Psychological projection is a phenomenon in psychoanalysis that is based largely on the non-acceptance of one's own characteristics.
Refusal to embrace one's emotions, motives, desires, and impulses causes one to attribute them to others. In its severe forms, this process can be unconscious and requires particular self-observation to become aware of, and quite a bit of self-work to change.
Here some examples of psychological projection abound, illustrating how it works in various aspects of life and affects perceptions, interactions, and relationships.
A person who is insecure about their partner's loyalty may accuse their partner of cheating without evidence, projecting their own feelings of insecurity onto them.
Individuals may project their own moral standards onto others and judge others harshly for actions that they themselves engage in but find unacceptable to others.
Parents can project their own unfulfilled ambitions onto their children, ignoring their potential and dreams.
Political leaders can accuse their opponents of the same mistakes or actions they themselves are criticized for, deflecting negative attention away from themselves.
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, introduced the concept of psychological projection.
According to him, it is a defense mechanism used by the ego to protect itself from unconscious impulses or feelings that are perceived as threatening or unacceptable.
This involves attributing one's own unwanted thoughts, emotions, or traits to others. Freud believed that projection operated primarily on an unconscious level. Individuals do not realize that they are projecting their own feelings onto others—instead, they sincerely believe that those feelings belong to the other person.
Projection serves to reduce anxiety by externalizing internal conflicts or feelings. It is a way for people to distance themselves from the discomfort associated with these emotions.
It often works in tandem with repression, another defense mechanism.
Repression involves pushing threatening thoughts or desires into the unconscious, and projection then shifts those repressed feelings onto someone else.
The three forms of psychological projection are:
In this form, the individual assumes that others share the same opinions, impulses, and thoughts with him.
This type involves projecting one's own perceived characteristics, beliefs, or qualities onto others. A person who is characterized by lying and deception may constantly suspect others of being dishonest. This helps the individual to reframe their traits and make their possession less stressful through the external confirmation that they are widespread.
It differs in that a person is not aware of having a certain trait and projects it onto other people.
It is believed to serve as an aid to suppression of feelings.
But others express different views:
Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), suggested that psychological projection can arise from irrational thought patterns in which individuals distort reality by projecting their own beliefs or emotions onto others.
Alfred Adler emphasized the importance of social context and motivation for excellence rather than Freud's focus on unconscious conflicts.
He believes that psychological projection can occur due to an individual's sense of inferiority and the desire to avoid admitting personal weaknesses.
A very common manifestation of psychological projection is the so-called selective perception. It refers to a distortion of reality in which an individual chooses to perceive situations or events in a way that is consistent with one's own beliefs or feelings, ignoring evidence to the contrary.
Attribution theory suggests that people tend to interpret the behavior of others based on their own perceptions and beliefs.
When projecting, people attribute their own motives, emotions, or thoughts to others, assuming that they share the same feelings or intentions.
Learned behavior from a social environment influenced by upbringing and family example, cultural norms, or media messages can influence how individuals interpret and project their own emotions onto others.
How to cope with projections?
Dealing with psychological projection involves self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication.
If you catch such a tendency in yourself, start practicing self-reflection, looking for the sources of your insecurities and the reasons for the formation of your distorted communication approaches.
Working with a therapist can give you specific guidance on how to approach the problem and track your progress over time.
If you happen to have a loved one or acquaintance who you feel is projecting onto you, look for inconsistencies between their behavior and your actions and feelings.
Strive for objectivity, for maintaining an open non-confrontational dialogue, and for understanding the projector's perspective.
“One must put oneself in every one’s position. To understand everything is to forgive everything.”
– Leo Tolstoy
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