgments. Not acting out will cause discomfort. A good rule to remember is that the more intense your urge is to change or blame your partner, the more pain you have around an emotional wound you have denied. So stay present with your emotions, and avoid judging thoughts.
3) Be aware of stress. The higher our stress level, the fewer emotional resources we have. During times of stress we are more likely to project. So stay aware of when you are under stress, and take extra care to be mindful as well as proactively reduce your stress. This will set yourself up for success in your relationship.
When your partner is projecting:
When your partner is projecting, it can feel crazy-making. You may be accused of the very things you know are true about your partner. It feels like a complete reversal of the truth, and you may be shocked. You may feel tempted to defend yourself and prove your innocence.
The best thing to do in this situation boils down to just two things:
1) Respectfully disengage. Often, the best thing is to say something like, “This feels like it is not about me,” and then lovingly avoid getting sucked in. Be compassionate toward yourself, because it feels like a betrayal to be attacked about something that isn’t based in real-time.
2) Do not explain, defend, argue, teach, analyze, counter-attack, or criticize. If you do, your partner is off the hook. The only way to avoid getting tangled up in something that is’nt about you (and become implicated) is to keep it about them. You can express empathy for their distress, and ask questions that create greater awareness (“have you felt this way in the past?” or “I can see something is really triggered in you, and I am here for you.”) But don’t pick up what isn’t yours.
If you follow these guidelines, projection can be used to expand self-awareness and closeness in any relationship. It’s just about a willingness to self-reflect.
You can truly become closer than ever by committing to mutual awareness of projection in your relationship.
Since it can’t be 100% avoided, you may as well make use of it!
Good luck, and if you need support on applying these in your particular relationship,
schedule a free 30 minute Relationship Audit with me here.
What is projection anyway?
By: The British Library
You don’t want to go out for the evening, but convince yourself the other party actually doesn’t find you interesting and that’s why you’re cancelling.
You are incredibly attracted to a colleague, but get angry at them for flirting with you.
In a fight with your sister you stay very calm, pointing out how angry she always gets, then go home with thoughts of rage against her.
Welcome to the world of psychological projection.
Psychological projection is when you unconsciously avoid taking responsibility for certain feelings and thoughts by attributing them to someone else.
How to manage your psychological projection
So you have admitted to yourself you are the projecting type. So what now? How can you start to become more responsible for how you think and feel?
1. Stop saying I’m fine.
Projection happens because we are in complete denial of how we really feel to the extent we dump it on others instead of acknowledge it. “I’m fine” is a response many of us are quick to not only say but buy into, ignoring the anger that has our stomach in knots or the sadness that has us secretly overeating or bingeing on alcohol every night.
Begin by just noticing how many times you say “I’m fine” each day, either to others, or in your head to yourself.
Each time you catch yourself being ‘fine’ try to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask, what am I really thinking and feeling right now?
This sort of ‘present moment awareness‘ will have you well on your way to the next point…
2. Try mindfulness.
By: Alice Popkorn
Mindfulness has proven so effective for helping people to be more in touch with how they think and feel it has taken the psychological community by storm over the last few years.
A modern take on ancient Eastern practises, it’s about learning to tap into the power of the present moment, where your real feelings and thoughts reside.
The more you are present to yourself, the less you’ll project.
3. Learn the art of self-compassion
More often than not we are projecting feelings because we suffer from shame and low self-esteem and are afraid to see our imperfections. This is where the art of self-compassion steps in.
Self-compassion is about, extending kindness and understanding towards all of yourself, all of the time.
This creates a safe inner space to being to accept your less than perfect feelings, meaning there is less of a need to dump them on others.
4. Spend more time alone.
Realise you say you are fine more than you should, but can’t quite get a handle on what you are thinking and feeling instead? It could be you need to spend more time alone getting to know yourself.
This is not about sitting at home watching television. It’s about quality time where you invest in learning to listen to yourself. This can look like time spent journalling, trying new things nobody else you know likes, reading self help-books, visualising, or doing self-development study courses.
