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Projecting behavior: Projection | Definition, Theories, & Facts

Projection | Definition, Theories, & Facts

Sigmund Freud

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defense mechanism

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projection, the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds. For example, individuals who are in a self-critical state, consciously or unconsciously, may think that other people are critical of them. The concept was introduced to psychology by the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), who borrowed the word projection from neurology, where it referred to the inherent capacity of neurons to transmit stimuli from one level of the nervous system to another (e.g., the retina “projects” to the occipital cortex, where raw sensory input is rendered into visual images). In contemporary psychological science the term continues to have the meaning of seeing the self in the other. This presumably universal tendency of the human social animal has both positive and negative effects. Depending on what qualities are projected and whether or not they are denied in the self, projection can be the basis of both warm empathy and cold hatred.

In projection, what is internal is seen as external. People cannot get inside the minds of others; to understand someone else’s mental life, one must project one’s own experience. When someone projects what is consciously true of the self and when the projection “fits,” the person who is the object of projection may feel deeply understood. Thus, a sensitive father infers from his daughter’s facial expression that she is feeling sad; he knows that when he himself is sad, his face is similar. If he names the child’s assumed emotion, she may feel recognized and comforted. Intuition, leaps of nonverbal synchronicity (as when two persons in a relationship suddenly find themselves making similar gestures or thinking of the same image simultaneously), and peak experiences of mystical union (as when one feels perfectly attuned with an idealized other person, such as a romantic partner) involve a projection of the self into the other, often with powerful emotional rewards. Neuroscientific discoveries regarding mirror neurons and right-brain-to-right-brain communication processes (in which intuitive, emotional, nonverbal, and analogical thinking is shared between caregivers and children via intonation, facial affect, and body language) are establishing the neurological bases of such long-noted projective phenomena.

On the other hand, projection frequently functions as a psychological defense against painful internal states (“I am not the person feeling this; you are!”). When people project aspects of the self that are denied, unconscious, and hated and when they distort the object of projection in the process, projection can be felt as invalidating and destructive. At a social level, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other malignant “othering” mindsets have been attributed at least partly to projection. There is research evidence, for example, that men with notably homophobic attitudes have higher-than-average same-sex arousal, of which they are unaware. Projection of disowned states of mind is also a central dynamic in paranoia as traditionally conceptualized. Paranoid states such as fears of persecution, irrational hatred of an individual or group, consuming jealousy in the absence of evidence of betrayal, and the conviction that a desired person desires oneself (i.e., erotomania, the psychology behind stalking) result from the projection of unconscious negative states of mind (e.g., hostility, envy, hatred, contempt, vanity, sadism, lust, greed, weakness, etc.). In other words, paranoia involves both the disowning of a personal tendency and the conviction that this tendency is “coming at” oneself from external sources.

The Austrian-born British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1882–1960) wrote about a primal form of projection, “projective identification,” that she assumed to derive from the earliest mental life of children, before they feel psychologically separate from caregivers. Via this process, which has become an important concept in contemporary psychoanalytic thinking, a person tries to expel a state of mind by projecting it but remains identified with what is projected, is convinced of the accuracy of the attribution, and induces in the object of projection the feelings or impulses that have been projected. For example, a man in a rage projects his anger onto his wife, whom he now sees as the angry one. He insists it is her hostility that stimulated his rage, and almost immediately his wife becomes angry. Projective identification exerts emotional pressure that evokes in the other whatever has been projected. Another example: A woman in psychotherapy experiences her therapist’s ending a session on time as a sadistic attack. She loudly berates him for abusing her, accusing him of enjoying hurting her. In response to this denunciation and its misrepresentation of his motives, the normally compassionate therapist notices that he is having sadistic thoughts. The projection has become a self-fulfilling fantasy. Because projective identification is a particularly challenging defense to deal with in psychotherapy, it has spawned an extensive psychoanalytic literature.

