What Is Projection Psychology And What Does It Reveal About People?
Updated February 17, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn
When you're arguing with someone, it can be difficult to break through their defenses. One technique they may be using is projection. You have more than likely met someone who projects when they are angry or all the time. You have probably done it as well. Projection is something everything does. In this post, we'll explain what projection is, how you can argue against someone who is projecting, and how to check your projection.
What Is Projection Psychology?
The best comparison we can make to projection is a movie theater. In a theater, you see a big screen, and that's where you see the movie. The movie comes from a projector, locating in the back, in a small area. Sometimes, you may not even notice the projector. Think of the projector as someone who is trying to cast their flaws onto that screen where other people see it.
Projection is when someone tries putting their feelings, flaws, and other quirks towards someone else, usually someone they are arguing with. Someone who projects will shift the blame to ignore their problems.
What's an example of projection? Let's look at jealousy. Say a person is always jealous they'll lose their spouse, and they constantly cling to them and watch their every move. One day, the spouse confronts them about their clinginess. The projecting person will call the spouse jealous for an irrelevant reason. Projecting jealousy onto the spouse is an obvious defense tactic for someone who knows about projection, but if you aren't familiar with projection, you may believe the other person.
Projection can be made on an unconscious level, but other times, it's done deliberately as a defense tactic. A politician, for example, will use projection to distract from their flaws and shift the blame.
History Of Projection
The first modern psychologist to point out projection was Freud. He believed that every thought, desire, and feeling could be projected to another person if you were unable to accept their reality.
The concept of projection is one that has been constantly revised since it was first discovered. Everyone has their theory of projection, but the gist of it is that people are going to use projection to shift the blame.
Why Do People Project?
The biggest reason, conscious or unconscious, that a person projects is that they can't admit they were wrong about something. For some, the idea of admitting you were wrong is an honest one. It's a sign you are willing to grow and learn from your past mistakes. If someone doubles down and shifts the blame, it makes them seem like they are stubborn.
Humans tend to have a hard time admitting fault. No matter who you are, it takes some courage to shatter your ego and admit your mistakes. With that said, why do some people have a harder time admitting fault? Here are a few ideas.
The Belief You're A Bad Person If You Are In the Wrong
Many people see themselves as the hero, and if the hero has a flaw or admits they were wrong, they are no longer the hero, but the villain. This is a binary view that is skewed the more you think about it. Many heroes have flaws, and a good hero is willing to correct themselves should they have a flaw. Sometimes, even the best people make mistakes. That doesn't mean they are bad, but instead, simply human. If you can admit that you were wrong, that means that you are strong enough to admit your flaws.
Defense Comes Naturally
Defending yourself is an emotion that is embedded in our minds. We used to be part of tribes that would defend each other and our mind still behaves in ways that shield us from danger. Whenever you're confronted, your mind thinks you're in danger, and you must defend yourself or die. While some people have the awareness that they are not in physical danger, others will fight, flight, fawn or freeze.
We Have Pride
Someone's sense of pride comes before wanting to admit they were wrong, and this is a challenge for many. You may think that admitting you were wrong means sacrificing your pride, and you may think that people will dislike you. But being prideful can sometimes mean that you admit you were wrong. The people who we look up to have their problems as well, so admitting fault isn't a bad thing.
We Don't Want People To Get Mad At Us
In some situations, admitting fault means that people are going to criticize us harshly. This especially applies to a famous person. If a celebrity or politician admits they were wrong, the public tends to go after them. Sometimes, the public goes after a famous person due to the projection of their own. With that said, if people are harsh with you for admitting you were wrong, you should probably see new people.
There are more reasons why we get defensive. Humans have many motivations, both unconscious and conscious. Sometimes, we may be defensive because of our society, where it seems that admitting you were wrong is the end of the world. However, if everyone could be humble and admit fault, the world would be a lot better.
A person who projects may use other techniques to not admit fault. Here is a list of projection techniques that you may find people using against you.
- Someone may bully you to project their feelings. If a person is bullying you, they want to make you feel weak. However, the bully is usually the one with the insecurities.
- They may victim blame. This is when someone is the victim of a crime, and someone blames their actions for the crime happening. If someone was sexually assaulted, the projector might blame the person assaulted for dressing provocatively.
The projector may use other tactics to seem honest. This is just a small sample of what they may do.
Fighting Back Against Projection
Let's first talk about what you should do if you're the person who is projecting. Self-awareness is the first step to stop. The projection may come unconsciously, and if there is self-awareness, then you can take steps to fix it.
Awareness is a good first step to stop projecting. You can then learn how to cope with your arguments by speaking to a professional or changing them with time. You won't change them overnight, and that shouldn't stop you from working on your techniques.
Arguing With A Projector
How does one argue with someone who is a projector? Do they tell them about their projection, and the projector realizes it? Probably not.
The best approach to confronting a projecting person is after the argument. During an argument, emotions fly high, and the person will probably not listen. Once the argument is over and there are cooler heads, talk to them about it. If they see their flaws and they want to improve, then good job. Don't feel like you are obligated to change a person. Unless you are a professional, you may not be able to. Instead, the person projecting needs to talk to a professional to live a better life without projection.
Projection is a way for you to ignore your flaws. If you're noticing your projection and you want to change, or help a loved one change, don't be afraid to speak to a therapist. A therapist can help bring the projection to the conscious forefront of your mind and teach you how you can project less. Often, the projection is unconscious. A therapist can teach a person how to be more mindful during a conversation and teach them ways to argue their points without projection. Then, they can improve on the flaws they find themselves projecting onto others. There are many ways to treat projection so you can stop projecting and start improving.
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