Are you Projecting?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Sure that the people around you are always flawed or to blame? Or all much smarter and more powerful than you?

You might be a secret master of psychological projection.

What is psychological projection?

  • You tell everyone your co-worker doesn’t like you, when deep down you are the one who doesn’t like her.
  • Mid-fight with a partner, you yell that he is always so angry, unable to see that you are the one shouting.
  • You have low self-esteem and don’t believe anyone would ever like you, but blame it on the fact that you can’t afford nice clothes.

Freud felt that ‘projection’ was a defence mechanism, a way to protect yourself from feeling judged.

Jung thought it was all about our ‘shadow’, and our drive to reject the things in ourselves we found unappealing, instead making others the scapegoat.

Regardless of what theory you want to believe, when you make other people (or even things and events) responsible for the feelings and traits you aren’t comfortable with? You are practising psychological projection.

Other ways of projecting

We even practise psychological projections in groups, and as a society. It’s in the moment a family blames a rebellious teen for all their problems. Or when one person in the press is declared ‘evil’, or another race becomes ‘terrorists’. The idea is that we are ‘good’, and all the ‘bad’ is over there.

And psychological projection doesn’t have to be negative. If we lack self-worth we can project our good qualities on others, instead of facing the personal power we have and could change our lives with.

Why is psychological projection a big deal?

Aside from the fact that we can project away our own power and stay constantly stuck in life, projection also leads to problems with relating. We can end up a bad parent, always projecting the things we don’t like about ourselves onto our children. And our relationships with family, partners, friends and colleagues suffer.

So does our relationship with ourself. If we are always projecting, we lack self-awareness, and also lose our sense of self.

Why do I psychologically project?

We obviously aren’t born wanting to make everyone else responsible for everything. So what happens to make us the person projecting onto others?

It might be you were raised to act this way. If your parents or primary caregivers always made others responsible for the bits of themselves they weren’t comfortable with? You would have learned to do so yourself.

Psychological projection is usually, however, driven by shame. And shame is created by difficult childhood experiences or childhood trauma.

We internalise these experiences as our fault, or as something that makes us inherently flawed, and live under the weight of this secret self loathing all our lives. Unless, of course, we decide to face and challenge our repressed emotions and negative beliefs.

How can I stop psychological projection?

Awareness is key. Try to start noticing each time you criticise or accuse someone else. Ask yourself, is that actually something I secretly feel about myself?

You might want to begin a mindfulness practice, which can help you become more self-aware. Or start journalling, which can help you connect to your true feelings and thoughts, over the things you hide behind.

Seeking support is also very helpful. Again, a bad habit of psychological projection tends to be rooted in unresolved childhood issues. These can be tricky to navigate alone. A trained talk therapist can create a safe space to untangle you from everyone around you, and help you accept yourself and recognise your own power.

Time to stop projecting and start being powerful? Book a session now with a therapist of your choice and get talking.

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