Contrary to widespread professional opinion, however, projective identification is not simply a defense used by people with disorders of development and personality (see also mental disorders: Personality disorders). It operates in everyday life in numerous subtle ways, many of which are not pathological. For example, when what is projected and identified with involves loving, joyful affects, a group can experience a rush of good feeling. People in love can sometimes read one another’s minds in ways that cannot be accounted for logically. Because such emotional contagion occurs ubiquitously, many contemporary psychoanalysts have reframed as “intersubjective” what was once seen as the patient’s one-way projection onto the therapist. That is, both parties in a therapeutic relationship (or any relationship) inevitably share a mutually determined emotional atmosphere.

Klein’s writing led to a general professional acknowledgment that projection has more primitive and more mature forms. In its earliest expressions, self and other are not well differentiated. In mature projection, the other is understood to have a separate subjective life, with motives that may differ from one’s own. Before age three, children tend to assume that the emotional effect of an action was its intention. When caregivers set unwelcome limits, very young children react with normal, temporary hatred and accuse the parents of hating them. A slightly older child understands that when his mother’s limit-setting angers him, her act does not necessarily mean she is angry with him. Philosophers use the term “theory of mind” to denote this capacity to see others as having independent subjectivities. Contemporary psychoanalytic theorists and researchers refer to it as “mentalization.” Although a benign use of projection is the basis for understanding others’ psychologies, in mentalization there is little distortion of the other person’s mind because there is no automatic equation of it with the mind of the observer.

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Empirical studies of defense mechanisms have supported clinical observations about projection, including the idea that it is one of many universal psychological defenses that evolve and mature in normal development. Understanding projection has been critically important to psychiatry, clinical psychology, counseling, and the mental health professions generally. It has also been cited as an explanatory principle in political science, sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences.

Nancy McWilliams

Projection | Psychology Today

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Projection is the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another. For example, if someone continuously bullies and ridicules a peer about his insecurities, the bully might be projecting his own struggle with self-esteem onto the other person.

The concept emerged from Sigmund Freud’s work on defense mechanisms and was further refined by his daughter, Anna Freud, and other prominent figures in psychology.

  • What Is Projection?

  • Projection in Everyday Life

  • Projection in Therapy

What Is Projection?

Unconscious discomfort can lead people to attribute unacceptable feelings or impulses to someone else to avoid confronting them. Projection allows the difficult trait to be addressed without the individual fully recognizing it in themselves.

Who developed the concept of projection?

Freud first reported on projection in an 1895 letter, in which he described a patient who tried to avoid confronting her feelings of shame by imagining that her neighbors were gossiping about her instead. 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.

More recent research has challenged Freud’s hypothesis that people project to defend their egos. Projecting a threatening trait onto others may be a byproduct of the mechanism that defends the ego, rather than a part of the defense itself. Trying to suppress a thought pushes it to the mental foreground, psychologists have argued, and turns it into a chronically accessible filter through which one views the world.

What’s an example of projection?

An example of projection would be the following: A married man who is attracted to a female coworker, but rather than admit this to himself, he might accuse her of flirting with him. Another would be a woman wrestling with the urge to steal, who comes to believe that her neighbors are trying to break into her home.

Why do people project?

People tend to project because they have a trait or desire that is too difficult to acknowledge. Rather than confronting it, they cast it away and onto someone else. This functions to preserve their self-esteem, making difficult emotions more tolerable. It’s easier to attack or witness wrongdoing in another person than confront that possibility in one’s own behavior. How a person acts toward the target of projection might reflect how they really feel about themselves.

Is projection conscious or unconscious?

Projection is thought to be an unconscious process that protects the ego from unacceptable thoughts and impulses. Attributing those tendencies to others allows the person to place themselves above and beyond those urges, while still being able to observe them from afar. Although this occurs unconsciously, these patterns can be brought to conscious awareness, especially with the help of a therapist.

What is projective identification?

Projective identification occurs when the target of projection identifies with and expresses the feelings projected onto them. This represents a deeper stage of the distortions raised by projection, one that often occurs in relationships. For instance, a man could displace his own feelings of frustration towards a distant parent onto a romantic partner, who then withdraws emotionally after an argument.

Projection in Everyday Life

Projection can occur in a variety of contexts, from an isolated incident with a casual acquaintance to a regular pattern in a romantic relationship. But learning to recognize and respond to projection can help people understand and navigate social conflict.

How can you tell if you’re projecting?

