I have been so annoyed  by a woman moaning and crying out loud in a breathwork session. “Why can’t she be quiet? She deprives all of us from doing our breathwork because she is so loud. She really feels no shame. Puts herself in the forefront here. How inconsiderate!” I was upset. I felt repelled by her loud, “egoistic” demeanor. So I thought. What I really did was projecting my insecurities onto her. My shame of being loud and standing out.

Growing up a shy girl and having evolved to a rather silent woman it is hard for me to leave my shell. And there is this woman, being her raw self, not caring about anyones opinion and able to make herself her priority. I could not handle it. It was difficult for me to understand what was REALLY going on in my mind. My desire to allow myself being loud, authentic and raw has been expressed through another woman. I could not stand her that session. I thankfully realized it, confronted my shadow shames and by the end of the retreat, I bonded with this incredible woman.

What is psychological projection?

People project all the time; We project positive qualities into another person – and negative qualities into another person. 

Feelings of hurt, anxiety and shame are at the root of most psychological projection.

People project qualities we hate and deny in ourselves onto another person.

One example of it is Homophobia. A person with a religious background may feel sexually attracted to a person of the same sex, but there is so much denial to it that it turns into hatred towards homosexuals.

Another example may be a husband who feels attracted to their co-worker. He sees himself as a loyal person and can not comprehend the desire he feels towards their co-worker. To release that tension he then starts to project it onto his wife; He accuses her of having a sexual relationship. Jealousy often is the result of that inability to comprehend feeling sexually attracted to other people and projecting those desires onto their partners.

In short, whenever there are undesirable feelings that feel too difficult, people project their feelings onto someone else. Psychologically speaking; Projection is protection.

Projection shows in many scenarios – we are projecting onto others and others project onto us.

Whenever we react emotional to something or someone, and I mean a little overtly emotional, we may be projecting something onto others.

It is important to learn about projection, because it gives us the chance to

  1. Gain (emotional) distance from people who are projecting onto us and 
  2. Notice when our emotions take the better of us. It teaches us a lot about ourselves, our insecurity and our shadow desires.

Psychology is such an incredibly interesting field. Especially social psychology and all its phenomena  interests me since I am a little girl. How do humans think? What makes them act the way they do?

We can understand ourselves better when we learn to understand that each human brain thinks differently. The person in front of us has lived a lifestyle different to ours. Surely we know that. But do we really? Sometimes we interact with others as if they must be thinking just like us.

We project the experiences we have made and our emotions and thoughts onto them. Like I mentioned earlier; humans do it all the time. 

And it is not “bad”. It just is.

It can become problematic though; when projection of love turns into stalking. When projection turns into hatred because of shadow-desires that are too hard to process, or when projection has a negative impact on a relationship -to our partners, co-workers, family, friends or children.

How to defend your energy from unwanted projection

In this article we will dive deeper into how to realize when another person is projecting their shadows, dramas and insecurities onto us and how to defend ourselves from it.

As mentioned earlier; Humans project all the time. Everyone deals with certain insecurities and when you realize that someone is starting an argument over something – step back. Step back for a second and release yourself from that first impulse to react in any way. When we step back without reaction, we allow ourselves to become mindful of the situation at hand. Remember: It is not about you – it is about them.

Let’s take an example: You went to get groceries from the supermarket and forgot your partners favorite biscuits. Your partner does not comprehend it well. They accuse you of being selfish and react a bit “too much”.

Do you really need to react to your partners accusation over an item on the grocery list? Is it reason enough to start an argument? 

Or would it help to realize that they are in fact projecting their feeling of unworthiness onto you (“I am not important enough to my partner and that is why they forgot my favorite biscuits”). If you have heard of the inner child – this is the inner child speaking out of them.

It is a big step from a biscuit to feeling unworthy – but when you grasp the situation, you may realize that these are often the underlying feelings when something minor causes an argument.

We are not talking about a little sigh, but a proper argument coming out of just a forgotten cookie, in the end. 

Whenever a small “issue” causes a person to react a bit too sensitive – projection is at hand and it is time for us to take a break.

Get out of the situation if you feel your calm demeanor is not helping your partner to relax and realize they are trying to project their insecurities onto you.

Clear boundaries are so important here; You always come first and later on is a better time to be talking to your partner. Help them grow by addressing what has happened. Take your time and be sensitive and empathetic. 

It sounds easier than it is – but I am convinced that stepping out of a situation is the single best thing one can do to protect their peace.

The part of not reacting to an insult or accusation can be difficult. If your partner calls you selfish (for forgetting their biscuits), you want to react to it right away and the situation may escalate. But if you learn to take a deep breath, observe and be mindful, you have the chance to realize that these are not your dramas and you do not need to become involved in them. 

From my own experience I know that this may cause resistance in the other person; therefore your boundaries must be clear and you got to protect your energy.

But what if you now really blame yourself? What if you now feel selfish?

Now it gets tricky – Projective Identification

We are all people and we all forget things, we all make mistakes. We can realize it and apologize for forgetting something. But if the accusations let us shrink and self-doubt ourselves, it is possible that the other person has projected onto us – and we identify with that projection. 

That is projective identification and this is how it is described:

Projective Identification was first described by psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein. Here is how it works: Person A has a feeling they’d rather avoid, and so they project it, unconsciously, onto Person B. Many times, the projection fails, because the other person refuses to “accept” the projection. However, in some cases, Person B resonates or somehow identifies with Person A’s projection and ends up acting or feeling in ways that combine both Person A’s projection and Person B’s feelings. And then we have Projective Identification.

When we are insecure of our wrong-doing, it again helps to step back and observe from a distance.

Can you identify the emotion you are feeling here?

Do not judge yourself for feeling whatever it may be. Ask yourself what that feeling is trying to tell you. If you are feeling like a failure (for forgetting biscuits) then you may realize that this really is what your partner has transferred onto you. They may feel unworthy (why else would you forget about their item?). It is not your drama. Address these topics with your partner and help them observe their mind. The single best thing we can do is to help our partners observing themselves.

It helps both partners to be mindful and make accusations impersonal. Take away the power of an argument by not becoming invested in it.

This all does not mean that there will never be conflict and this text is certainly not meant to blame the people around us for any conflict. But it can -and hopefully will- help us understand that we have the choice to step out of a situation that is making us feel unproportionally bad to what really is at hand.

In the next article I will be writing about how we ourselves are projecting onto others and how to become aware of it and intervene.

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