Psychological projection was first conceptualised by Sigmund Freud as a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects their own unacceptable attributes/characteristics/emotions and ascribes them to people in the outside world instead.
Have you ever disliked someone only to become convinced that the person had a vendetta against you? This is a common example of psychological projection. Your negative feelings about that person have been projected onto them and they become the one that has taken on your dislike – something that could be far from reality.
Another example of psychological projection is someone who feels a compulsion to steal things then projects those feelings onto others. She might begin to fear that her purse is going to be stolen or that she is going to be shortchanged when she buys something. She pushes her qualities away, as if they originate from someone else.
External attribution of your own emotions = projection
Luckily, there are methods you can use to identify why you are projecting your emotions and put a stop to this coping mechanism.
Other common defense mechanisms include:
Denial – Refusing to admit to yourself that something is real
Distortion – Changing the reality of a situation to suit your needs
Passive Aggression – Indirectly acting out your aggression. examples: procrastination, non-cooperation etc
Repression – Covering up feelings or emotions instead of coming to terms with them (see earlier post on suppression and why it is bad for you)
Dissociation – Removing yourself emotionally from a situation, almost as if you are watching yourself do something – it isn’t you.
Sometimes, defense mechanisms work well for us and help us to cope with life, they are not always unhealthy.
Self awareness and acceptance
Ask yourself why you are projecting. Awareness is the first step to dealing with this coping mechanism. Confronting emotions that we don’t want to feel can be cathartic and can lead to an inner sense of peace. Avoidant coping is not always the best way forward and can lead to depression and anxiety in the long term.
Be aware of the above defense mechanisms (denial etc) and figure out what the triggers are for these negative emotions. There may be something you can do about it and dealing with the issue rather than avoiding will feel like a weight lifted off your shoulders