Are You Projecting?

Ever heard the saying, ‘Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black’? It’s a pithy description of the defense mechanism Sigmund Freud referred to as projection.

Projection is the tendency to overlook an undesirable trait in ourselves while attributing it to the people around us.

It’s like denial supplemented with a dose of misdirection. Denial can blind us to many things, especially the less desirable aspects of our own personality. Unfortunately, denying those traits doesn’t eliminate the feelings they generate.

If we’ve convinced ourselves that we aren’t jealous or spiteful, then how do we explain all these feelings of jealousy and spitefulness? It’s really quite simple; we blame them on everybody else. We can continue to deny our undesirable traits and rely on misdirection to hide any incriminating evidence to the contrary.

Thus, projection provides an explanation of our feelings while preserving a positive self-image.

Projection’s emotional ‘sleight of hand’ is easy to embrace. It exploits two fundamental human needs: the need to believe that our existence matters and the ability to form connections with other people. Without a positive self-image, it’s hard to believe in our own value. Furthermore, if we don’t believe or see our value, it’s hard to imagine that someone else would see value in us.

Projection can allow us to preserve feelings of self-esteem and superiority. However, the appearance of self-confidence masks a fear of unworthiness. And, the willingness to identify flaws in others doesn’t indicate discernment as much it conceals a lack of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Ultimately, projection reveals the traits we find most shameful and seek to hide, our assumptions and attributions communicating far more about us than they do about others.

Written By: Jill Howgate, LPC

Article updated: June 28, 2024

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