What is projection? A basic guide.

pointing-fingerA friend recently asked me to clarify what projection meant.  She was having relationship problems with her husband and feeling confused about her own feelings and the conversations between them.

He would regularly tell her she was rubbish at her job.  In fact she was very successful and doing well at work.  He on the other hand was frequently out of work for various reasons including falling out with senior managers and not following instructions properly.  He would also accuse her of being selfish despite the fact that she was the main breadwinner during the marriage as well as taking charge of the majority of household chores.  He did not help out in the house because he did not see it as his role.   The verbal attacks on her would leave her feeling upset and vulnerable and she felt powerless to respond.

Projection from a psychodynamic view point is an unconscious defence mechanism whereby one person (in this case the husband) feels so bad about themselves that they cannot hold on to or accept their own thoughts and feelings.  They then mis-attribute them to another (in this case the wife).    What then happens is the person to whom the attributes are placed takes on the unaccepted feelings of the other.   So when the wife felt vulnerable and upset what she was in fact experiencing was the psychological  internal state of her husband.   Her reactions to him were a reflection of her own vulnerabilities, the “counter-projection”.   Her husband was not able to respond to her feelings of being upset nor admit to her about how he really felt.

Projections often happen at times of crisis and stress where the feelings become unmanageable.  Rather than admitting, accepting and owning your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours it is easier to put them out onto someone else.   Usually someone close.  I’m sure you might have heard the expression : “throwing your shit at someone else”.

Blaming is another good example of projection.   Pointing the finger of blame on someone else for your own perceived failings.

“It’s your fault I am out of work” was another statement this friend regularly heard from her husband.

Because projection is an unconscious process it happens automatically and is not usually planned or well thought out.  It is a defence to protect the ego/self identity of a fragile personality type.

So, if you are ever confused by the accusations of another look at what you are being accused of.  Ask yourself if there is truth in what they say.  If you cannot relate to the statements/verbal attacks see if they relate more to your partner/other.  If they do then this is a clear example of projection.

The problem with projection, and what makes it so difficult to handle is the fact that this take place on an unconscious level in all parties.  So therefore, when you are the receiver of “the shit”, you end up feeling so bad that makes it difficult to understand or respond to.

If you are aware that you project yourself onto others in a negative way then please know that none of us are perfect and its ok to get things wrong in life.  Try to talk about how you really feel with someone you can trust.

I would be interested in your views on this please or any experiences that can help others to understand the many forms projection can take.

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “What is projection? A basic guide.

  1. Jackie

    Thank you for clarifing projection for me, especially at this very time.
    I was going through this process thinking am i really this bad, is this really me. My mind was going round and around with certain peoples accusations about me and thinking, It must be true and Im going nuts as I dont think its true.
    My partner has always called me a lier of most things, but I know that is just not true and am not now thrown by this accusation anymore as I believe he must be the a huge lier to accuse me of this (projection).
    But just very recently my boss seems to want to pshco analise me by lashing out saying Im agressive, intimiadating, vandictive and knows where I come from.??? After many unprovocted verbal attacts from her that made me think “what the” and I had enough so only once did I snap back and stood up for myself…Now she has cut my shifts, given me my only last warning.. .
    She is now going to work with me after all this which I know Im going to be whipped mentally….
    I have now lived in this small town for almost 10 years… I have now decided to sell my house and move town. I just cant handle alot of these people in this town.
    I believe I can be a very happy, fun, easy person to get on with, with lots of patience. I’ve never had this problem with anyone.

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Jackie, stay strong and focused on who you are as a person and what you are about. Other people’s problems and issues belong to them. Try to stay detached from their comments and accusations. Focus on being around positive people and making positive decisions for yourself.

  2. Tre

    I was looking at it in the wrong way!
    I have a problem saying ‘no’ to family and friends and really want to say ‘no’ instead of yes!
    I recognise it now and know why I say yes and I’m working on myself to be myself and say no instead of yes.
    I thought that was a projection but I suppose that is is interjection?

    Thank you for a great article!

  3. Andrea Harrn Post author

    Hi Tre, thanks for your comments. Projection is quite a hard concept to understand and people do use the term to cover much that is not understood in human behaviour. Glad the article helped. Don’t worry too much about labelling it. Introjection is another psychological term but does not relate to what you are describing. Perhaps introjection might be a topic for another article. Best wishes.
    Andrea

  4. SKR

    Hi Andrea. Your article got me thinking about something a friend said to me recently. She is stressed because she has always taken responsibility for the finances of her home and her grown children. Her husband works and not only allows but expects her to continue this. I get upset on her behalf while encouraging her to change and allow them to take care of their own problems (stop enabling). She appreciates the thought, and says I’m protective of her because I’m projecting. I never had this problem, but as I write this realize my mother was in much the same position. Is this a form of projection?

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Hi Katy, thanks for your comments. It could partly be projection of your own feelings about responsibility and equality. It could also be connected to empathy towards your friend. However if your friend is fine with this set up then do you need to be concerned? We all live our lives according to our needs and its important to not judge or try to please others. Perhaps your friend gains a great deal for herself in her relationship with her husband and children. Bye for now. Andrea

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