When your fears or insecurities are provoked, it’s natural to occasionally begin projecting. If you think you might be projecting, the first step is to step away from the conflict. Time away will allow your defensiveness to fade so that you can think about the situation rationally. Then you can 1) Describe the conflict in objective terms 2) Describe the actions that you took and the assumptions you made and 3) Describe the actions the other person took and the assumptions they made in order. 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. Taking a step back, and determining that their response doesn’t align with your actions, may be a signal projection.

A harmful consequence of continual projection is when the trait becomes incorporated into one’s identity. For example, a father who never built a successful career might tell his son, “You won’t amount to anything” or, “Don’t even bother trying.” He is projecting his own insecurities onto his son, yet his son might internalize that message, believing that he will never be successful. 

Although it’s difficult to do so, individuals who experience this can try to remember that the criques are about the other person, and to be confident in who they are outside of that relationship.

A common source of projection in romantic relationships emerges when unconscious feelings toward a parent are projected onto the person’s partner. If the partner then identifies with and expresses the feelings projected onto them, projective identification is at play.

Signs of projective identification in a relationship include having the same fight over and over again, feeling upset with your partner but not knowing why, and confusion about your reaction or your partner’s reaction to a situation. Couples can overcome projective identification by recognizing it, slowing down in conflicts, checking to make sure that they understand each other correctly, and considering couples therapy if needed.

How do narcissists use projection?

Narcissistic people often resort to projection to protect their self-image. Complaining about how someone else is so “showy” or “always needs attention” is one example of how a narcissist might project. They may also blame others for things that have gone wrong, rather than taking responsibility themselves. As the narcissist projects more shame and criticism onto another person, that individual’s self-doubt often grows, leading to a self-reinforcing cycle.

How do you respond to projection?

Setting boundaries can help you respond to projection. Responding with clear statements such as “I disagree” or “I don’t see it that way” can deflect the projection and may prompt the person to reflect or take responsibility. It can also prevent you from internalizing unfair criticism or blame. But if the person continues to project, and seems unable to move forward, it may be necessary to remove yourself from the conversation.

Projection in Therapy

Projection can reveal hidden insecurities or beliefs that are valuable to explore in therapy. It also relates to the phenomenon of transference, in which a patient transfers feelings he or she has toward another important figure in their life onto a therapist. While projection can occur in different contexts, transference is primarily understood through a therapeutic lens. (For more, see Transference.)

While psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapists are more likely than others to invoke projection as a behavior of note, therapists trained in all modalities are familiar with the construct. Some may discuss a person misattributing or misunderstanding their own biases, without labeling such behavior “projection.”

How does projection work in therapy?

Through their conversations, a therapist may observe that a patient seems to be projecting, either onto the therapist or toward other people in the patient’s life. For example, a therapist might realize that a patient continuously posits that their partner is having an affair, with no evidence. The therapist might explore whether the patient is secure in the relationship or is perhaps the one struggling to remain faithful. Projection can be an opportunity to identify difficult emotions that need to be processed.

How do therapists respond to projection?

If a therapist suspects that a patient is projecting—either onto the therapist or onto other people in the patient’s life—they will likely explore the patient’s reaction. Understanding why the patient is reacting to the therapist with such a strong emotion, or misinterpreting a therapist’s statements, can help reveal underlying relationship challenges that should be discussed and resolved.

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how to notice and what to do, Psychology – Gestalt Club

Projections are bringing your inner material out and
projecting it onto the outside world. Thus we get into
through the looking glass of our own inner world and we are not aware of it.

We are among people, but we do not see them, we talk, but
we do not hear them, our subjective reality is everywhere, but we do not
we realize it.

What can we project into the external
These can be: phenomena of perception, feelings,
thoughts, values, plans.

For example: everyone around me seems angry,
I am not aware of my anger and aggression, and I project it onto others. All
around me seem suspicious, greedy, envious,
corrupt, toadies, or vice versa, kind, sweet,
respectable – the power of projections is great. This is a reflection of our
inner world. I feel that they offended me, not a fact,
maybe I feel guilty about something. It seems to me
condemn – I feel shame for something.

When projected – people are their own
attributes undesirable features to others, and in this way protects himself
from the awareness of these traits in oneself. The projection mechanism allows
justify your own actions.

