What is Psychological Projection?

Psychological projection is nothing new. In fact, it was originally developed by Sigmund Freud, the ‘father of psychoanalysis.’ Yet, despite how long the idea has been around, many people still aren’t fully aware of what psychological projection really is, and what warning signs to look for.

Simply put, it’s a subconscious defense mechanism. People use psychological projection because they can’t fully handle or cope with negative thoughts or emotions. So, they project them onto someone else. For example, if you’re not fond of someone, you might convince yourself that they’re out to get you. That can easily cross over into forms of paranoia. Another classic example is a woman who decides to cheat on her husband because she is convinced he’s been unfaithful to her.

While these examples are pretty obvious and easy to identify, psychological projection isn’t always that ‘over the top.’ In fact, it can be very subtle and hard to identify. Using the same example of the woman who believes her husband is unfaithful, a symptom might be as simple as her not liking any women her husband talks to. Even if those women are friends or family members, the wife may grow to resent them. Instead of dealing with her feelings, she projects that resentment onto another person who likely hasn’t done anything wrong.

Another common situation is someone with body image issues. They may know that they aren’t happy with their own body, but instead of facing those feelings, they nitpick at the way others look. Situations like these can be extremely subtle, and if you hear someone talking like this, you may think nothing of it. But, it can be a sure sign of something deeper going on inside.

How to Break Away from Psychological Projection

Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy practice to get rid of right away. Again, it’s a defense mechanism. People who do it usually don’t even realize what they’re doing. That’s why it takes time and conscious effort to put it behind you.

So, how can you get started on breaking the cycle?

The easiest way is to think about any negative relationships currently affecting your life. Ask yourself why they’re negative, to begin with. If you’re ‘in the act’ of projecting your negative feelings onto someone, take a moment to ask yourself why.

The reason it becomes so difficult to stop this habit is because it’s sometimes hard to face and deal with our own emotions. It’s easier for some people to run away from them or push them onto someone else.

It’s important to understand that if you, or someone you know seems to regularly practice psychological projection, it’s not necessarily their fault. There are many different types of defense mechanisms, and this is just one of them. It’s not a very healthy way to deal with emotions or feelings, but many people cling to it to make themselves feel safer. Recognizing the problem and taking the time to understand why you might be projecting your negative thoughts onto others can kickstart you on a better, clearer mental path.

Mollie Busino, LCSW, Director of Mindful Power, Depression Counseling Hoboken. Mollie has had extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, and Mindfulness. Her work focuses on Anxiety, Depression, Anger Management, Career Changes, OCD, Relationship, Dating Challenges, Insomnia, & Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.