Psychological Projection - Do You Do It?
“Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions. Psychological projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings”.
Lately, I have been dealing with psychological projection in terms of my own recovery. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with my inability to get control of my eating disorder; I’ve been fighting the battle for a decade now and I’m starting to get upset that I’m still stuck. Experiencing such frustration and discouragement is bad enough; but, to add fuel to the fire, I am projecting these feelings onto the people in my life who are supporting me the most.
Let me explain myself.
I am getting frustrated with the fact that anorexia is still very present in my life. I am trying my best to push forward and be optimistic, but I am not denying that the illness still manages to make its way into my thoughts and behaviours every day. I am often left feeling anxious around food, upset when I step on the scale, and triggered by things I see and hear in the eating disorder community.
Normally, when I am feeling strong emotions, I turn to my friends and family for support. I use them as my sounding boards and vent to them about the myriad of irrational thoughts floating around in my head.
“I have to go out for dinner, and I’m nervous about the menu”.
“My therapist weighed me at my appointment and I gained weight - now, I’m upset”.
“I saw someone I know and she is clearly struggling. I feel like she deserves help, not me”.
Such thoughts are not strangers to my brain. In fact, I “hear” them quite often. I do have great friends and family who I can voice these to, and I always, always receive support when I need it. (Thank you, friends and family). But the problem with psychological projection is that I constantly think: I’m tired of still having these eating disorder thoughts, so others must be tired of hearing them, too.
Basically, I project onto others every thought and feeling I am experiencing about myself. Because I am feeling a certain way, others must be feeling that way too. I am so worried that others are fed up with me and my illness just like I am fed up with me and my illness. Because of this fear, I withhold from sharing a lot with people close to me. I am so scared that they will reject what I say on the principle that they are tired of hearing my irrational thoughts. So, I keep things to myself.
Recently, I’ve started engaging in psychological projection on members of my treatment team. I’ve been thinking that they must be feeling frustrated and annoyed with my lack of progress, and I’ve become increasingly guilt-ridden with thoughts that I am wasting their time. “They must want to stop working with me” is a thought that crosses my mind extremely often. I was beginning to think that they were losing hope in my ability to recover, and that I was not appreciative of their help, support, and suggestions. (Once again, these are thoughts I have about myself that I am projecting onto them).
I confronted my therapist last week about my fears - my fears that she is irritated with me and wants to stop working with me. Of course, my fears did not come true. Just because I am feeling a certain way does not mean others are feeling that way, too. The same goes for the few friends I have confronted about this issue. I feared I was being a burden and a constant “Negative Nancy” and that my friends were annoyed with the same old story from the anorexic. Once again, my thoughts were disproved.
Psychological projection is a defence mechanism. We are so unwilling to deal with the discomfort that accompanies our negative thoughts about ourselves, so we project all of our worst thoughts onto others, and begin to believe that they actually judge us the way we judge ourselves. In this manner, we are better able to deal with undesirable emotions because OTHERS are responsible for our misery - not ourselves. In essence, we are blaming others so we don’t have to deal with our own judgments about ourselves.
Psychological projection is something I am constantly working on. I think when we do begin to “guess” the way others are feeling, we need to confront them and verify where their heads are at. There is no shame in doing so. In my experience, it is better to ask than to continue to believe falsities.
Have you made assumptions about the way other people are thinking or feeling towards you? If yes, you may have been engaging in psychological projection. I encourage you to think about this as you navigate your relationships with other people (and your relationship with yourself). See if you can recognize yourself in this pattern of behaviour.