Projection: Is It Yours or Theirs?

L Weber Garrison, PhD
3 min readJun 15, 2022

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Who developed the concept of projection?

We all project our feelings and make false assumptions about situations and about others. How can we discern the difference and why do we do it?

Freud first reported on projection in1895 wherein he described a patient who tried to avoid confronting her feelings of shame by instead imagining that her neighbors were gossiping about her. Psychologists Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz later argued that projection is also used to protect against the fear of the unknown, sometimes to the projector’s detriment. Within their framework, people project archetypal ideas onto things they don’t understand as part of a natural response to the desire for a more predictable and clearly patterned world.

We create meanings as a way to make our world safer.

How can you tell if you’re projecting?

When your fears or insecurities are provoked, it’s natural to begin projecting. Awareness is the key: If you think you might be projecting, the first action to take is to make a conscious effort to step away from the conflict. From this calmer, more rational place, you can then 1) view the conflict in objective terms 2) consider the actions that you took and the assumptions you made and, 3) observe the actions the other person took and the assumptions they made.

These questions can help you explore whether and why you may have been projecting.

How can you tell if someone is projecting on you?

If someone has an unusually strong reaction to something you say, or there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable explanation for their reaction, they might be projecting their insecurities onto you. Recall that E+R=O; the Event plus our Reaction equals our Outcome. We can mitigate detrimental outcomes by pausing long enough to observe reactions on both sides.

Continual projection

A harmful consequence of continual projection is that of identification with the trait. For example, a parent who never built their own successful business might tell his son, “You’ll never succeed,” or, “It's a waste of time.” He is projecting his own insecurities onto his son, yet his son might internalize that message as a truth. The son, in turn, might subconsciously self-sabotage efforts that are not in alignment with that truth.

Are you projecting?

While it’s easy to notice when other people are projecting, it is a lot more difficult to notice this tendency in ourselves.

Here are some signs that you might be projecting:

· Feeling overly hurt, defensive, or sensitive about something someone has said or done.

· Feeling highly reactive and quick to blame.

· Experiencing difficulty in being objective, gaining perspective, or being compassionate toward the other person

· Recognizing that this situation is a recurring pattern.

If you notice any of these, ask yourself:

· Is the behavior I dislike in this person something I find intolerable in myself?

· In what ways do I act like this person?

· What types of stories am I telling myself about this person or situation?

· Who or what does this person or situation remind me of?

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L Weber Garrison, PhD

Laura Weber Garrison, Ph.D., is a retreat facilitator, educator, and holistic health therapist. www.BetterWellnessNaturally.com