5. Question your thoughts.
By: Christian Gonzalez
Projection is the mind’s way of tricking us out of feeling what we need to feel. So what if you stopped believing all your thoughts were the gospel truth? And started recognising that most of your thoughts are a mix of assumptions, old core beliefs, and doubt?
Question your thoughts about others. Do you really know what they think and feel? Have you actually asked them? Do you have facts to back up your assumption? What other facts contradict what you are thinking?
Question your thoughts about yourself too. Are you really as hated as you think? As powerless as you want to believe?
(Never know what questions to ask? Read our article on how to ask better questions. Want some help questioning your thoughts? Try cognitive behavioural therapy, which focuses on this very skill.)
6. Learn how to communicate better.
Projecting can happen because it feels easier than communicating how we really feel, or being honest about what we want from a situation and others.
Consider taking time to learn how to communicate better, especially how to communicate under stress.
Part of communicating also involves learning to listen more. Remember that words aren’t the only way people communicate – it might also be in their body language and the actions they take.
7. Recognise your personal power.
Projection is often a way to make a victim of ourselves. Instead of admitting we don’t like a colleague, we decide they hate us. Instead of admitting we are furious at a family member for not pulling their weight, we say nothing and blame them for being too angry and mean.
Sure, it means you can feel sorry for yourself and gain the attention and pity of those around you. But making others responsible means that you have given away your power to change the situation.
Instead of throwing away your power, invest in learning new ‘power skills’ such as learning how to say no and learning how to set boundaries.
8. Track the projection patterns.
By: Caleb Roenigk
Start to notice what situations make you project can be helpful. And notice who you tend to project around. Is it only with romantic partners, or more often with strangers?
Then ask what your projection is about. Do you tend to project when people ask too much of you and you feel overwhelmed? Would you rather project than admit you were wrong? Do you project your sexual feelings onto others?
You might find the present patterns link to past patterns. For example, if you do project over admit you were wrong, did a parent punish you frequently for being ‘bad’? And if you do project your sexual feelings, do you have a religious background that shamed any sexual thoughts? The next suggestion can be helpful if these feels too overwhelming.
9. Talk to a therapist.
If you worry you are projecting but find it overwhelming to figure out how it all began or how to stop, you can talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist who is trained at helping you recognise your patterns and find new ways of approaching your relationships and life.
Do you have an example of projection you’d like to share? Do so below, we’d love to hear from you.
Whatever I think of other people is always what I’m thinking, feeling, and acting myself. This is a huge shortcut that produces miracles in my life which is why I’m sharing it with you. I want you to have the chance to have the same result in your life that I have with this in my life.
When I’m judging other people, I’m projecting my inner reality out on other people. For example, if I call another driver stupid for driving slow, I feel stupid inside. I’ve projected that onto the other driver. If I wasn’t feeling stupid on the inside I would understand why that driver was going so slow. I would understand that they could be afraid, lost, or a new driver. They could’ve been distracted or sending a text message or on the phone. If I wasn’t being stupid, I wouldn’t see stupidity in another driver.
This is helpful for me today and it helps me to get though the negative frames of mind that come along each day. For example, when I see another player on Call of Duty that I think is being a jerk, it really comes back to me. If they’re on the other team and they’re kicking my butt, there’s a lot I could learn there. If I’m thinking they’re trying too hard, it’s because I’m trying hard and I’m not getting a good result. I’m frustrated someone else is doing the same thing I’m doing and getting a better result out of it. It comes down to the fact that my inner reality is always projected onto other people.
This helped me a ton at my wife’s family’s house. I thought they were selfish because they wouldn’t drive 45 minutes to spend Christmas with us. We go up there all the time and I have family visiting as well, which doesn’t happen that often. As I was thinking that, I remembered what I’m telling you in this post right now.