For example, I accuse someone of being
I am cold, to blame for my problems with work, with my personal life,
we blame the person, i.e. we want him to take over us
responsibility. Not noticing that we do not take it upon ourselves and
projecting it onto someone else.

When a person projects certain qualities onto others, he
protects himself from being aware of these traits in himself.

Projection is a defense mechanism, it allows a person to
consider as strangers own shadow
content (unacceptable feelings, desires, motives, ideas
etc.), and as a result, do not feel for them

The negative consequence of such protection is
the desire to correct the external object onto which it is projected
something negative, or get rid of it altogether in order to
so get rid of the “caused by him” feelings. The external object, meanwhile,
may have nothing to do with what’s on it

For example , it seems to me that no one is with me
friends, no one loves me, no one hears me, no one listens, no one
notices. We project material from the inner world into the outer.
It could sound like this: I do not hear myself and, accordingly, no one
I don’t hear, I don’t value myself and others as well, although I may need them,
I do not notice anyone, I do not like. Those. what’s going on inside me
projecting outward and not noticing that I myself find myself in this looking-glass
the world of one’s own psyche.

We are not all projection free. But the more a person
alienates the inner part from itself, transfers it to another and does not
recognizes it for itself, the more the projection is malignant.

Acute form of this: mental
diseases are hallucinations.

Projections are mirrors, you need them to see yourself. They
reflect only the one who looks at them.

But often it turns into a journey through the kingdom of “crooked

What helps you notice that you

1. There are many assessments, interpretations, judgments in speech that
others think, do, feel, appreciate, experience.

2. Lots of assumptions about how others think and feel about
towards us.

3. Frequent predictions of other people’s behavior.

4. The projection is very fond of the lack of information, the less we
we know something, the easier we project.

How to work with projections:

. Ability to recognize your emotions and feelings
automatically we will be insured against a pronounced projection. Then we
we will understand where our feelings and thoughts are, and where others are.

2. Projection assignment. If we’re talking about something
we say, for example: “No one loves me, no one appreciates me, I
nobody needs it, etc.” It is useful to ask the question: How do I know this?
Who told me about this? How did I feel or see it? From
whom? On what basis did I draw this conclusion?

This may help you to come to your senses and understand: well
probably about all this, I got excited! Then who exactly? If
to single out these people, you can directly ask how they treat me
relate? What do they feel for me?

And who do I love? Who do I appreciate? If so, is it correct in response
I’m not loved and appreciated? Do I love and appreciate myself?

The next moment, for example, we decided that no one loves me
and does not appreciate, nobody needs me, nobody cares about me! Ask
myself, how do I do it? What do I feel about this? For example
answer: it’s a shame, it’s sad!

Then is it equally indifferent to everyone? And who is the most
it’s a shame that you don’t care? Whose attitude is important to us, and whose attitude is so-so
possible without it. If we identify a person who is very important to us,
then we can do something along those lines. Can a person
say about it that it is offensive, that it is indifferent or that the person is important
for us. We will definitely be noticed!

3. Also try speaking from the first
instead of “you don’t want to see me” – “I don’t want
to see you”, instead of “you probably have a hard time with me” – “I
perhaps it is not easy with you, with yourself. And ask if this
share of truth.

The topic of projections is important because it gives
the ability to see the world more clearly, more objectively, more
transparent. I take back my projections – by clearing
situations, by dealing with topics that are painful to me. projections
indicate our places of work and points of development. Projection Assignment
it can be unpleasant, but it gives you the opportunity to take responsibility
in all my life. To see her and myself more clearly and objectively, then
the reality is clear, what is happening, where I am and where I am

Projection – Psychologos

Projection – (from Latin projectio – throwing forward) – a psychological mechanism, first considered by Z. Freud.

