Thursday, September 24, 2015

Projection: Defense mechanisms by Sigmund Freud

Earlier it had been an internal self-reproach, now it was an imputation coming from the outside.  The judgment about her had been transposed outward:  people were saying what otherwise she would have said to herself.  Something was gained by this.  She would have had to accept the judgment pronounced from inside; she could reject the one arriving from outside.  In that way the judgment, the reproach, was kept away from her ego.

The purpose of paranoia is thus to ward off an idea that is incompatible with the ego, by projecting its substance into the external world.

(Freud, letter to Wilhelm Fliess on January 24, 1895, on Paranoia)

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What is Psychological Projection?

Psychological projection, also known as blame shifting, is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others.

Projection may also happen to obliterate attributes of other people with which we are uncomfortable. We assume that they are like us, and in doing so, we allow ourselves to ignore those attributes they have with which we are uncomfortable.

So, psychological projection is the phenomenon whereby one projects one’s own thoughts, motivations, desires, feelings, and so on onto someone else (usually another person, but psychological projection onto animals, parents, children, neighbors, other drivers, political figures, racial groups, states and countries, also occurs).

An illustration would be an individual who feels dislike for another person, but whose unconscious mind does not allow them to become aware of this negative emotion.  Instead of admitting to themselves that they feel dislike for someone, they project their dislike onto him, so that the individual’s conscious thought is not “I don’t like Bob,” but “Bob doesn’t seem to like me or I do not like that certain behavior that Bob does.”

It is “the operation of expelling feelings or wishes the individual finds wholly unacceptable – too shameful, too obscene, too dangerous – by attributing them to another”.

Projection concerns externalizing the issues that we need to deal with ourselves. Usually we project onto others issues and problems that we need to address within ourselves, or are unable to manage properly.  Projection is irresponsible behavior as we dump our problem onto somebody else.  We justify these projections by blaming someone or something outside for the emotions we do not want to feel.  We project our disappointments and problems onto other people, it is somehow their fault, and we become a blamer. Ultimately, it is the person who projects that loses, as they never really sort out their own problems.
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You have seen parents raging at their children demanding they meet requirements the parents have failed to achieve themselves.  This is projection.  The parent trains the child to do all the negative behaviors the parent has repressed for a lifetime.  If the parent has a problem with addiction, they will rage at the child until the child becomes addicted too.  They see their own behavior mirrored back in the child and then rage against their own projection trying to get the child to change what they are not yet willing change and face in themselves.  We try to change everything outside us when we are not willing to go inside and do the work we need to do to change ourselves.  You see this with so-called progressives.  They try to change everything in the world rather than do their own inner work.

If a parent has repressed feelings that they have a lazy nature, they will see a hint of laziness in their child and begin to rage against this.  A child will do anything it is told not to do, because it is a way of getting the parents attention, even though it may be negative behavior.  Over time, this negative attention feels like love to the child. They get reversed wired and begin to do passive aggressive behavior to get the attention of the parent, even though it is painful for both. To the child this negative behavior begins to feel like love.

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Strong expectations concerning other people is also a form of projection.  We projecting our own wishes, desires and aversions onto them and then become disappointed when they will not, do not, or cannot live up to them.

Value of Projection

Projecting thoughts or emotions onto others allows the person to consider them and how dysfunctional they are, but without feeling the attendant discomfort of knowing, that these thoughts and emotions are their own. We can thus criticize the other person, distancing ourselves from our own dysfunction.

One explanation is that the ego perceives dysfunction from 'somewhere' and then seeks to locate that somewhere. The super ego warns of punishment if that somewhere is internal, so the ego places it in a more acceptable external place - often in convenient other people.

Projection turns neurotic or moral anxiety into reality anxiety, which is easier to deal with.

Projection is a common attribute of paranoia, where people project dislike of themselves onto others such that they believe that most other people dislike them.

Projection helps justify unacceptable behavior, for example where a person claims that they are sticking up for themselves amongst a group of aggressive other people.

Empathy, where a person experiences the perceived emotions of others, may be considered as a 'reverse' form of projection, where a person projects other people onto themselves. Identification may also be a form of reverse projection.

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Projection is one of Anna Freud's original defense mechanisms.


* I do not like another person. However, I have a value that says I should like everyone. Therefore, I project onto them that they do not like me. This allows me to avoid them and also to handle my own feelings of dislike.

* An unfaithful husband suspects his wife of infidelity.

* A woman who is attracted to a fellow worker accuses the person of sexual advances.

* A person in psychoanalysis may insist to the therapist that he knows the therapist wants to rape some women, when in fact the client has these awful feelings to rape the woman.

* A person, who is rude, may constantly accuse other people of being rude.

* Classic racism is an example of psychological projection; “It’s their entire fault that I feel the way that I do,” says the racist.  I am a victim of another persons thoughts or actions.

* Projection of hope. There is projection of someway a more positive light, for example, when a patient may project his or her feelings of hope onto the therapist.

Dealing with Projection

To work authentically with other people, avoid projecting your woes onto them. When you see others in a negative light, think: are you projecting? Also understand that when others criticizing you, they may well be criticizing a projection of themselves.

When others are using projection, you can hold up a mirror to show them what they are doing. As usual, this may well be met with other forms of resistance.

There are simple techniques to overcome this:

1. Recognition of this trait in ones own character is the first step.
2. Finding out what issues we project is the next.
3. Then taking responsibility and bring the projection back in.
4. Facing the issues penetrates them and finishes them off.

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Sources and Additional Information:

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