Like the other pages, this one is a work in progress. Much of this material is culled from posts that address this issue that I have compiled into one page as a resource. I refer to projection frequently and am often asked what, exactly, it is. Comments and questions, as always, are appreciated.

Before anything else, it is critical to understand that projection is an unconscious defense mechanism. People do not know they are projecting and will in fact, deny it if you should suggest it. Having our reactions to others say so much about our own inner self can be quite frightening, but knowing someone is projecting is something to be aware of. People who are familiar with social psychology can manipulate people with what appears to be projection, so understanding it is a useful tool in observing our world.

Projection occurs when you place your fears and insecurities onto someone or something else. Everything that you dislike about yourself, everything that you are afraid of, is out there. The qualities you least like about yourself are those you are most likely to react to in others. Does the saying "thou doest protest too much" ring a bell? Are you having an affair, or seriously tempted to have one? You probably feel guilty about it, which sets up a cognitive dissonance. The brain does not like dissonance. It is uncomfortable. To resolve it, it projects those feelings onto someone else, so you believe your significant other is cheating, thus making your behavior okay. Do you cheat on your taxes? Then you assume that everyone else does. Do you lie? Even "tiny" lies (and tell me, where exactly is that line)? Then so does everyone else.

People who project their fears and insecurities onto others, have learned to avoid responsibility and to blame others. By projecting what is wrong onto someone or something else, you do not have to deal with it. Is everything going wrong in your life? Are you having problems at work or at home? Can't get along with your neighbors? It's the governments fault, those illegal immigrants, those minorities, that fake president, or something out there. It is not your fault, so you have no responsibility to solve the problem. It is somebody else's problem to fix.

If people don't look like us, then we become confused, especially if we have no frame of reference for dealing with people that are not like we are. Our normal method of processing information is shaken, and we look around for something or someone to help us and we become vulnerable to people who look like us and appear to have authority and talk and act as if they know what they are doing. When our locus of control is external, then we look to external sources to regain control.

There are different forms of projection; neurotic, complementary, and complimentary.

  • Neurotic projection involves your projecting what you (unconsciously) least like about yourself onto others.
  • Complementary projection occurs when you believe that everyone thinks and believes as you do.
  • Complimentary projection assumes that everyone else can do things as well as you can.

This last is socially helpful as social psychology teaches us that we typically think the best of people who are most like us so if we are around people and can project that they are like us, we are more likely to like them, and thus get along (the false consensus effect). We assume that everyone else is just like us, that they behave like us, that they think like us, and that they will respond like us. We also believe that if people look like us, they will like us, so we like them. People tend to like those who like them, so if you like those around you, they will most likely like you. We tend to agree with those we associate with, and conversely, people who associate with us tend to agree with us. This is called the false consensus effect. It is an interesting dynamic and one that organizers of Tea Parties and Town Hall disruptions and other similar events understand. I am certain that along with all the other experts employed by public relations firms, social psychologists hold an important place.

Projection is of interest to psychologists and counselors, as it prevents real connection between people and interferes with the therapeutic process. Projection tends to occur in paranoia as individuals project their negative attributes onto others and believe that nobody likes them and their fear prevents any real self-awareness. That is a more severe example, but people, especially people who blame others, are usually projecting as it is a defense mechanism. Projection enables us to turn neurotic anxiety into reality anxiety and takes our internal locus of control (a position of strength) to an external, and thus weak, locus of control. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you remove the control to others, you no longer have to take responsibility. You no longer have to act.

It's much easier to be anxious of something out there than have to deal with internal neuroses and moral ambiguities. If it is the government, or immigrants, or minorities who are at fault for everything that is wrong in your life, then you have absolutely nothing to do to fix your problems. The locus of control is external. It is out of your control.

Projection makes behavior about someone else, not about you. It's not your fault, it's theirs. If you respond with violence, you're entitled to protect yourself. They're out to get you. It feeds on itself and when people in our current political climate are given a national media platform assuring you that you are absolutely correct in this view, then the paranoia deepens, the projection widens, the behavior worsens. Our beliefs are validated.

It is frustrating having to deal with someone who is fearful and operating from emotion, especially emotion that is being manipulated to increase the individual's level of anger. Decisions made with emotion are not usually good ones, but we don't like to be wrong, so they are also the ones that we will likely hold onto the longest because they are emotional ones.