A psychological projection happens when an individual attributes their own traits or feelings to others. This often happens unconsciously, particularly when there is a lack of self-awareness. It's common in relationships and has a significant impact on their longevity and quality. Becoming consciously aware of a projection is the first step to finding its cause and overcoming it.
What is a psychological projection in a relationship?
A psychological projection happens when someone projects their own insecurities, fears or
behaviours onto the other person. This can happen in any kind of relationship—between married couples, students and their parents or teachers, work colleagues, or any other human interaction. It enables us to avoid facing truths about ourselves that we may find challenging and uncomfortable. When we are engaging in a projection we are shifting the responsibility from ourselves onto the other person—e.g. if someone is untidy and irritated by it, they may project this irritability onto their partner when they are untidy, rather than owning the fact that their irritation is with themselves.
How does psychological projection affect relationships?
Our relationships can be affected in many ways. A projection can lead to conflict and misunderstandings, with people feeling harshly judged and criticised. This can result in hurt feelings creating resentment and distance in the relationship. And, when we are projecting our feelings onto another, we do not have the opportunity to address our own issues. It's only when we are honest with ourselves that we can own our flaws and make positive changes.
What causes psychological projection in relationships?
Often unresolved issues from someones past influences how they think, feel, and behave. A person with low self-esteem may feel vulnerable and therefore find it difficult to feel secure within the relationship. This can result in acting out through jealousy or mistrust.
How can you overcome psychological projection in relationships?
Making a commitment to increase ones self-awareness and develop better communication skills will contribute towards overcoming psychological projection. Learning to recognise your own patterns of behaviour, past traumas, and projections will enable you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Choosing to seek help such as therapy, counselling, or mentoring can go a long way to achieving harmonious relationships.
What practical tools can I use to deal with psychological projection?
A very long time ago I learned the powerful technique of using "I' statements. An "I" statement allows each person to express how they are feeling and why, without blaming—e.g. "When you ______________ I feel _____________ because ______________________." It's important to give each other the time to speak, to listen carefully, and to acknowledge their feelings.
By honestly looking at your behaviours, owing your shortcomings, and practicing these communication skills, your relationships stand more of a chance of being successful and enjoyable over time. The best time to start working on yourself, is today.