multiracial ladies having disagreement in room

Projecting Your Emotions Onto Other People

An issue with making bring meaning into our emotions is how we deal with them. We don’t do it exceptionally well. In most circumstances, we are very defensive when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions. Instead of dealing with the emotions that we have, we project those unwanted emotions onto other people. I don’t like associating with people who would predict the harm that someone else would do to them. Say you fight with a friend and you say something mean. That friend walks away. If you think your friend never wants to talk to you again, it’s probably because it’s what you would do in that situation.

What is Psychological Projection?

The term psychological projection comes from the famed psychologist Sigmund Freud. During his sessions with his patients, he realized that they would accuse others of the exact feelings that they have. By projecting their feelings onto others, it was easier for them to talk about them. They essentially disown the unwanted feeling and become a gift to someone else that nobody asked for. The difficult part about projecting is that it’s usually unconscious. Not knowing that we project is another obstruction that doesn’t allow us to see clearly. When we can’t see clearly, the perception thinks we have skewed reality. We tend to blame others for issues that we need to be fixing within ourselves.

A parent who feels like they didn’t take advantage of every opportunity in their youth may project this onto their children. They want to make sure that the children have all the opportunities that their parents never had. So the parent signs them up for just about every extracurricular activity without ever asking the child what he/she wants to do. The parent tells them to do well in school, get good grades, and don’t waste time with silly games with friends because they don’t want their children to hold the same feelings that they have.

The fear of other people is another great example of projecting. Let’s use homophobia or dislike of gay people. A good amount of us grows up in socially conservative households where alternative sexuality is not acceptable. I’ve had experiences where the person who was strongly against homosexuality was actually envious of those who are able to freely express themselves. A person who is homophobic can even have a repressed attraction to the same sex, but instead of learning about his/her own emotions, he/she would rather judge and ridicule in order to separate themselves.

One example of projecting I need to work on is my projections with knowledge. I read a lot of nonfiction books, which means I pick up a lot of knowledge. Especially with things that I’m particularly interested in. There’s no problem with that. The problem does occur, however, when I believe that others should know the same things as I do. Because I learned something that I believe should be common sense, others should also know. I would either try to teach it and if someone wasn’t willing to learn, I wasn’t particularly fond of them for being “ignorant.” I did a lot of that with my coworkers. Now that I am aware of the projection I place onto others, I am doing my very best to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

There are many different types of projecting that I know we all face in our daily lives. One that comes to mind instantly is passive aggressiveness. I know you can come up with an example of someone responding aggressively responding to you as if you did something wrong. Was it something I said? Let’s also not forget good old fashion denial. Some people don’t want to see what’s in front of them. So they project a new reality as if they were wearing virtual reality goggles. If you didn’t know, virtual reality… not real.

Projection is used as a psychological defense method. The question is defense from what? They are a defense from the thoughts we don’t want to deal with. Thoughts that attack us that then attack others whether conscious or not. These attack thoughts become a cause for suffering because we hurt ourselves and we hurt others. It’s quite an exhausting series of events. We feel a certain way and because we feel a certain way and don’t want to deal with the emotion, so we project them onto other people. In order for the other person to defend themselves they attack you. In order to defend yourself, you must keep attacking. It becomes a never-ending cycle. 

What Do We Do About Projecting?

To end the cycle of suffering is to be aware of the unwanted negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that you no longer want. The best time for reflection is when you’re actually ruminating on the behaviors of others. If you spend so much time thinking, I could never be like this person, you need to name the behavior and see if it’s within you. For example, I don’t agree with much of anything Donald Trump says or does, but I can’t find time to hate him like most people do because I know that there are qualities that he possesses, that I must work on within myself. We live in a world that makes it very easy to throw stones. We even have a culture designated for it. Could it be that these people who decide to cancel the other are just projecting?

Just as it’s important to make sure that we are aware of our projections, it’s equally important that we don’t allow the projections of others to define us. These projections aren’t real and are typically used as forms of manipulation. Don Miguel Ruiz speaks on projection in his book, The Four Agreements. The second agreement is to not take anything personally. In the book, Ruiz masterfully writes, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” You don’t necessarily have to do anything about the person. Just be aware that their projection says more about them than it does about you. The only thing you can control in that instance is your response.