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My friend recently asked me for advice on how to handle something their child had done at school.
I had just come home from a parent-teacher meeting at my own child’s school about a similar issue, and I found myself advising my friend based on my child’s experience and not on what her child had done.
It was a simple case of projection, and while I hadn’t meant any harm, my friend quickly picked up that there were “signs someone is projecting” in my actions. She’s a psychology major, so for her, it was clear.
But even if you’ve never read a psychology magazine, text book, or blog, you can still spot these signs and know that someone is projecting their issues onto you. I’ll also share some tips on how to deal with projection issues.
Time to switch off that “projector” and get real.
What Is Projection?
A projection is when you cast an image of something onto a different surface. We see this all the time when we go to the movies. In real life, we can project our inner landscape (feelings, thoughts, and experiences) onto the people around us. So, like I unwittingly projected my child’s experiences (and my emotional reaction to these) onto my friend’s situation with her child.
Before you rush to say that projection is a bad thing only, remember that it’s primarily a defense mechanism, and we often do it without even being aware that we do it. Projection is also a coping mechanism.
It’s how you make yourself feel less ashamed and at fault by deciding that someone else is going through the same thing or has done worse than you (letting you off the hook).
Projection is about more than just shifting blame. It’s a way that your subconscious mind externalizes your inner dialogue, but as if you are watching a movie where someone else plays your role. So your thoughts, fears, experiences, beliefs, and sins belong to someone else now.
You can project verbally and non-verbally. You can project in what you say to others (and even to yourself), but your thoughts and actions can project too.
For example, you can project when you only cater to vegetarians because you assume that everyone follows the same vegetarian lifestyle as you.
Some examples of a projected feeling (as a statement) include:
- “You can definitely do it since I did it already.”
This statement and similar ones assume that everyone else can do exactly what you can, denying their unique skills set.
- “She keeps being mad at me.”
Not actually knowing what someone else feels can result in you transferring your feelings to the other person. So in truth, you’re the one who’s mad at her.
- “He is always late for work; I always beat him here.”
Projecting a negative view of someone to hide your own flaws, such as being late for work too.
Positive Projection vs Negative Projection
When it comes to projection, there are two types of projections that are common, namely positive and negative projections.
The brain chooses these forms of projection to defend itself against others, while also justifying its own actions and seeking the safety of the same hood by projecting similar traits onto others.
In psychological terms, negative projection is when you transfer things you are guilty of to others, so you attempt to excuse your behavior by pretending someone else is doing it instead of facing your own flaws.
Negative projection, also called neurotic projection, is the most common and dangerous form of projection.
Negative projection examples include:
When you engage in positive projection, it’s not necessarily a good thing. While negative projection can be really damaging, positive projection still denies someone else their experience as you superimpose your life and abilities onto them.
With positive projection you see your own positive skills and experiences in others, even when they only have similar experiences and not identical ones.
Positive projection examples include:
Why Does a Person Project Their Issues onto You?
If you’ve ever been the victim of someone else’s projections, you may wonder just why people do this. There are several reasons, and understanding these can help you spot signs of projection as they happen.
Reasons for projection include:
1. People can be insecure and emotionally immature
When someone projects their feelings onto you, it’s often because they are unable to deal with these in their own lives.
Their insecurities seem easier to face when these are seen in others, instead of in their own consciousness.
2. Early childhood denial
Childhood trauma can often manifest as denial, and in the later years, as an adult, people learn to cope with trauma by using verbal denial and projection to change their experience of a situation to something more favorable.
Instead of owning their flaws, they blame others by accusing them of the same flaws.
3. Emotional distress
People project to survive emotional distress. So instead of facing their own distress, they transfer it to others. Telling someone they are upset when it’s really you who’s upset is an example of this.
Transferring uncomfortable feelings like anger, hate, and jealousy is typical of emotional distress.
4. Defensive instinct
Our primitive brain is programmed to defend us against any form of confrontation. When you are faced by someone who points out your flawed side, you instantly lash out by claiming they are guilty.
However, we use our own interpretation of our weakness as information to hold the other person responsible.
5. Needing to be powerful and feel like you belong
A painful and popular reason for projection is so you can feel good about yourself. You may have a dark side you don’t want people to see, so you blame others for being equally dark, letting you become the hero in the situation.
An example here is when a husband beats his wife, but he accuses her of being abusive and that he’s only trying to protect their children (making him the hero).
