A negative thought about yourself slowly creeps into your brain — grabbing at any attention paid to it. It struggles to establish itself. You may try to fight this but you lose. The intruder has now taken up residence in your brain and you just can’t seem to evict him. This thought makes itself at home, for months or maybe even years. It slowly takes over and makes you feel extremely anxious.
Cue your unsuspecting partner or family member who is unaware of anyone new living with you. You hurl this negative thought at them like a fast ball and they are unable to duck. It hits them square in the face and they are stunned — where the heck did that come from?
This is called projection — when you experience a negative feeling about yourself and you put it on another person. It is a way for someone to cope with emotions and thoughts that make them feel uncomfortable. Let’s break it down:
A girl has been harboring some negative feelings about herself. She thinks that she is unattractive and that her boyfriend could (and wants to) find someone better than her. The problem is she never communicated any of this to him so he has no idea.
One day, the couple gets into a disagreement about something that really shouldn’t be a big deal. The girl angrily blurts out,
“I’m just ugly and stupid. You are probably going to go out and find someone else to replace me.”
The boyfriend is stunned. He has absolutely no idea where that statement came from. More importantly, he does not feel that way and quickly tries to defend himself.
The relationship spirals — The girlfriend is convinced that her boyfriend doesn’t think she is attractive and is terrified that she will be replaced. The boyfriend keeps defending himself but eventually, he stops because he is exhausted and knows it will not help.
You can probably guess what happens next.
Projection in this form can be a damaging coping mechanism for many reasons.
Destroyer of Relationships
As described above, the act of projection, by any party involved, can cause a major breakdown in the relationship. It creates so many unnecessary feelings and causes problems that weren’t even an issue in the first place. When projection happens, a relationship you once enjoyed and got fulfillment from, can become a source of negativity and anxiety. The party being projected onto will eventually find ways to cope and none of them will be helpful in keeping the relationship alive.
Blocks Effective Communication
When someone is constantly accusing you of feelings you don’t have, it becomes very frustrating. The person might have patience at first, but it will fade fast. Simple conversations will become hostile and both parties will be on the defense. The relationship will no longer be a safe place for either party to open up. Communication is essential to the success of any relationship. Once the communication is completely lost, it is hard to come back from that.
Once projection happens, both parties will experience negative feelings and thoughts about themselves and their partner. The party that is doing the projection, who was already feeling negatively about themselves, will feel even worse after projecting those feelings. Why? Because to that person, they are validating their feelings. To them, nothing their partner says will convince them otherwise. They believe so strongly that how they feel is the truth. This creates feelings of helplessness and sadness.
For the person being projected on, they could start to feel anxious when around their partner. They could experience a hit to their self-esteem because their partner, someone who is supposed to love them, is accusing them of things they don’t feel. They will most likely experience strong feelings of resentment for their partner. No one wants to be attacked for thoughts they don’t even have.
Miss Out on Life
As both parties are dealing with the issues created by projection, they are missing out on just enjoying life. You will be so wrapped up in either defending yourself or projecting your feelings onto to your partner, that not much time and energy is left for anything enjoyable. You will find yourself spending more time arguing then laughing or having meaningful conversations.
Projection is something people use to cope. They do not want to deal with what is going on in their head. The only way to stop projection is to face the negative feelings head on and discuss them with your partner, or anyone you trust, so you don’t attack them instead. You can beat projection — it just takes time, effective communication, and being kind to yourself.