I was upset and didn’t say anything to anyone. This is just how I was feeling. I was really frustrated and I was raging inside. At the same time, I knew if I’m feeling like they are selfish then the truth is I’m the one being selfish. On top of all my rage I thought that’s even stupider because obviously I’m not being selfish. I knew deep down, the truth was that I was being selfish and I just couldn’t see how it was happening.
Along with the thought I’m sharing with you, another thought came to me based on what I’ve already said. If I knew what I needed to know, then I wouldn’t be being selfish. Instead, I would understand exactly why they were doing what they were doing. To be in the middle of the frustration and to see that same time to me, that’s a miracle. I never thought that maybe there was something inside I should know about. Maybe I was projecting my inner world out on everyone else and everyone else was just fine.
Now, I’ll tell you what happened next. At first, I realized the thoughts I shared and while I was in the frustration I didn’t do anything about it. I prayed for help and took a nap because I was just consumed in it. I know that if I don’t make things worse, they will get better. When we got in the car to drive back home, what I needed to know hit me. I realized that I was being selfish. Weeks ago, I requested that my wife not take our daughter to visit her family because my family was visiting. She should stay down here and make her family come down here.
I had done what I thought was best without regard to what anyone else needed. My wife and her family had patiently went along with that. I could see that everyone was waiting for me to see I was being selfish. They gave me space to make the invitation that maybe we should drive up there.
I got an immense wave of happiness at the same time because of that miracle that I just saw.
I saw that what I was thinking of other people was actually going on inside of me. I accepted that and waited until I figured out what I needed to know. I could see the practical solution was for me and my family to go up and spend Christmas with my wife’s family. Then I could see how patient they’ve been with me and I was just in awe. I got an immediate exit from the way I was feeling before.
In 15 years since being a teenager, I had frequently experienced things like that now. That’s why I share them with you so you can have the chance too. In the middle of frustration to know that you won’t always feel that way forever and to have a “cheat sheet”.
I know that I can’t honestly see what’s going on inside me, but I can always see how I’m judging other people. My internal state exists already, but when I project it out I can immediately see what the source is. If you’re on a journey or looking for God, your judgments on the world provide the way back. As soon as you throw that judgment out, you’ve got a way back.You can ask why you’re feeling that way inside. You can ask for help if you’re feeling stupid inside and the help will come.
I pray to remember that every judgment I lay down is a reflection of how I’m feeling inside. I pray to remember that seeing that judgment shows me what I’m feeling inside. I pray that in sharing this with you, you have the opportunity to have a way out through any of your judgments. Thank you so much for spending this time with me and I hope you have a great day today
Are you familiar with the psychological concept of projection?
If so, you’re probably already aware of the issues that many people tend to project onto others instead of dealing with them themselves.
What is a bit more difficult to navigate is the awareness of when we might be doing so.
It is sometimes possible to look back over a situation with enough mental distance and perspective to identify instances where you’ve projected onto others; where you can add some retrospective objectivity to your view.
It is, however, much harder to hold this same awareness in the present moment.
Harder… but not impossible.
Here are some tips to help you identify when you might be projecting feelings onto other people.
If you find that you’re having a knee-jerk reaction to someone’s behavior, or if you’re feeling strong emotions that seem to be coming out of nowhere, give yourself a time-out and a biscuit and see if you can be objective about your own thoughts and reactions.
Are you feeling angry because your partner is wasting time and being lazy?
Okay, analyze that for a moment: is it because there’s domestic work to do and you feel like you’re doing more than your fair share to make up for their supposed laziness?
Or is it because they’re taking some much-needed downtime and you don’t give yourself permission to do the same when you need it, so you’re acting out of resentment?
We often lash out at people for behaviors in ourselves that we don’t like, but we can also lose our sh*t at them if they’re engaging in something that we’d want to do, but don’t allow ourselves to indulge in.
An example of this might be condemning a friend for eating ice cream when we’re trying to stick to a diet.
