The Trickery of Projection
Projection is a psychological mechanism often responsible for damaging our self-esteem, relationships, and everyday social interactions. Despite the impact it can have on our wellbeing, we are typically completely oblivious as to when we are projecting. So what is it and why do we do it?
Simply put, projection is the tendency to cast a negative belief about ourselves onto other people, so that we perceive the belief as coming from someone else. For example: A person who is self-conscious of a small birthmark on their face will project their unhappiness with it onto others, believing that everyone they interact with is staring at their birthmark or disgusted by it. In reality, other people likely will not have noticed the birthmark or have any negative opinion of it, but projection makes us believe otherwise.
Other classic examples of negative beliefs we project onto others include:
“They think I’m boring”
“They think I’m a disappointment”
“They think I’m overweight”
“They think I’m stupid”
“They think I’m unattractive”
“They think I’m not good enough”
“They think I’m unsuccessful”
“They think I’m weak”
All of these examples are projections I regularly encounter in patients undergoing therapy. They are extremely limiting beliefs that typically lead to low confidence and low self-worth. In all cases, a patient will struggle to recognise at first that the negative belief is simply their own and not shared by others. So why does the mind hide this from us?
Projection is in fact a defence mechanism designed to protect our self-esteem from the negative and critical beliefs we have about ourselves. The unconscious mind does not like to have a negative opinion of itself, and therefore projects these opinions away to make us believe they are not our own. Unfortunately, we are often so influenced by the opinions of others that the negative beliefs continue to harm our self-regard, causing the defence mechanism to fail.
So how do we override this troublesome mechanism?
The most straightforward answer is to challenge it. When we catch ourselves assuming that another person has a poor opinion of us, we must take the time to question it:
· Is there any evidence that that person has such a negative opinion?
· Do they have a genuine reason to have such a negative belief about us?
· Do we feel the same way about our self?
These simple questions allow us to break the illusion of projection and understand that the negative beliefs are areas we simply need to work on in ourselves. It is significantly easier to address and challenge a poor opinion of our self when we realise that others do not share it, and may in fact have very positive regard for us instead.
Try this technique for yourself and see how often you catch projection at play. For further help with strengthening self-confidence and overcoming social phobia, contact the practice today.