Projecting emotions onto others

Projection in Psychology: Definition, Defense Mechanism, Examples

What is projection?

Has someone ever told you to stop projecting your feelings onto them? While projecting is often reserved for the world of psychology, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the term used in arguments and heated discussions when people feel attacked.

But what does projection actually mean in this sense? According to Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed, LCSW, projection refers to unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else.

A common example is a cheating spouse who suspects their partner is being unfaithful. Instead of acknowledging their own infidelity, they transfer, or project, this behavior onto their partner.

Why do some people project? And is there anything that can help someone to stop projecting? Read on to find out.

Like a lot of aspects of human behavior, projection comes down to self-defense. Koenig notes that projecting something you don’t like about yourself onto someone else protects you from having to acknowledge parts of yourself you don’t like.

She adds that humans tend to feel more comfortable seeing negative qualities in others rather than in themselves.

Who does it?

“Projection does what all defense mechanisms are meant to do: keep discomfort about ourselves at bay and outside our awareness,” explains Koenig. She says the people who are most prone to projecting are those who don’t know themselves very well, even if they think they do.

People who “feel inferior and have low self-esteem” can also fall into the habit of projecting their own feelings of not being good enough onto others, adds psychologist Michael Brustein, PsyD. He points to racism and homophobia as examples of this type of projection on a broader scale.

On the other hand, people who can accept their failures and weaknesses — and who are comfortable reflecting on the good, bad, and ugly within — tend not to project. “They have no need, as they can tolerate recognizing or experiencing the negatives about themselves,” Koenig adds.

Projection often looks different for each person. With that said, here are some examples from Koenig to help you get a better understanding of how projection might play out in different scenarios:

  • If you’re out to dinner and someone keeps talking and talking and you interrupt, they may accuse you of not being a good listener and wanting attention.
  • If you strongly advocate for an idea of yours at work, a co-worker might accuse you of always wanting your way, even though you tend to just go along with their ideas most of the time.
  • Your boss insists you’re lying about the large number of hours you put into a project when they’re the one who’s cutting out of the office early and not meeting deadlines.

If you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. This can just lead to more projecting. Instead, try to focus on why you’re projecting. There are a few ways to go about this.

Do some soul searching

A good starting point, says Brustein, is to check in with how you truly feel about yourself, especially your weaknesses. What are they? Are there things you actively do to contribute to them? He recommends hashing out these questions in a journal.

Koenig agrees on the importance of self-reflection when it comes to projection. To her, self-reflection means “viewing yourself with detachment and curiosity, never judgment.”

Look at your behavior and see if you tend to blame others for things you do or incorrectly assign negative qualities to others. If you do, take note of it and move on. Try not to dwell on it and judge yourself too harshly.

Ask someone who understands

It sounds intimidating, but Koenig recommends asking someone close to you if they notice you projecting. Make sure it’s someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to. It might be hard to bring up at first, but consider being honest with them. Explain you’re trying to better understand how you see yourself and others.

Just make sure you’re prepared to hear things you might not necessarily want to hear if you decide to do this. Remember, though, that this info can help you learn to stop projecting.

See a therapist

A good therapist can be one of the best tools for overcoming projection. They can help you identify and address reasons why you’re projecting and give you tools to help you stop.

If projecting has damaged a close relationship, a therapist can also help you rebuild that relationship or prevent it from happening in a future one.

Not sure where to start? Here are five therapy options for every budget.

It’s human nature to want to protect yourself from painful or negative feelings and experiences. But when this protection turns to projection, it may be time to take a look at why you’re doing it. Doing so can improve not only your self-esteem, but also your relationships with others, whether they be co-workers, a spouse, or close friends.

8 Examples Of Feelings We Project

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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

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.

5. Anger

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.

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  • 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).

7. Failure

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.

8. Achievement

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.

A good place to get professional help is the website – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service provide and the process of getting started.

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.

how to notice and what to do, Psychology - Gestalt Club

Projections are bringing your inner material out and projecting it onto the outside world. Thus we get into through the looking glass of our own inner world and we are not aware of it.

We are among people, but we do not see them, we talk, but we do not hear them, our subjective reality is everywhere, but we do not we realize it.

What can we project into the external world? These can be: phenomena of perception, feelings, thoughts, values, plans. nine0003

For example: everyone around me seems angry, I am not aware of my anger and aggression, and I project it onto others. Everybody around me seem suspicious, greedy, envious, corrupt, toadies, or vice versa, kind, sweet, respectable - the power of projections is great. This is a reflection of our inner world. I feel that they offended me, not a fact, maybe I feel guilty about something. It seems to me condemn - I feel shame for something.

When projected - people are their own attributes undesirable features to others, and in this way protects himself from the awareness of these traits in oneself. The projection mechanism allows justify your own actions.