8 Signs Someone Is Projecting Their Issues onto You
It’s not always easy to spot the signs that someone is projecting their emotions, thoughts, and experiences onto you.
Watch out for these signs so you can respond appropriately:
1. Distorted Realities
The concept of truth isn’t objective, but we all have a shared truth or version of events that happened.
When someone projects their version of things onto you, it indicates they have a fantasy reality they dwell in where they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened.
These people are emotion-driven, and arguing won’t achieve anything. What they project onto you makes no sense, such as when someone insists you lost something but you never had it to begin with.
2. Fear-Based Projection
An emotionally unstable person may project their fears onto you. Instead of seeing you for who you are, they accuse you of the things they fear the most.
If they are afraid of committing to a relationship, they may accuse you of lacking commitment. It’s always about their fears, but you are the one who is supposedly afraid.
3. Victim, Victim, All Around
Projection is a favored tactic of someone who wants to make themselves into the victim or innocent in the world.
In their reality, they never do anything wrong—it’s always you. They are simply sweet and caring, and you’re the one who is being aggressive and unapproachable.
When you try to tell them about something you’re not happy about, they twist things so you’re the one who hurt them.
In their mind, they even create scenarios that never happened, but that seems to support their claim to victimhood, so they can enjoy self-pity and turn you into the guilty party.
4. Excessive Expression
When people overreact in a situation and begin attacking you and accusing you of things they are actually guilty of themselves, it’s often a sign they are projecting their own battle onto you.
Instead of doing the work to face their own issues, they make these issues yours so they can fight it out with you (making them heroes in their own eyes) and not have to face themselves.
Seeing someone completely lose their composure over something totally irrelevant can be intimidating and terrible.
It’s usually a sign that something deeper is going on, that the battle is actually inside them, but you’ve been sucked into the war zone since they dressed you in their mental wardrobe.
Look for accompanying signs like raised voices, excessive body language, and “death mask” facial expressions. This is part of the drama when they are triggered.
5. Constant Accusations
If you’re really self-aware, you’ll know when you are being falsely accused, especially if it happens all the time and you are being told off for the same thing again and again.
Remember the person projecting can only transfer the image of what’s inside them, and that image doesn’t change since they never work on it. So you’ll constantly face the same accusations.
A clear sign of projection is that they have no evidence to support their claims, and their accusations are unjust and hurtful. They blame you for what hurts inside them, so they cast that wound onto you.
To them, you are the cut that’s bleeding them to death, except it’s the shame of that flaw that’s eating them alive.
7. You Feel Your Mental Health Suffer
Our instincts protect us, and when you notice someone is making statements that leave you confused and feeling vulnerable for no reason, you could be dealing with someone who projects their issues onto you.
Whenever they are near, you feel anxious, uncomfortable, and stressed. They aren’t safe to be around, and your mind knows this.
You know the truth of what they accuse you of, but trying to assert this is virtually impossible as they are illogical and irrational.
You may feel like you’re losing your mind just speaking to them. If the projections continue long-term, it can cause serious psychological strain, even leading to your mental health suffering.
8. “We’re the Same”
When someone insists that you have similar experiences and are the same, down to how you should experience things, it can indicate they are projecting their experiences and past onto you.
To them, you can carry the burdens they don’t want to, so they load it onto your shoulders, expressing that you are so alike to them.
They expect you to be responsible for their past, their present, and their future. The result of this type of projection is that you start changing to fit their narrative, forgetting you have your own.
Tips for Dealing with Someone Who’s Projecting onto You
It’s not an easy situation to be in – when another person projects onto you. But once you identify that someone is indeed projecting, you can deal with it.
Here are a few tips for responding or dealing with projection:
Final Thoughts About Signs Someone Is Projecting Their Issues onto You
Some signs of projection are more subtle than others, but it’s essential to know when someone is projecting their emotions and struggles onto you. Not being aware will make you question your sanity.
The most common signs that a person projects include distorted realities, playing the victim, over-reacting to trivial things, and constantly being accused of the same things. You can put an end to projection.
Learn how with these 9 steps to respond to someone who is projecting.
And if you're looking for more articles on relationships, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 15 Blatant Signs Someone is a Fake Friend
- 9 Ways to Deal with Nosy People without Being Rude
- 10 Types of Toxic People to Avoid at All Costs
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.