Projecting: How we transfer to others - and how to stop doing it

Reading time 7 minutes
Projecting: How we transfer to others - and how to stop doing it

Those who deal with their own emotional world may sooner or later come across the depth-psychological concept of projection. This is because we often project our own emotions onto other people instead of perceiving or admitting them in ourselves. In this article, we will clarify what projections exactly are and how they occur, what role projections play in our everyday lives, and how we as individuals can deal with them.

What is a projection?

The psychological concept of projection originally comes from psychoanalysis. Within the framework of this theory, projections belong to the so-called defense mechanisms. We use these mechanisms whenever something is unpleasant for us in some way - for example, because it makes us feel Fear makes or embarrasses us.

So if feelings, thoughts, desires, or even character traits that frighten us, it can happen that a defense mechanism occurs: Because it would be so unpleasant for us to allow this thought or feeling, we project it onto someone else. According to psychoanalysis, this happens unconsciously. So we usually don't realize that this transference is taking place.

Projecting in everyday life

Perhaps you are still not fully aware of how projecting can look in everyday life. An example would be a very strict judge who stands out in his work because of his extraordinarily harsh sentences. After some time, it turns out that the judge himself has committed a crime.

The cause of the very harsh punishments in his courtroom therefore lies in the judge himself. Out of fear and shame due to his own criminal past, he has to distance all crimes as far as possible from himself and punish them particularly harshly.

Another example: There is a new, attractive colleague in the office. An employee is now constantly getting upset about another colleague who keeps talking to the new girl and flirting with her. However, he may be projecting his own desire for contact onto the other colleague - who may simply want to be friendly to the new employee. For fear of rejection, he may not dare to make contact himself, which is why he is so triggered by the other person's behavior.

Indications that it is a case of projecting in the above-mentioned cases can be found in the fact that the reaction is relatively violent. The colleague from the example would therefore not only complain once, but would already be quite upset. Moreover, in theory, such situations occur repeatedly when projecting. Our judge would therefore not only pass a relatively harsh sentence once, but again and again.

projection psychology

What's the problem with projecting?

First of all, it is important to emphasize that projection is a completely normal process and in itself has no disease value. Actually, we use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from anything that threatens us and our self-image. So they do have a useful purpose. However, in interpersonal Relationships problems arise when we frequently project, because we make our counterpart into something that he or she is not. And that holds potential for conflict.

Moreover, projecting our own characteristics and thoughts naturally prevents us from recognizing them. We do not see ourselves as we really are, but only perceive the sides of ourselves that are desired and accepted by ourselves and also by society. However, in order to accept ourselves as we are, it is an important step to also recognize our unloved emotions and desires. In this way, we can understand ourselves better and ultimately deal with ourselves (and others) more mildly and kindly.

In what situations do you project?

Tracking down your own projections is not that easy. After all, a part of you does not want you to realize what is behind your reaction, because the unpleasant thoughts and feelings should be warded off and thus not enter your consciousness.

Maybe you can think of something that always gets you all worked up, even though you don't really know why. This could be, for example, drivers tailgating in traffic - or people who don't move to the side in the supermarket to let someone else pass. See if you can figure out why other people's behavior gets to you. Why do you react emotionally and quite violently to similar situations - again and again?

In the next step, can you possibly recognize motives in yourself that you would not like to see? Perhaps you would prefer to drive recklessly yourself. If these or other underlying patterns become clear to you, you have already made a great deal of progress in the direction of Self-awareness managed

We ourselves as victims of projection

Since projecting is such a common process, the reverse naturally occurs in everyday life. Instead of transferring our feelings to someone else, it can also happen that other people project thoughts and feelings onto us. Perhaps you can think directly of situations from the PastDo you remember a time in your childhood or adolescence when someone transferred their feelings to you or blamed you for them?

For children in particular, this can often be problematic if projecting is accompanied by an authoritarian style of upbringing. The adult presents himself as a superior authority who is in the right. If this adult now projects his feelings or thoughts onto the child and is triggered accordingly, emotional reactions towards the child may occur. But since the adult is the one who is universally right, the child must blame himself for the emotional reaction. The child thus gets the feeling that it has done something wrong, although in this case this is probably not the case at all.

Fortunately, as adults we are better able to handle it when someone projects their own content onto us. When we are confronted with a reaction that seems exaggerated or strange, we can take a step back and consider what might be the reason for the other person's violent reaction.

Perhaps we were actually inconsiderate without realizing it and yet, upon closer inspection, can understand that we upset the other person. If this is not the case, it is very possible that we are dealing with a projection.

Projecting less: Dealing with unpleasant emotions

It is not so easy to stop projecting so often, because as already described, we usually do not even notice what we are doing. If you notice more often in the near future that you have just projected your thoughts or feelings onto someone, you have already made a big step.

In order to prevent projection from the outset, we must learn to also allow negatively afflicted feelings and thoughts. If we notice our feelings when they arise, we can create a space between the stimulus and our reaction: We can consciously decide how we want to react instead of automatically projecting.

To achieve this, it can be helpful to adopt the attitude of an interested observer. Why don't you try, in a suitable situation, to put a little distance between yourself and observe your feelings? This could look something like this: "Aha, interesting. Now I'm getting angry somehow. Where do I actually feel the anger everywhere?"

Especially if you're just in a stressful situation this is, of course, not so easy and requires some practice. Coaching and meditation can be helpful to make it easier to access your interested observer. Also these methods can be helpful to get rid of old Beliefs to work through. For example, you can learn to get rid of the negative evaluation of some feelings or thoughts.

7 tips on how to activate your interested observer

To help you become a more interested observer of your feelings when you're stressed, you can try the following seven tips:

  1. Observe thoughtsTake some time in a quiet place, breathe deeply and close your eyes. What thoughts arise? Try to observe only and not to judge.
  2. Write down thoughts: Take a piece of paper and a pen and write down all the thoughts that come up until you are completely blank.
  3. Read thoughts: Read through what has been written. What feelings do they trigger?
  4. Closer lookChoose one of your thoughts. What needs does this thought fulfill? Is it true? How does this thought make you feel?
  5. Mindfulness to your feelings: When your thought triggers a feeling in you, that causes more thoughts in you, which then lead to feelings again. Pay attention to this cycle.
  6. Find good additions: Try to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, for example, "I believed xy until now, but actually ..."
  7. Everyday Exercises: Stop for a moment every now and then to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Eventually, observing your feelings will become a normal part of your everyday life.

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