For example, I accuse someone of being I am cold, to blame for my problems with work, with my personal life, we blame the person, i.e. we want him to take over us a responsibility. Not noticing that we do not take it upon ourselves and projecting it onto someone else. nine0003

When a person projects certain qualities onto others, he protects himself from being aware of these traits in himself.

Projection is a defense mechanism, it allows a person to consider as strangers own shadow content (unacceptable feelings, desires, motives, ideas etc. ), and as a result, do not feel for them a responsibility.

The negative consequence of such protection is the desire to correct the external object onto which it is projected something negative, or get rid of it altogether in order to so get rid of the "caused by him" feelings. The external object, meanwhile, may have nothing to do with what's on it projected. nine0003

For example , it seems to me that no one is with me friends, no one loves me, no one hears me, no one listens, no one notices. We project material from the inner world into the outer. It could sound like this: I do not hear myself and, accordingly, no one I don’t hear, I don’t value myself and others as well, although I may need them, I do not notice anyone, I do not like. Those. what's going on inside me projecting outward and not noticing that I myself find myself in this looking-glass the world of one's own psyche. nine0003

We are not all projection free. But the more a person alienates the inner part from itself, transfers it to another and does not recognizes it for itself, the more the projection is malignant.

Acute form of this: mental diseases are hallucinations.

Projections are mirrors, you need them to see yourself. They reflect only the one who looks at them.

But often it turns into a journey through the kingdom of "crooked mirrors." nine0003

What helps you notice that you project:

1. There are many assessments, interpretations, judgments in speech that others think, do, feel, appreciate, experience.

2. Lots of assumptions about how others think and feel about towards us.

3. Frequent predictions of other people's behavior.

4. The projection is very fond of the lack of information, the less we we know something, the easier we project.

How to work with projections:

1. self-reflection . Ability to recognize your emotions and feelings automatically we will be insured against a pronounced projection. Then we we will understand where our feelings and thoughts are, and where others are.

2. Projection assignment. If we're talking about something we say, for example: “No one loves me, no one appreciates me, I nobody needs it, etc.” It is useful to ask the question: How do I know this? Who told me about this? How did I feel or see it? From whom? On what basis did I draw this conclusion? nine0003

This may help you to come to your senses and understand: well probably about all this, I got excited! Then who exactly? If to single out these people, you can directly ask how they treat me relate? What do they feel for me?

And who do I love? Who do I appreciate? If so, is it correct in response I'm not loved and appreciated? Do I love and appreciate myself?

The next moment, for example, we decided that no one loves me and does not appreciate, nobody needs me, nobody cares about me! Ask myself, how do I do it? What do I feel about this? For example answer: it's a shame, it's sad! nine0003

Then is it equally indifferent to everyone? And who is the most it's a shame that you don't care? Whose attitude is important to us, and whose attitude is so-so possible without it. If we identify a person who is very important to us, then we can do something along those lines. Can a person say about it that it is offensive, that it is indifferent or that the person is important for us. We will definitely be noticed!

3. Also try speaking from the first faces: instead of "you don't want to see me" - "I don't want to see you", instead of "you probably have a hard time with me" - "I perhaps it is not easy with you, with yourself. And ask if this share of truth. nine0003

The topic of projections is important because it gives the ability to see the world more clearly, more objectively, more transparent. I take back my projections - by clearing situations, by dealing with topics that are painful to me. projections indicate our places of work and points of development. Projection Assignment it can be unpleasant, but it gives you the opportunity to take responsibility in all my life. To see her and myself more clearly and objectively, then the reality is clear, what is happening, where I am and where I am move. nine0003

What is projection and why does it interfere with communication?

When I first started studying psychotherapy, the most important discovery (and even shock) for me was how much we humans think about each other. And how much it creates misunderstandings, disagreements and premature conclusions. How did I come to this realization? Through the learning process.

There is such a practice as group dynamics. It consists in the fact that a group of people sits in a circle and everyone begins to tell the truth about what they think. It was forbidden to include in the topic of conversation people who were not present in the circle, so our discussions most often concerned ourselves, namely our relationships. To simplify, it looked something like this. Pasha says to Masha: “You are kind of silent, probably angry with me?” Lena retorts: “We quarreled in the morning, and now she is most likely offended by me ...” Katya intervenes: “What are you bothering, Masha had a hard day yesterday, she was just tired!” But during the discussions, it turned out that everything was fine with Masha, she was not angry with anyone, it was not typical for her to be offended, but she was silent because of a new love that completely captured her thoughts (“I feel so good that I am in the clouds”). And the feelings attributed to her (anger / resentment / fatigue), in one form or another, were experienced by the people themselves who endowed her with these qualities. nine0003

Telling the truth was the rule of learning, there was no way around it. Otherwise, how else will we understand the mechanisms of thinking and building relationships? This practice was repeated year after year and tested on a variety of people (from 18 to 70 years old), which completely turned my perception of the world upside down. I realized that no matter how I understand people, I can not determine what is happening inside another person until I find it out directly.