  1. In classical psychoanalysis, the process by which an individual’s own traits, emotions, attitudes, etc., are attributed by them to someone else. Interruption of contact with the environment. This is accompanied by a denial that he himself has these feelings or tendencies. In speech, it looks like replacing the pronoun “I” with the pronoun “you” (or “they”, if we are talking about a whole group of people). “They don’t like me,” thinks the speaker, nervous before a public speech, “You’re mad at me,” complains the one who is unable to recognize and accept his own aggression. The projection performs the functions of a defense mechanism, protecting the individual from anxiety, indicates the presence of some suppressed basic conflict;
  2. In other psychodynamic theories, the process of involuntary attribution of the subjective processes of one person to others. This process is regarded as a normal process of mental development, not necessarily reflecting neurotic tendencies;
  3. Perception of environmental events and stimuli (especially ambiguous ones) in terms of one’s own expectations, needs, desires, etc. This value is completely neutral with respect to the pathological aspect of projection and forms the basis for the use of projective techniques.

Projection (from Frederick Perls’ Witness to Therapy)

The opposite of introjection is projection. If introjection is the tendency to take responsibility for what is really part of the environment, then projection is the tendency to make the environment responsible for what comes from the person himself. An example of an extreme case of projection would be paranoia, clinically characterized by the presence of a well-organized delusional system in the patient. The paranoid usually turns out to be a highly aggressive person; unable to take responsibility for his own illusions, desires and feelings, the paranoid ascribes them to objects or people in his environment. His conviction that he is being persecuted is in fact a statement that he would like to be persecuted by others. But projection does not exist in such extreme forms; it is necessary to carefully distinguish between projection as a pathological process, and thinking through assumptions, which can be normal and healthy. Planning and anticipation, searching and maneuvering in chess and many other activities involve observing and making assumptions about the outside world. But these assumptions are understood as assumptions. When a chess player thinks several moves ahead, he makes a series of assumptions about his opponent’s mental processes, as if to say, “If I were him, I would do such-and-such.” But he realizes that he is making assumptions that will not necessarily be consistent with what guides his opponent’s behavior, and he knows that these are his own assumptions.

In contrast, a sexually inhibited woman who complains about being hit on by everyone, or a cold, aloof, arrogant man who accuses people of being hostile to him are examples of neurotic projection. In these cases, people make assumptions based on their own fantasy, not realizing that these are only assumptions. Moreover, they are unaware of the origin of their own assumptions.

Artistic creativity also requires some assumptions and projections. The writer often literally projects himself into his characters, becomes them while he writes about them. But, unlike the projecting neurotic, he does not lose ideas about himself. He knows where he himself ends and his characters begin, even if in the process of creation itself he loses his sense of boundaries and becomes someone else.

The neurotic uses the mechanism of projection not only in relation to the external world; he also uses it in relation to himself. He alienates from himself not only his own impulses, but also the parts of himself in which these impulses arise. He endows them with an objective, so to speak, existence, which can make them responsible for his difficulties and help him ignore the fact that they are parts of himself. Instead of an active attitude to the events of his own life, the projecting subject becomes a passive object, a victim of circumstances.

When a chorister complains about his bladder causing him trouble, this is a perfect example of projection. Here the ugly “it” raises its head, and our hero is almost a victim of his own bladder. “It just happens to me; I have to endure it,” he says. We are witnessing the emergence of a small fragment of paranoia. Just as an introjector might be asked who is speaking and the answer is “they,” so the projector should be reminded, “It’s your own bladder, it’s you who needs to urinate.” – When a projector says “it” or “they”, he usually means “I”.

Thus, in the projection, we shift the boundary between ourselves and the rest of the world a little “in our favor”, which gives us the opportunity to relieve ourselves of responsibility, denying that we own those aspects of the personality that we find it difficult to reconcile with, which seem unattractive or offensive to us .

Also, projection is usually the result of our introjects causing us to feel alienated and self-contemptuous. Because our chorister has introjected the notion that good manners are more important than the satisfaction of pressing personal needs, since he has introjected the conviction that one should “bear it all smiling,” he is forced to project or even expel from himself those impulses that are contrary to his external activities. It is not he who feels the need to urinate; he’s a good boy, he wants to stay with the band and keep singing. Urination is demanded by this nasty, naughty bladder, which, as luck would have it, ended up in him, which he considers to be an “introject” – an alien element, forcibly introduced into him against his will.

The projecting neurotic, like the introjector, is unable to distinguish between the facets of his own integral personality that really belong to him and that which is imposed on him from outside. He regards his introjects as himself, and he regards those parts of himself that he would like to get rid of as undigested and inedible introjects.