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What is Psychological Projection?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Psychological projection is a form of defense mechanism in which someone attributes thoughts, feelings, and ideas which are perceived as undesirable to someone else. For example, someone who harbors racist ideas while believing that racism is socially undesirable might come to believe that a friend is racist, projecting his or her racism onto the other person. Projection may manifest in all kinds of ways, and while it may be a defense mechanism, it can also be very destructive.

The concept of projection was developed by Dr. Sigmund Freud, a noted figure in the field of psychology. Dr. Freud believed that people used psychological projection to reduce their own stress or feelings of guilt, thus protecting themselves psychologically. This psychological phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “Freudian projection” in reference to Dr. Freud's work in the field.

In a general sense, psychological projection can mean that people assume that other people share their thoughts or beliefs, good or bad. For example, someone who likes dogs might assume that all people like dogs, or an unfaithful spouse might conclude that everyone is unfaithful, since this would reflect his or her own experiences. As a defense mechanism, this allows people to feel more comfortable about themselves because they think they see traits in common with others.

People can also fall victim to the projection bias, in which they assume that their current mental state will remain consistent in the future. The projection bias has been studied by a number of researchers to see how psychological projection influences things like decision making and purchasing habits. For example, someone in the heat of summer often has trouble shopping for winter clothing, because he or she has a hard time imagining the need for heavy coats in the midst of bikini season.

Being aware of psychological projection in interpersonal relationships can be very important. Before attributing thoughts or ideas to someone else, you may want to reflect on whether those beliefs can also be seen in yourself. If they can, there's a chance that you might be projecting, and you may want to seek out a more reliable source on what someone else is thinking.

Projection can take a range of forms. For instance, if you find that you dislike someone, you may decide that he or she doesn't like you, responding to social norms which dictate that people should all like each other and get along. By deciding that this person doesn't like you, you can justify your decision not to like him or her, thereby setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy, because most people end up disliking the people who dislike them, even if they didn't start out that way. Projection may also cause you to assume that other people are as competent as you are at a specific task, or to think that other people share your political and social beliefs.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon998454 — On Jun 14, 2017

Quby, I will make an assumption here, but I feel it will be a correct one. Did/does you husband view pornography? Many times men and women that are addicted to pron believe people have the feelings they have about their favorite porn; ie, rape, threesomes, homosexual etc..

This all could be related to his shameful feelings of what he views pornographically, projecting to you.

By anon996586 — On Sep 15, 2016

Projection seems to be the modern day political tool of the left. For instance: "You are a racist if you want to uphold our legal immigration laws." The truth being, however, that showing preference to a large number of people of one particular ethnic group or race, giving them amnesty above the law, special immigration rights, over all other races and ethnic groups in the world, is the precise definition of 'Racism."

By anon952395 — On May 21, 2014

@Quby: Yes, do not doubt yourself on this. It is bp speaking. He, however, should do something about this and needs to go for treatment. Stay firm: no meds, no marriage. Go enjoy yourself. Bp is ugly when untreated. It destroys lives and your soul. Been there done that.

By therapizer — On Mar 28, 2014

@anon297498: Find and read the book "The Anatomy of Peace" by the Arbinger institute. It will give you the informed perspective you will need to actually resolve the conflicts between your sister and yourself instead of slipping into conflict avoidance.

The book will give you the perspective you need. It is available on audio book if you like to listen as you go, and is available in many libraries, so you don't have to buy it. A fantastic and engaging resource. If you were equipped with the resources to truly resolve the conflict with your sister, you would, wouldn't you.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

By anon298463 — On Oct 20, 2012

Please give me a bit of help! I have to comment on this statement: 'Quite often there is a great discrepancy between what many people actually think and what they say or do. State your own views on duplicity and point out what consequences such behavior may have'. I was searching things about duplicity and that's how I found this blog. Please tell me your opinions.

By anon297498 — On Oct 16, 2012

We are two sisters. I'm the youngest. We're 1 1/2 years apart, and we are absolutely different: black and white. We hardly talk to each other.

Our childhood until university was absolutely the opposite. I'm outgoing, have lots of friends, play soccer at university, had boyfriends, party -- well, a normal teenager.

My sister, on the other hand, has developed bulimia/anorexia since high school. She would stay home, didn't have many friends or boyfriends. She was always picked up in the car by my parents as soon as she finished class. I, on the other hand, took the bus. We grew to have different characters and ways of surviving life. I left home before she did, went to China and became successful, made money, traveled, had even more friends, learned to speak Chinese and got married. My sister stayed home with my mom four years longer than I did.

