Defense Mechanism of the Week: Projection

Newport Beach, Orange County– What is projection?  What does it mean for someone to project his or her feelings onto someone else?  Simply put, projection is the misunderstood perception that feelings that in reality come from the inside are coming from the outside. The classic example is of the spouse who is convinced that their significant other is cheating when they themselves are harboring feelings for someone other than their mate.  In its most mature form, projection is the basis for empathy; since we cannot actually read minds, we must project our experiences onto other people in order to understand someone else’s subjective world.  Intuition and leaps of faith involve a projection of the self onto others, and people who are in love often read each others minds in a way that comes from a projection of their own feelings.

Most of the time, projection is much more malignant; unlike regression, it is considered a more primitive defense mechanism, as there is a lack of psychological boundary between the self and the world.  When a child is a toddler, he or she does not differential between himself and the world.  “I” is equivalent to “the world”.  It is from this developmental stage (infancy) that the process of projection hails.  Often times, projections breed dangerous misunderstanding and tremendous interpersonal damage.  Projected attitudes seriously distort the perception of the person on whom the feelings are projected, usually consisting of highly negative parts of the self that the person cannot accept.   For example, when a person believes that another person is a threat to him or her because they cannot acknowledge their own angry feelings, the object of this feeling sometimes becomes very upset at feeling so misunderstood.  Hostility ensued, proving to the projecting person that their intuition was right.

As can be expected, this usually creates all sorts of interpersonal difficulty.  When a person uses projection as his or her main way of coping with life, he or she can be said to have a character that is paranoid.  Narcissistic personalities tend to use projection as well.

Jennifer De Francisco, LCSW is a marriage counselor and depression specialist in the Newport Beach, Irvine, and Orange County area.  Please contact her at (949) 251-8797 if you are interested in therapy, counseling, or relationship counseling.


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