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Blog Short #32: How to stop projecting your stuff on to others.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Last week, we tackled the defense mechanism “projection,” and talked about how to know when someone projects their issues on us, and what to do about it. This week is Part 2 of this series, and we’ll be talking about our own use of “projection.” Specifically,

  1. How can we know when we’re projecting?
  2. And, how can we stop it, or at least tone it down?

Just to review,

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism we use when we don’t want to acknowledge some part of ourselves we don’t like, or don’t approve of.

We project unacceptable thoughts, feelings, motives or behavior on to someone else so we don’t have to face them. This allows us to protect our self-esteem and self-image.

A quick example we used last week was the guy who complains about people who are late all the time, when in fact he’s late most of the time, but doesn’t recognize it.

So let’s dive in!

Three Reasons We Project

#1 Insecurity

We all have insecurities, but each of us has our own twist. For example, you might have an underlying worry that you’re not as smart as other people. This might play out when having a conversation with some of your friends about a more intellectual subject, and you decide that they think you’re dumb, or they’re brushing off your comments, or no one’s really listening or responding to you.

In truth, probably none of these ideas are accurate. You’ve projected your insecurity into the conversation, and looked for responses to validate it.

The direction of this projection goes like this:

My insecurity → Others believe this about me → Their behavior proves it → It’s true.

#2 Beliefs About How Things Should Be

A second reason we project has to do with our beliefs about how we should behave. I call these the “shoulds.”

Usually these are the dos and don’ts we learned from our parents and communities growing up. When we deviate from them we feel guilt or anxiety.

This is especially true when our “shoulds” butt heads with our real thoughts and ideas that don’t fit the mold – but because of our discomfort if we don’t buy in, we suppress those ideas.

This internal conflict plays out when we project our discomfort on someone else to get rid of it.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you hear someone voicing anger about something he thinks is unfair or not right. You agree with what he’s saying, but because voicing anger is a big no-no in your family, you suppress these thoughts. Instead, you label him in your head as an angry person.

What you’ve done is project your “shoulds” on him to avoid the guilt that would come up if you let yourself openly agree with him and go against your family’s rules. You’ve distanced yourself by painting him in a negative light.

The direction of this projection goes like this:

Someone voices his anger when something’s wrong →← That’s a no-no for you (it’s wrong) → He’s an angry guy → I’m not like that.

#3 Direct Projections from Your History

These projections are similar to the ones above, but go a little deeper. They’re not so much about the “shoulds,” but are about relationship patterns established growing up with parents or caretakers. Here’s some examples:

  • If you have an emotionally distant parent, you might decide your partner is being emotionally distant even though he’s just preoccupied at the moment.
  • Or maybe you didn’t have much privacy growing up and you accuse your partner of trying to pry into your business when she’s just interested in your life.
  • Or you had a very stern, critical parent and any complaint coming from your partner is perceived as a devastating blow when actually it’s just a normal complaint.

In all these cases, you imposed your early relationship with a parent on a current relationship.

The direction of this projection goes like this:

Behavior from current relationship → ← You ← Behavior of parent or caretaker.

What To Do

The key to getting on top of your use of projection is self-awareness.

Here’s some guidelines for doing that.

#1 Don’t suppress.

One of the ways we protect our egos or sense of who we are is to suppress anything that conflicts with that vision. This includes feelings or thoughts that arise, or behaviors that don’t fit in with our constructed identities. These are the things we project off.

So step one is to let these things come up without suppressing them. You can’t get on top of projection when you don’t know what it is you’re trying to avoid.

Try this exercise:

For the next week, check in with yourself at least 3 times a day, or more if you can. During the check-in, ask yourself how you’re feeling. You might review the events of the day along with your emotional responses to them. Or if you’ve been ruminating about something, pull it out and observe what those thoughts and feelings are.

The goal is to get familiar with what your internal life is like. In the process, you’ll note feelings you’ve suppressed or have ignored. Let them come up. No judgment. All feelings are acceptable, even the most negative and inappropriate ones. You don’t have to act on anything. Just watch, see what’s there, and don’t censor.

#2 Address thoughts about someone else’s behavior.

Pay attention to any thoughts about others, especially negative or critical ones. What specific complaints do you have, or what problems or issues are you stuck on that involve someone else?

Now do this:

  1. If your complaint is about someone’s behavior, ask yourself if you’re guilty of the same behavior. If not, no problem. But ask the question and be honest with yourself.
  2. Ask if you’re imposing one of your “shoulds” on the other person. Is it a should you really agree with, or do you have reservations about it? What do you really think? Do you need to revise what you think based on your real opinions, not those of your parents, peers or other people? The goal is to be your authentic self, and also allow others to be themselves.

#3 Pay attention to defensive reactions.

When your automatic response to something someone says or does is to defend yourself, then that’s the signal to stop and assess whether you’re projecting your history onto the situation.

Are you seeing what’s happening just in terms of the person you’re interacting with, or are you layering it with other experiences you’ve had? Is your reaction too big for the situation?

Try this:

Give yourself some time away from the interaction to review it. This might be done in hindsight, or if you’re in the middle of an intense conversation with someone, ask for a break to give yourself time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the soft spot that’s being triggered here?
  • Where do these triggers come from? Parents, previous partners, friends? With whom and under what circumstances?
  • Am I exaggerating or misconstruing what’s going on right now in light of my triggers and past experiences?

Your goal is to get as close to a real evaluation as you can, and then direct your response accordingly. Sometimes, you’re reacting to triggers from your history and projecting them into the current situation. Maybe not, but either way, you want to figure that out.

A quick word of encouragement.

Projection is one of the harder defenses to get on top of, so give yourself time to work on it. We’re all prone to it, but it helps to be able to see it in action. It gives you some personal power.

Please leave a comment below, or feel free to email me!

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,


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