Now she is always telling my mother that I'm always making fun of her, that I am jealous of her and that I hate her! At one point my mom believed her and accused me once of making fun of her at my wedding party, which was the biggest lie on earth! A girl's wedding is the one day you get to be selfish, but I did not do it.

This could go on and on. I really can't deal with this anymore. I can't stop trying to understand and what to do! I don't hate my sister. I don't make fun of her and for sure, I'm not jealous of her at all. But she is turning my mom against me and it's horrible because it's all a lie! I'm not even there! I don't talk to her, ever! Is it me? Should I just walk away? By the way, talking always ends with screaming and very hurtful words.

By anon292053 — On Sep 18, 2012

@Quby: Your husband appears to be suffering from a delusional disorder (Jealous Type). This is not a common symptom of bipolarity, although people experiencing a psychotic episode in the context of mania may form grandiose delusions.

By anon265127 — On Apr 30, 2012

@anon128588: The energy you released is darkness. It is not you; it is a spirit that you are partnering with. The reason hate, etc., is the strongest energy release is because that is its true nature. Ugly pride. It will eventually destroy you because it hates you too. You are made in the image of God and this spirit hates anything that reminds it of God, like a religious lady. It will destroy you using you to get to the 'super witch'. I imagine you are a lovely person who only wants peace, love and joy and only the best for those around you. Unfortunately you have walked into a trap. There is hope and that is by meditating on God's word, like Philippians 4:4-7.

Emptying ourselves can only be done by filling ourselves with good, not ridding ourselves of bad. A dark room must be filled with light, not emptied of darkness.

Luke 11:43-45 is a scripture that shows it is a downward spiral if you are not filled with God's spirit.

Here is what you should fill yourself with instead. Read Philippians 4:8-9.

By anon253056 — On Mar 07, 2012

@post 2: Seriously? Why are you staying married to a madman?

By anon178083 — On May 19, 2011

No thought comes from outside our own minds. Once we take ownership for the very source of every one of our ideas and projections we can begin to see the truth. Anything you imagine another to be must be in you, otherwise where did you even get the concept?

By anon144801 — On Jan 20, 2011

There's this girl at school who I have a issue with. She went to middle school with me and just transferred over to my private school. She is a grade younger than I am and is constantly trying to get me to get mad at her so i get suspended or something.

I seriously don't know her train of thought but she cusses at me and flips me off but doesn't have the nerve to come to me herself. What should I do? I really want to fight her and get it over with but I'm on my way to graduating early and maintain a good reputation at that school.

By anon128588 — On Nov 19, 2010

I work with this woman, whom I consider a super witch. We interact much on the job, mostly in an amicable way. From our interactions, I've learned how scheming, duplicitous, and self-righteous she is. She claims to hold high moral and religious standards, but what she talks about and her actions indicate the opposite.

That’s why I think she is a hypocrite, a super witch.

One night, deep in meditation, I began thinking about her and got all riled up. My body was literally shaking and contorting. I concluded that I had struck a chord within myself, and that toxic energy stored within my body was surfacing, trying to release itself.

Now, I find whenever I want to assume this state of resurfacing toxic energy within me, all I do is to think about people I hate and I easily achieve this state.

Could it be that I am projecting my internal psychological states to others in orders to deny them in myself? Is this a form of psychological projection? Am I really super mean deep down? Is this technique of bringing these negative energies to my consciousness a way of ridding myself of these negative energy build-ups within myself? I practice EF periodically, but have never been able to achieve so intense energy releases.

By Quby — On Sep 12, 2010

My husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, religious preoccupation syndrome and grandiosity. For three years he has been out of treatment. He has also rapidly progressed in hyperpsychosis.

OK. On the projection side, for the last year and a half, he has been accusing me of things that are not true such as adultery, flirtation, dreaming of men in bed, cheating, lesbianism, etc.

He says throughout most of the day he is obsessed with the thought. he wants me to repent of my adulterous heart and spirit and flesh issues, but they are not real.

Well, he landed in jail due to a recent episode and I found his journal with expressions of every thought he accused me of. This was devastating that he would do this to me. He literally badgered me in an extreme, hostile tone for things that had nothing to do with my thoughts or behaviors.

Is this a part of bipolar or something else?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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