Projection is a process psychologists define as attributing traits we strongly dislike in ourselves to other people. This can be a result of, but also leads to, hurtful feelings like sadness, anger, frustration or fear. It is a defense mechanism of the mind that wants us to feel validated, recognized, valued or loved but leads to an imbalance inside our heart and mind.
Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. who wrote the book “Why Do I Do That?” Explained that “Parts of ourselves don’t simply disappear when we disown them.”
As a matter of fact, when you project insecurities, traits or bad habits on someone else, seeing the person can trigger negative thoughts and behaviors.
Trying to deflect or ignore things that are actually coming from inside our minds can make us lose sight of our inner self and puts our spiritual balance at stake. Learning how to identify projection and what triggers it, can provide a solution to stop it in its tracks. Following these five steps, you will be able to heal jeopardized relationships and free yourself for a renewed sense of balance and peace.
Step 1: Identify the circumstances that often lead to projection
Identifying the situations that most often lead you to projection is the most crucial step in breaking the habit of projection. Lots of things can trigger projection in the mind; your environment, a behavior or a habit you have towards yourself or others, a memory, or a specific topic in a discussion.
Many things can trigger projection. Always remember: projection starts in the mind but you can free yourself from it. It can be spontaneous, it can be a result of overthinking but you are not alone. Projection is a very common behavior and a coping mechanism that is very easy to adopt because it seems to feel good in the moment. Resisting it and trying to be a few steps ahead of your thoughts, before they form into actual reasoning and soon destructive feelings can save you from projecting.
Step 2: When confronting a triggering situation, be wary of your thoughts.
How wonderful would it be to be perfectly in sync with your heart and mind and be a few steps ahead of everything that is happening inside you, feeling free? Being able to identify behaviors or situations that might result in projection or overreaction can sometimes feel unreachable or as though some kind of superpower is necessary. Remember that our instinctive reactions can always be tamed and worked on.
To avoid letting these thoughts eat at your soul and make you say words you might regret to close friends, family or colleagues, let’s work on how to understand thought processes connected to projection.
For example: if a usually reliable close friend who had committed to taking you to an appointment cancels at the last minute because they are feeling down, you might feel triggered and notice projections and judgments of them start to form in your mind. You might notice thoughts like: “How could they do that to me? What am I going to do now about this appointment? I really thought I could count on them”. Before you yield to temptation and verbalize this to a friend, let’s take a look at our step number three.
Step 3: Hold your thoughts accountable and confront them.
Sometimes, we need to hold ourselves accountable. Specifically, in the case of projection, we need to hold our projections accountable, call them out and confront them. If needed, confront yourself in the mirror and notice what is happening within your mind: “I am feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed and anxious. I am not going to project my own issues and insecurities onto someone else who truly do not deserve this type of treatment or reaction”.
Even if it is difficult and complicated, naming projection and admitting to our behaviors for exactly what they are is a step forward to controlling the tendency of projection and setting ourselves free.
Step 4: Identify what purpose the projection is serving
By asking ourselves what need we would be meeting by projecting on someone else, we are able to identify the emotional needs our behaviors are trying to meet. When our emotions become clearer, we can finally choose to orientate our behaviors towards the better and choose alternative ones that are going to be less destructive towards ourselves and others.
Step 5: Find productive behaviors that could fulfill the same need
Whether projection fulfills our need for recognition, validation or attention for example, we can still ask ourselves what alternative could possibly satisfy those needs. There are many creative and inspiring ways to turn negative thoughts and behaviors into positive mindsets and outcomes.
Putting all of these steps into action is going to be a minefield at first. Projection is a very common behavior that a lot of us adopt without even being conscious of it. With practice and dedication, keeping an open mind and your heart present, you will find a path to resolution and peace both with yourselves and others around you. Projection can be hurtful for the ones we love but also for ourselves, it can inject more venom into a situation than necessary. Self-questioning and being true to yourself in critical moments will create a clear path for progress and improvement. Knowing yourself better is always the key to a healthier and more balanced soul and life.
A few challenges to overcome for greater balance and renewal
Here are some challenges that we all face that trigger projection the most. They are heavy and powerful concepts that create tricky and treacherous situations in our lives. Learning how to identify them and allowing yourself to feel what is coming from these challenges inside your body and soul will be a crucial step to moving forward and being free.
Here are a few challenging triggers :
Lack of awareness
Shortcomings (our own and others)
To counterbalance these negative and heavy triggers on your heart, there are a lot of strategies and techniques that you can put into place in order to process emotions, feel things in a natural way and put some distance between the triggers and yourself.
Here are some ideas for finding balance:
Observe your body, feel emotions with your body.
Look inward and meditate. Practice self-reflection.
Be a mirror to the other’s feelings, hold space for them.
Identify your feelings of fatigue, preoccupation or anxiety.
Calm yourself and connect to your inner truth (feel free to practice yoga, journaling, meditation…)
Acknowledge the other and your feelings. Be true to yourself.
Be patient with yourself and remember that you are not the mistakes you make.
Overcoming these challenges and looking inward can help us avoid the trap of projection and its dangers. By looking inward and then outward, we embrace a more balanced, renewed soul.