Have you ever found yourself in a conflict with someone who puts their negative qualities on you? A person who describes you in the way that they themselves ARE? Have you ever asked someone to stop projecting their feelings onto you?
Or maybe you heard someone talk about someone they dislike; listing all the traits and qualities this person has that they cannot STAND. And you found yourself thinking hmmmm sounds a lot like you are describing YOURSELF. It is funny to me how often people cannot stand qualities in another person that they in fact possess.
Psychological projection is a common defense mechanism where people distort reality for their OWN benefit. Like a lot of aspects of human behavior, projection comes down to self-defense.
The truth is the problem is sometimes you, it is not ALWAYS someone else. For some of us this is just a given. We are all human, we are all flawed, we all make mistakes. I know sometimes I can be the issue or cause of a conflict I have with another. Yet some people can NEVER see themselves as the problem because this would be to threatening to their sense of self. A person who never developed a strong sense of self struggles with vulnerability which includes being able to admit to faults and mistakes.
I have found our coping strategies reflect our emotional maturity. Projection is an immature defense because it distorts or ignores reality in order for us to function and preserve our ego. It’s reactive, without forethought, and is defense children use.
Yet most of us would be hard pressed to think of people we know who don’t blame and project. Most “venting” includes a fair amount of blaming and projecting. We seem to be a society of complainers. There is nothing more American than complaining and blaming! Many people appear to do this habitually. Everyone does it from time to time. Rather than admit to a flaw, we find a way to address it in a situation where it is free from personal connotations.
Projection is part of our daily interactions. A common example is a person who gossips who accuses other people of gossiping. Or says things like well EVERYONE gossips. Instead of acknowledging their own character flaw, they transfer, or project, this behavior onto other people. The truth is everyone does not gossip.
The fact remains people tend to feel more comfortable seeing negative qualities in others rather than in themselves. Projection is a common defense mechanism used by people with personality disorders, addicts, and abusers. But all of us are guilty of it from time to time. Many of us get defensive when we are criticized. We all want to be self-aware, but some of us struggle to remain self-composed when we feel vulnerable. Projection is one way we may inadvertently react when we feel threatened by criticism. Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotion.
For instance, you might tell yourself, “She doesn’t like me,” when actually you don’t like her. We might accuse someone of being angry and judgmental, being completely unaware that in fact we are. I have often found that in conflict, as in life generally, people so easily project their own shortfalls onto the other side. You effectively trick yourself into believing that these undesirable qualities actually belong elsewhere – anywhere but as a part of you.
Similar to projection is the defense mechanism of externalization, in which we blame others for our problems rather than taking responsibility for our part in causing them. It makes a person feel like they are a victim instead of looking at their role in creating the problem.
Take a moment and ask yourself: how does your world look to you? Is it hostile and anxiety producing? Filled with people who complicate your life and make it harder? Does it leave you with a sense that something’s missing? Or is it friendly and welcoming? Do you see the world as filled with opportunities for happiness and joy?
Your answers have nothing to do with the world.
Our worlds are a projection of our inner state. That’s right. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.” There is no objective reality which is why our perspectives and personalities are so vastly different. Take two people with two different histories and two different perspectives. They’ll see the exact same situation in two completely different ways.
If you find you are struggling with the state of your life or find yourself struggle with projection, counseling can be a great avenue to pursue. Understanding human conflict requires us to understand human psychology. And it is only when we understand the psychology that drives conflict that we can take intelligent steps to address it.
If you are unsure if this is an issue for you a good place to start is to examine the negative relationships in your life. Who don’t you get along with at work or in your family? Do you feel as though someone is out to get you? Try to determine where the animosity began. The truth is it is okay not to like everyone we meet. That isn’t realistic. It also isn’t realistic to expect to live a life free of conflict. Becoming more self-aware of how and when you are projecting can help you have less conflict in your life and better relationships. In some cases, you may find that speaking with a therapist will help you examine these relationships more honestly and openly than you are able to do by yourself.
To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Theodorou Therapy LLC
590 Franklin Ave., Suite 2, Nutley, NJ 07110