by: E.B. Johnson
Do you see your partner as they are? Or do you build them up to be someone that they aren’t? Many of us fall victim to projection, a toxic habit which isolates us and drives our partners away. Rather than seeing the other person as they are, we insist on seeing them as we want them to be. This leads to endless disappointments and a number of frustrations that can be corrosive to our sense of self and self-esteem.
Strong relationships aren’t those in which we change ourselves to fit the dreams of other people. They are those in which both partners are able to see one another as they really are, without judgement and without expectation of change. When this happens, we are able to come together as equals, instead of rivals, and build lives that are authentically aligned to our mutual goals and needs. Want to get on a healing path toward togetherness? Stop projecting on your partner and look inward.
Projection always ends in disappointment.
Building a life with someone else can be tricky, and most of the battle is finding someone who fits our long-term goals and emotional needs. It’s not easy finding someone who wants the same things, or someone who has the same drive and expectations as you. It’s necessary, though, in order for us to establish partnerships that are both equitable and stable enough to survive all the curveballs life throws our way.
Projection — in psychological terms — is our tendency to displace our feelings onto others. For example, if we catch ourselves looking at another person, we might become insecure and turn around to accuse our partners of committing the action we just committed. It’s a coping mechanism, meant to shift the uncomfortable emotions and realities we don’t want to face. But there are other ways we project as well.
It’s also possible to project your expectations on to your partner in such a way as to create toxic environments within your partnership. That is to say, you might build your partner up to be more available, open, or ambitious than they are. You might try to fit them in boxes they don’t belong in, or places (emotionally and physically) that they don’t want to go. Projection always ends in disappointment. So, if you want happier relationships, you’ve got to put this toxic habit to an end once and for all.
Signs you’re projecting on to your partner.
Are you projecting on to your partner? Are you building them up to be someone that they aren’t, or someone that you expect them to be? We project on our partners in a number of ways, from lashing out over insecurities to pressuring them into change. All of these projections are toxic, however, and undermine our relationships in so many ways.
Expecting the worst
Do you always expect the worst? Are you someone who dwells in negativity? Or the belief that everyone is out to get you before you get them? This kind of thinking is toxic and small, and a dead-sure sign that you’re projecting onto your partner. Perhaps you were betrayed in a previous relationship, and you’ve come to believe that all other partners will betray you. Or, you were failed by others you trusted — and it’s led you to believe that your partner isn’t worth trusting either.
The projecting partner is often one who struggles with allowing their partner to be their own authentic person. They can struggle with control issues, as they strive to turn their other half into the image of love they’ve come to worship in their mind’s eye. To this partner, their relationship isn’t so much about building a life with another person as it is about meeting their own expectations. These expectations too are usually superficial and outside the realm of realistic.
It can be hard to build up expectations in your head, only to see them fail in the grasp of reality. It’s disappointment in the extreme, and a confrontation with our own values and our needs too. That’s why — when it comes to the projecting partner — this disappointment can lead to dramatic overreactions. When you project, you flip to emotional extremes easily; especially every time your illusions are confronted with reality.
Does your partner try to open up to you about the way they feel? Do you listen and allow yourself to open up too? Or do you opt for the road more commonly traveled: dismissal? When you hear only what you want to hear, you end up with a one-sided relationship that’s based in delusion rather than reality. When your partner expresses unhappiness (or you see the crack beginning to show) you brush it under the rug or paint it with a brighter brush than you should. All in the name of “keeping up appearances”.
Reaching for comparisons
What happens when you and your partner find yourselves in a bad argument? Does one of you always reach backward and look for the historical comparisons that can put your partner in their place? This usually happens by comparing our partners to previous spouses. It’s a toxic practice, and one which makes our spouses and loved ones feel bad about themselves — while deluding us and obscuring reality in our fear and insecurity.
Flipping the script
Perhaps the most classic sign of projection in relationships is the flipping of stories and scripts. This occurs when you accuse your partner of behaviors or emotions with which you are guilty of yourself. You point the finger at your partner for the things you’re too cowardly to admit. For example, maybe you become angry with a partner for engaging in behaviors you wish you were engaging in (like self-care or alone time). It can also, though, look like accusing your partner of an action you yourself are doing (like cheating).
Blame games abound
There are few more toxic relationship games we play than that of blame. Emotions are hard to deal with, and the decisions life presents us with can be even more challenging. When we fail to accept our responsibility in resolving these things, we often shift the blame to our partner. Perhaps we fault them for not taking the big job promotion, or credit them for us screwing up a presentation or interview. They have nothing to do with it (in reality) but punishing them often feels easier than finding ways to fix your own messes.
The best ways to stop projecting in your relationships.
Once you’re ready to build mature, stable relationships you can put the projection to an end and learn to live in reality. From that point, you can establish partnerships that thrive. But it requires letting go of your ego and taking responsibility for your own happiness and healing.
1. Let go of your ego
Ego plays a big part in our tendency to project, and it impacts us from a couple of different angles. The things we want are a part of who we are. Many of us, however, can build up massive personal expectations around these desires which make it hard for us to accept reality as it is. You might build up unreal expectations of a partner, or put too much weight on their decisions as a reflection of who you are. Once you let go of your ego, however, you can begin to see people as they really are…and your relationship too.