The inner world of each of us is unique. It is built under the influence of life experience and many other factors. What is understandable and natural for one is alien to another. Even those people who, it would seem, were very close to me (we graduated from the same university in the same year, we have similar hobbies and a common psychotype), in their “stuffing”, perception turned out to be completely different. If only because we have different “input data”, we grew up in different families, we had different childhoods, we fell in love with different people, and the same words or actions can have completely different meanings for us. nine0003

What can I say, even brothers and sisters often turn out to be diametrically opposed personalities. Because there are too many factors that make up our inner "I". And no matter how sad it may sound, but each of us is really "such one." Therefore, the only way to understand another is to directly ask, clarify, find out.

Why do we "think" for others? There is a good explanation: we see in others what we have in ourselves. This is true. We discover ourselves in many ways and are strengthened in ourselves through reflection by other people. We endow them with those qualities that we displace or suppress in ourselves. A person who thinks that everyone envy him, in fact, cannot accept envy in himself, denies it. It seems to the touchy that everyone is offended by him, to the liar - that everyone is lying to him. We project onto others our personal experience, traits, attitudes, motivations, in a word, our own internal phenomena, which may not be characteristic of others at all. In psychology, this phenomenon is called "projection". nine0003

How is projection formed?

Projection refers to one of the psychological defense mechanisms. This concept arose within the framework of psychoanalysis, and was introduced by its founder of this doctrine, Sigmund Freud in 1894. He believed that a person resorts to psychological defenses in order to cope with various painful experiences. They help maintain mental health and integrity of the individual by distorting reality. One of these mechanisms is introjection - when a person appropriates something external as something internal. Projection is its opposite: in this case, something internal is attributed to the external environment. nine0003

According to Sigmund Freud, the principle of projection formation is approximately the following. If we have some quality (for example, aggressiveness) that we are forbidden to show from childhood, then we displace it, but we clearly see this trait in others. And for this, other people do not need to have this quality in reality. It is believed that about 80% of what we think about other people are our own projections, and nothing more.

So, for example, a woman who is constrained by sexual prohibitions thinks that everyone bothers her, and a man who lusts for other women is fiercely jealous of his wife, who has no idea of ​​betrayal. nine0003

The psyche cannot recognize in other people and events what is not contained in itself. The more vividly, more often and emotionally we react to this or that quality in others, the more corresponding tendencies are contained in our mind. We simply get an unmistakable indication of our own "specialization."

Why do we need this?

Psychological defense mechanisms help us resolve internal conflicts and cope with anxiety, tension, shame and other emotions. So, thanks to the projection, a person can transfer responsibility and guilt for some of his shameful (in his understanding) inclinations to another person, attribute his qualities or feelings to him. nine0003

Why do we not see these phenomena in ourselves? We can see them, but facing them is sometimes painful. And our whole being is programmed for a stable and calm existence, and all the events that worry us are forced out by the psyche into the subconscious.

The projection mechanism can be compared to the work of a movie projector - it helps us to see parts of our own personality, everything that we deny in it. Not only to see, but also to find. Any entity strives for integrity, and with the help of projection, we can enter into a dialogue with those parts of our own personality with which dialogue is impossible inside. Whether this dialogue becomes friendly is not important, the main thing is that it will take place. This means that our personality, perhaps, like a mosaic, will collect unfairly rejected parts and finally become whole. nine0003

What to do?

One way to deal with projections is to take on the qualities that we give to others. If it seems to you that you are envied, ask yourself: “Who do I envy? Why do I find envy in other people, what does it give me? Or, if you have the feeling that everyone is using you, answer yourself how you use others or what it means to you to use a person. Reflect on why this or that phenomenon excites you so much, what it says about you. nine0003

Do you hear someone's opinion (ie someone's projection) about yourself? Do not rush to instantly react and take everything at face value. Do not immediately identify with someone else's picture of the world. Take a break and try to separate where is “yours” and where is “his”, characteristic of the interlocutor.

When making a judgment about another person, also take your time. Even if you have imposed the prism of your experience on him and it seems to you that it almost fit him, it is worth checking your projection by asking a direct question. Because an untested projection is the cause of many incidents. The less people talk about the inside, about what is going on between them, the more they fantasize about each other. And then the projection occupies the entire space of relations. Up to the point that there may simply be no place left for another. nine0003

As the studies progressed, the dialogues in our psychotherapy group went something like this: “Am I silent? What do you want to tell me with this? Why does it bother you?" And it turned out that for some, silence causes fear, rejection, for others, shame, anxiety, and for others, respect, depending on projections, emotional state and experience.

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