It can be difficult to withdraw emotionally and try to analyze where our reactions are coming from.
But if you’re able to really be honest with yourself about why you’ve suddenly welled up with anger and frustration, you may be able to diffuse it with self-compassion and understanding.
Take Note Of Your Body
We often project things onto others when we have repressed anger, guilt, shame, or other emotions that we’ve convinced ourselves are “bad” and thatdon’t have a right to exist.
Instead of acknowledging these feelings and dealing with them in a way that’s healthy and productive, we repress them.
The problem with doing so is that those swallowed emotions don’t just disappear when we stop paying attention to them.
We push them away, deep down into the void of our unconscious, and since they’re not allowed to be released in a healthy manner, they manifest in less delightful ways.
You may find that your neck and shoulders ache from tensing up and clenching your jaw, or you may have a persistent headache that just won’t ease up.
Use your fingertips and check for tightness across your brow or around your eyes.
Do you feel pain or tenderness there? You may be frowning in your sleep and aren’t even aware that you’re doing so.
Have you been having stomach or intestinal issues? Stress held in the abdomen can cause all kinds of belly dismay.
Insomnia, muscle twitches/spasms, loss of libido, kidney stones… any number of physical woes can be caused by repressed emotion.
If you’ve been suffering from any of these, you might wish to take some time and make yourself really aware of what may be causing them.
Health problems don’t just spring up out of nowhere: they all have causes, and if you can figure out the emotional or mental triggers for them, you can ameliorate them in turn.
A person who is attracted to someone other than his or her partner may accuse said partner of flirting or infidelity, while dealing with low sex drive or discomfort with intimacy.
Someone who condemns another for their eating habits may deal with gastro issues.
It’s amazing to discover how emotional and mental stress can nestle into our bodies in countless different ways and make everything so much worse.
You may also like (article continues below):
- 7 Things Emotionally Stable People Do Differently
- 8 Ways Lying Is Poisonous To Relationships
- How To Let Go Of Anger: The 7 Stages From Rage To Release
- The Psychology Of Displacement And 7 Real-World Examples Of It In Action
Ask Yourself Whether It’s Really Them, Or You
Let’s say that you’re fighting with your partner and you accuse them of being passive-aggressive or manipulative.
When emotions are heated, accusations can get flung in all directions, so it’s important to go take a walk or a shower or something to calm down.
Then you can negotiate the situation calmly and respectfully.
While you’re taking time for yourself, be very honest about why you’ve accused them of a particular behavior.
Did they truly exhibit it?
Or are you feeling guilty because that’s how you’ve been treating them, so you’re projecting it in their direction instead of acknowledging your own shortcomings?
A pang of guilt in your belly that comes from saying something that you know isn’t true, can be a damned good indicator that you’re projecting your own crap onto the other person.
Usually, when we talk about something that rings with Truth, we feel whole and confident about what it is we’re discussing.
It feels right to mention it, and after we discuss it with another person, we feel a sense of “rightness” or a lightening of the spirit.
In contrast, when we talk about something that we know deep down is less than honest, a sort of sourness can ensue.
This can manifest as a tightness in your throat, or shifty twitchiness, or whatever personal tics you recognize that you exhibit when and if you lie.
It’s very difficult to own up to dishonesty – even if it’s unintentional – especially if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or emotionally distraught.
But if you care about the person with whom you’re interacting, it’d be nice to respect them enough to acknowledge that behavior and own your own crap instead of flinging it in their direction.
Being present and mindful can be a lot of help when it comes to projection: when and if you find yourself freaking out about something, bring your attention back to the present moment.
Focus on your breathing, and once you’re feeling more grounded, try to determine – honestly – where those thoughts might have come from.
Try to do so with gentleness and compassion, and forgive yourself for the momentary sh*t-losing.
We’re all muddling through as best we can, but being able to be honest with ourselves about our reactions and behaviors can help us evolve exponentially into the amazing, glittery unicorns we’re all capable of becoming.