Detach your ego from your relationship and create space for your partner to be who and what they want to be. Their life is not yours. You’re not responsible for them, and who your partner chooses to be does not define you. They do not have to be a reflection of you unless you choose to allow that.
Accept what life (and relationships) truly are. Within that, accept who you are at your core — the good and the bad. Stop pretending to want things out of your relationship that you don’t want. Stop demanding unrealistic accomplishments of yourself. Be more compassionate with yourself and lean into your own authenticity. The more authentic you are to yourself, the less you will need to personalize the unique aspects of the person you build a life with.
2. Confront your shortcomings
So much of the projection we engage in comes from our own shortcomings and insecurity. No one likes admitting that they aren’t good at something, or that they had a poor experience. We all want to feel as good as the people around us, but when we don’t it’s uncomfortable. In order to avoid this discomfort, we cast it out and cast it on to other people. Only by embracing our faults can we learn to accept them and heal them once and for all.
When you feel those negative feelings creeping up, notice your preoccupation and your tendency to shift the blame on to others. In those moments stop yourself, take a deep breath, and then confront your insecurities. Question them deeply and then replace them with a counter thought that’s positive.
Take responsibility for your emotions. Take responsibility for making yourself more whole and powerful enough to overcome the things that make you feel weak. Know that you can change who you are (if you want to) and you can grow to become a stronger, superior version of yourself. Rather than running away from your shortcomings and insecurities — slowly embrace them. See them as the full package of who you are unique and entirely without rival.
3. Deep dive into reality
Reality can be an uncomfortable place to dwell, especially in today’s increasingly chaotic world. Seeing our partners and the lives we share with them through rose-tinted glasses is often far more comfortable than seeing them for who they truly are. That’s because this means confronting the truth not only about them, but about ourselves and the way in which we shape our own lives and happiness.
It’s time for you to take a deep-dive into reality. There’s no more time to run from the truth or who you really are. You have a right to be fulfilled and content within your relationship. You have a right to a partner who loves you in the ways you need to be loved; without a fight and without the chaos.
No more running from the truth. Sit down with a journal and lay out the facts. List all the pros and cons in your relationship. Write down all the things that have gone well, and all the moments that have hurt you. Start taking inventory (both emotionally and physically) of your relationship and what it brings to the table. Reflect often and you will begin to see the patterns of reality laying out before you.
4. Question before reacting
More often than not, our projections are overreactions that we allow to take control before we have time to full analyze or question how we feel. Rather than lashing out at our partners when we mess up, we have to take a deeper look at our emotions when things become challenging or uncomfortable. This, however, is a process which requires us to be present in our bodies and present in who we are and how we’re feeling.
Stop lashing out at your partner. Stop rushing to them when you get things wrong, or they fail to be who you expect them to be. When these feelings of anger, irritation or resentment arise, stop in your tracks and count to 10. Then, question your emotions and where they’re really coming from.
Emotions are powerful, the negative ones even more so. Don’t allow them to take away your power. You are the master of your mind and your heart. You decide what will control you and what won’t. Question yourself. Am I mad at my partner or am I mad at myself? Am I mad because of something that’s happening now, or something which happened in the past? These answers matter and unlock surprising revelations for our personal growth and transformation.
5. Establish your personal power
When we aren’t tapped into our personal power, we go looking to anchor ourselves to other people. We might look to them for validation, or we might look to them for guidance on where to go or who to become. The more confident we are in ourselves, the less we need to project our insecurities (and the responsibility for our happiness) onto other people. We can walk confidently toward our futures and see our relationships as a piece of the puzzle — rather than the end-all-be-all.
You don’t need to project on other people, you’re strong enough to confront your own problems and solve them. You don’t need to rely on a partner for your sense of self or your direction. Stop building them up to be something that you don’t need and something you can never have. You’re the savior of your own life.
Instead of blaming the person you’re with for not being the person you need…build a life with the person that you need. Don’t change someone else and don’t expect them to become your picture of happiness. That person already exists, and they’re waiting for you to get on the path with them. Stand up for what you want and what you need, then take some positive action so that you can manifest the right person to build the right future with.
Putting it all together…
Projection is the incredibly toxic habit of casting our emotions, insecurities, and expectations onto other people, rather than taking responsibility for them ourselves. When this occurs in our intimate relationships, it drives our partners away and creates serious cracks in the foundations of our partnerships. We have to see one another as we truly are, accept that, and take action to stand in our own positive power.
Let go of your ego and allow your partner to be who they are, apart from your expectations. Confront your shortcomings and stop holding other people accountable for your happiness and the things you want out of life and love. Deep dive into reality and accept your relationship (and your partner) for who they truly are. Be compassionate, and separate your ideas on reflection or codependent reliance. When you feel yourself lashing out or projecting your insecurities onto your partner, stop in your tracks and question your emotions and where they’re really coming from. Then, you can build up your sense of personal power and find the comfort and stability of standing up for your authenticity and fulfillment.