What Is The Projection Defense Mechanism And How It Works  

By Danni Peck

Updated September 02, 2019

Reviewer Aaron Dutil

Many of us get defensive whenever we are criticized or upset. We all want to be self-aware and improve ourselves, but some of us cannot put it into practice when it becomes more than just a theory. Projection is one such example. You've probably run into someone who does nothing but project, or perhaps you've done it yourself without realizing. Either way, today, we're going to tell you what the projection mechanism is, how it works, what you can do to defend against someone who is projecting, and more. Let's dive in!

Projection Defense Mechanism

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Think of how a movie theater works. There's a big screen in front of you, and the movie plays on that. However, the movie itself is not coming from the screen, but rather from a projector. In a small room, the projector casts its movie, usually without being noticed.

This is the gist of projection. It is when someone casts their flaws and feelings onto someone else. It's a good example of shifting the blame towards someone else in an attempt to hide the fact that you're the one who has problems.

Say you're a very jealous person. You are always hovering over your spouse, and you're afraid that you'll lose them. When confronted about this, you may say that it is the spouse who is the jealous one. This is projection, and if you're aware of the defense, it becomes quite obvious. However, if you're unaware, you may start to really believe your spouse is the jealous one and ignore the fact that you are feeling this.

Sometimes, this projection may be made unconsciously. Other times, it's done on purpose. Many politicians, celebrities, and others who have power will use it as a distraction to not admit fault.

History Of Projection

Like many of our modern psychological concepts, Freud was the one who popularized the theory of projection. He believed that all your thoughts, desires, and feelings would be projected to someone else if you could not accept that they were real.

Since then, the idea of projection has been tailored and revised as the human mind develops. While many have their theories about it, it's accepted that people can project their problems onto someone else to avoid the blame.

Why do people do it? It's because they can't admit they were at fault.

Why Can't We Admit We're Wrong?

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To understand projection, you first need to know why many people have a hard time admitting that they are in the wrong. For some, it seems silly. Admitting you're wrong is a sign that you're honest and willing to learn from your mistakes while doubling down on your faults or mistakes makes you seem stubborn and unable to be self-aware.

Perhaps it's a byproduct of our evolution that makes it hard to admit we were wrong, or maybe it's because humans naturally have an ego. Here are some reasons why most people may have a hard time admitting they were wrong.

They Think They're A Bad Person If They Were Wrong

Most of us picture ourselves as the hero in a story. To us, the hero is always a good guy and is never wrong. To be wrong or to admit we have flaws is to admit we're a bad person. However, this is not the case. For one, a character with no flaws is poorly-written and boring. Also, everyone is going to be wrong sometimes, or do something that's a bit flawed. This doesn't make you a bad person. Human. By admitting you were wrong, you are not a bad person, but instead, one who can admit that you're human just like the rest of us.

We Are Naturally Defensive

Defensiveness is something that has been ingrained in many people. From the time when we were tribes trying to defend ourselves from other tribes, some of us are always programmed to defend, no matter what the circumstances are. To not defend is a sign of weakness and proof you are willing to bring your guard down. Some people will thus use projection as a defense technique, usually unconsciously.

We Are Prideful

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Some of us have a lot of pride or want people to look up to us. By admitting faults, it may damage your sense of pride and make people not want to look up to you. However, you can still have pride and admit you're flawed. Some of the biggest people we look up to have all sorts of problems, be it your parents, celebrities, or anyone else.

We're Afraid People May Get Mad

Sometimes we fear that, in admitting we were wrong, we will be inviting people to criticize us. This is especially true if you are a public figure. If you admit wrongdoing, everyone else will get angry at you until the end of time, with many of them projecting their flaws onto you. If you're around people who will be upset if you admit you were wrong, then they may need to look at themselves.

These are just a few reasons why we are such a defensive. We are a complex species, so this makes sense. Us not wanting to admit we are wrong will give birth to many tactics so that we don't admit fault, and projection is no exception. Besides our natural defensiveness, society does not help, either. We want a world where everyone is perfect, and because of this dream, everyone comes across as a monster if they do something wrong.

Techniques On Projecting

Besides projecting your feelings during an argument, a projector may also project using different techniques, including:

  • There are many reasons why someone may bully you, and projection is one of them. They may be the insecure one but will bully you because they perceive you as weak or insecure.
  • Victim blaming. If someone is the victim of a crime, the projector may blame the victim. For example, if they had their goods stolen, the projector may say that it's their fault that they didn't have enough security. The projector may have done something bad in the past and is projecting.

How To Deal With Projection

If you believe you're projecting too much, then you've taken the first step in dealing with your projection. Most people project unconsciously, so having some form of self-awareness is a good first step to tackle this problem.

However, how can you stop yourself from projecting? First, think about all the arguments you've had, or record them if you have any in the future. Look at what you accuse the other person of. Does this apply to you? If so, you may be projecting. Both parties have faults, but you may be the one who is projecting.

By being aware of the feelings you're projecting, you're taking the first step toward figuring out how you can deal with your flaws. For example, if you're projecting anger onto someone else, maybe you should look into anger management techniques.

How To Argue With Someone Who Is Projecting

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If someone is projecting their emotions onto you, how do you handle that? Do you tell them, "You're projecting," and you win?

First, you should not listen to what the projector is saying. If the projector manages to make you believe that you're the flawed one, then they win. Perhaps there are emotions and flaws you want to improve, but don't allow the projector be the one who you go to for help.

As for the person, it depends. If they are projecting their feelings unconsciously, and do want to change, talk to them when they are calm and talk to them about projection. If they understand where you're coming from and want to change, then congratulations! You have managed to defeat the projector. If they protest more, then perhaps you're not the one who should be the person who deals with them. Odds are, you are not a professional, and you don't know how to deal with someone who is projecting. You may end up doing more harm than good.

Seek Help!

If you find yourself projecting too much, or your spouse is projecting, then there is no shame in talking to a counselor to help you or your spouse learn techniques to stop projecting. Unless done by someone such as a politician, or someone else in power, the projection is most of the time an unconscious move. The way to stop that is to be more mindful of what you are saying and stop yourself before you project.

Instead, you can learn how to be more humble and fix your problems yourself. A professional can help you be more mindful, learn how to argue without your emotions flying, and can help a couple communicate more effectively through marriage counseling.

We all project at times, but if it becomes too much, then seek help today!

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