What is projection anyway?
You don’t want to go out for the evening, but convince yourself the other party actually doesn’t find you interesting and that’s why you’re cancelling.
You are incredibly attracted to a colleague, but get angry at them for flirting with you.
In a fight with your sister you stay very calm, pointing out how angry she always gets, then go home with thoughts of rage against her.
Welcome to the world of psychological projection.
Psychological projection is when you unconsciously avoid taking responsibility for certain feelings and thoughts by attributing them to someone else.
[Why do we project? What are the many ways you might be projecting onto others without realising it? For the answers to these questions and more read our connected piece on “What is psychological projection?“.]
How to manage your psychological projection
So you have admitted to yourself you are the projecting type. So what now? How can you start to become more responsible for how you think and feel?
1. Stop saying I’m fine.
Projection happens because we are in complete denial of how we really feel to the extent we dump it on others instead of acknowledge it. “I’m fine” is a response many of us are quick to not only say but buy into, ignoring the anger that has our stomach in knots or the sadness that has us secretly overeating or bingeing on alcohol every night.
Begin by just noticing how many times you say “I’m fine” each day, either to others, or in your head to yourself.
Each time you catch yourself being ‘fine’ try to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and ask, what am I really thinking and feeling right now?
This sort of ‘present moment awareness‘ will have you well on your way to the next point…
2. Try mindfulness.
Mindfulness has proven so effective for helping people to be more in touch with how they think and feel it has taken the psychological community by storm over the last few years.
A modern take on ancient Eastern practises, it’s about learning to tap into the power of the present moment, where your real feelings and thoughts reside.
The more you are present to yourself, the less you’ll project.
3. Learn the art of self-compassion
More often than not we are projecting feelings because we suffer from shame and low self-esteem and are afraid to see our imperfections. This is where the art of self-compassion steps in.
Self-compassion is about, extending kindness and understanding towards all of yourself, all of the time.
This creates a safe inner space to being to accept your less than perfect feelings, meaning there is less of a need to dump them on others.
4. Spend more time alone.
Realise you say you are fine more than you should, but can’t quite get a handle on what you are thinking and feeling instead? It could be you need to spend more time alone getting to know yourself.
This is not about sitting at home watching television. It’s about quality time where you invest in learning to listen to yourself. This can look like time spent journalling, trying new things nobody else you know likes, reading self help-books, visualising, or doing self-development study courses.
5. Question your thoughts.
Projection is the mind’s way of tricking us out of feeling what we need to feel. So what if you stopped believing all your thoughts were the gospel truth? And started recognising that most of your thoughts are a mix of assumptions, old core beliefs, and doubt?
Question your thoughts about others. Do you really know what they think and feel? Have you actually asked them? Do you have facts to back up your assumption? What other facts contradict what you are thinking?
Question your thoughts about yourself too. Are you really as hated as you think? As powerless as you want to believe?
(Never know what questions to ask? Read our article on how to ask better questions. Want some help questioning your thoughts? Try cognitive behavioural therapy, which focuses on this very skill.)
6. Learn how to communicate better.
Projecting can happen because it feels easier than communicating how we really feel, or being honest about what we want from a situation and others.
Consider taking time to learn how to communicate better, especially how to communicate under stress.
Part of communicating also involves learning to listen more. Remember that words aren’t the only way people communicate – it might also be in their body language and the actions they take.
7. Recognise your personal power.
Projection is often a way to make a victim of ourselves. Instead of admitting we don’t like a colleague, we decide they hate us. Instead of admitting we are furious at a family member for not pulling their weight, we say nothing and blame them for being too angry and mean.
Sure, it means you can feel sorry for yourself and gain the attention and pity of those around you. But making others responsible means that you have given away your power to change the situation.
Instead of throwing away your power, invest in learning new ‘power skills’ such as learning how to say no and learning how to set boundaries.
8. Track the projection patterns.
Start to notice what situations make you project can be helpful. And notice who you tend to project around. Is it only with romantic partners, or more often with strangers?
Then ask what your projection is about. Do you tend to project when people ask too much of you and you feel overwhelmed? Would you rather project than admit you were wrong? Do you project your sexual feelings onto others?
You might find the present patterns link to past patterns. For example, if you do project over admit you were wrong, did a parent punish you frequently for being ‘bad’? And if you do project your sexual feelings, do you have a religious background that shamed any sexual thoughts? The next suggestion can be helpful if these feels too overwhelming.
9. Talk to a therapist.
If you worry you are projecting but find it overwhelming to figure out how it all began or how to stop, you can talk to a counsellor or psychotherapist who is trained at helping you recognise your patterns and find new ways of approaching your relationships and life.
Do you have an example of projection you’d like to share? Do so below, we’d love to hear from you.