This post was updated on Nov 29, 2022
Projection is one of those psychology terms you may have come across in your daily life. Whether it’s in a heated discussion among your friends or on a TV show, it’s likely that you’ve heard the phrase “stop projecting!” at least once or twice.
However, what is projection exactly?
In psychology, projection is a common defense mechanism where people attribute their own negative traits or emotions to other people. Projection can be hard to detect at times, especially if you’re the one doing it. This is because the process is often unconscious, slipping under the radar of your conscious experience and self-image.
Unfortunately, projection may damage intimate relationships, often requiring partners to visit private couple retreats for reconnection.
In this article, you will learn what projection is, what causes it, how it affects your relationships, and what you can do to stop it.
What Is The Process Of Projection?
Projection may work differently for each person. Nevertheless, there are some general examples you may have come across in your life:
- A cheating partner suspects that the other person in the relationship is being unfaithful. They project their own infidelity to their partner, transferring their own behaviors and shame.
- You interrupt a person who talks too much and they accuse you of being a poor listener or conversationalist.
- You strongly dislike someone and convince yourself that they are the one who doesn’t like you.
- You are able to complete a task successfully and believe that everyone else can do it, too.
As you can probably tell, projection can manifest itself in an endless variety of ways. Essentially, it involves instances where people accuse others of their own, often maladaptive tendencies and behaviors.
What Is Projection In A Relationship?
Projection most commonly occurs in romantic relationships, where each partner may, in a way, borrow their partner’s identity or attribute their own traits to them. Unfortunately, it is quite common for people to project everything they don’t like about themselves onto their partner. This can prevent the relationship from progressing, as well as stump your own psychological growth.
One unfortunate effect of projection is that it may make you feel like a victim of life. You may feel like everything bad that happens to you is your partner’s fault. Or your parents may be to blame. This can encourage you to repeat maladaptive behaviors and damage your relationship.
Furthermore, it may impede your self-development and your capability for building a genuine connection with your partner. Displacing your negative thoughts and emotions can sometimes do irreparable damage to your relationship, especially if you don’t make an effort to detect your own projections.
What Causes Psychological Projection?
Like many other defense mechanisms such as reaction formation and the repression of unwanted memories, projection boils down to self-defense. You may project because you are unable to acknowledge a negative quality or painful thoughts. It is often easier to displace difficult emotions to others, than it is to take responsibility for your actions and confront the aspects of your personality you don’t like.
By projecting, you try to keep pain, shame, and guilt at bay. It is also more comfortable for people to see negative qualities in other people than in themselves. The people who are prone to projecting often don’t understand themselves very well, even if they believe that they do. Low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority may also cause you to project your negative thoughts and behaviors onto others.
How Do I Know If I Am Projecting?
Projection is often an unconscious process, which is why it can be particularly difficult to detect. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to explore any potential areas for projection. Look out for the following patterns and symptoms:
- Allowing others to hurt you and push your buttons repeatedly.
- Being quick to blame others and having intense reactions.
- Feeling too defensive, sensitive, or hurt about something another person has done or said.
- Experiencing difficulties understanding another person’s perspective and point of view.
- Seeing that your reactivity and sensitivity happen repeatedly.
If you are struggling to spot symptoms of projection in yourself and still feel as if your partner or a friend gets under your skin too much, you can try asking yourself the following questions:
- What experience from my past is triggered by this experience?
- What do I feel when speaking with or thinking about this person?
- What am I saying and thinking about this person?
- Am I reactive in the situation and why?
- What does this remind me of? Is it another situation or a person?
- How am I like this person? In what ways am I different?
- Is it possible that other people see me this way, too? Why do I fear that?
- What can I do to feel better?
- Can I set healthy boundaries with this situation or person?
- How can I be more compassionate?
How do I Stop Projecting?
If you manage to rein in your projection tendencies, you will be able to better accept your weaknesses and failures. You’ll also be more likely to forgive your partner, criticize them less, and feel more comfortable in your relationship. Here are some concrete steps you can take:
- Try to detect instances of your own projection and analyze them.
- Try not to rationalize your behaviors and thoughts.
- Try mindfulness and meditation.
- Spend more quality time on your own.
- Work on your communication skills.
- Take a step back and question your own thoughts.
- Learn how to set healthy boundaries.
- Speak with a relationship coach.
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While some defense mechanisms can be adaptive and beneficial, such as the process of psychological sublimation, others can inflict irreparable damage to both your relationship and overall well-being. If you are looking for ways to change your maladaptive behaviors and take the first step towards becoming a healthy adult, reach out to PIVOT.
We are here to provide you with deep relationship insights and useful resources via compassionate and informed relationship coaching. Contact us and let us help you on your journey to self-development and emotional balance.