Projection – A guide

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Everybody projects. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. We are all guilty of projection at times in our lives. And we have also all been on the receiving end.


What is Projection exactly?

It can often be very difficult for us to come to terms with how we are feeling sometimes. Some types of feeling can make us so uncomfortable we will do anything no to have to experience them. In the majority of cases we try to ignore these feelings or find things to distract us from them. We can often feel like this approach works. However, yes we may be able to run away from them but the fact is these feelings remain. Remain unprocessed and raw, which in many cases allows them to grow uncontrollably.

These feelings grow and grow until such a point we have to do something with them, so we do. Albeit unconsciously. As we cannot deal with them ourselves we attempt to unload them on other people. We literally project (hence the term projection) them onto someone, usually someone we are close to. 


Making it someone else’s problem  

So how do we actually do this? More often or not it will come in the form of an attack. Whereby we will see the issue we are having difficulty coming to terms  with reflected in the other person. And in turn can be extremely critical of them for ‘displaying’ this particular attribute. 

Let’s take an example. If we are really struggling with issues around self confidence, we may end up ‘projecting’ this lack of confidence onto another person. We will find a way to be critical of ‘their’ lack of confidence. To us that fault will somehow become incredibly obvious and incredibly annoying or frustrating. So much so, we simply have to call it out. As far as the other person is concerned, they will not see self confidence as an issue at all. At least one that they do not feel is in need of immediate review. Indeed they may feel that the attack has appeared completely out of the blue and for no reason. 


Projection – Blow back

If the person we are projecting onto is unaware of what is happening i.e. that they are being subjected to projection they may well react angrily or defensively. In doing so the situation could escalate, to a place where ultimately we are going to feel even worse about ourselves before. The feeling that we cannot be with will remain unconscious and unresolved. We may also find ourselves asking just what happened? 


So what happened?

When we project, the other person becomes a mirror to ourselves. That other person can embody these nebulous feelings and emotions that are trapped inside us. The other person makes these feelings and emotions tangible rather than them being formless, as they are inside us. Form gives us something to push against and vent how we really may be feeling. 

Projection will often seem like it comes from a place of anger or annoyance, this is often how the person on the receiving end will perceive it. However, in actual fact it comes from a place of fear. Fear around this idea that we are unable to face up to whatever these feelings are. Once something becomes uncontrollable it is very easy for fear to fill the gap it creates. 


What can we do? 

To be able to avoid projecting we need to get more in touch with our feelings. We need to give ourselves the time and the space to have really meaningful conversations around what is really going on inside. We can do this by identifying the things that are having an impact on our feelings and emotions. What is it that is making me feel happy. What is it that is making me feel sad (this applies to every feeling and emotion in between).

In doing this you may find something that you cannot be with. Rather that running away from it or finding something to distract from it, with compassion, self honesty and kindness you need to sit with it and ultimately embrace it. Thereby coming to terms with it. This can be difficult, it may take a long time to do this, with multiple attempts. It may be that you find that you need to speak to a professional to help deal with it. This is all ok. One of the key first steps is to become aware that it is there.


Turning off projection

Once we are aware that we have an unresolved issue we are either sitting on or hopefully coming to terms with, we can limit it from being projected onto others. Whatever it is moves from the unconscious to the conscious, so we should be able to pick it up when we start projecting. We can also let the people around us know what is going on. Explain to them that they may be on the receiving end but it really has nothing to do with them, it something we are dealing with. This can help limit the impact and make dealing with an arising issues/conflict all the easier to resolve. 

Learning to recognise the signs that we are about to project is also very important. Defining what the triggers are, helps. This could be things like ‘it tends to happen when I am in a low energy state’ or ‘it tends to happen when my boss has criticised my work’, anything really but it is likely that certain triggers will make it more likely to occur. Once we experience a trigger we can take steps to either eliminate or limit our need for projection. Again we could do this through giving ourselves space, finding ways to calm ourselves down or talking about how we are feeling with someone else.


It is not easy

At its worst, projection can be a default setting. Something we use as a coping mechanism for managing their feelings. Projecting and being projected on is not a pleasant experience. No one involved wins. Left unchecked it can have serious consequences for our relationships and mental health.  We can avoid it but to do so we must make a concerted effort and really get in touch with ourselves.

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