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  • Writer's pictureMelisa De Seguirant

Ideas for Understanding & Managing Projections in Relationships


It’s one of those terms that has made its way out of the therapy space and into the mainstream, so let’s unpack it!


 

What are projections? What is their function? Why do they matter? How do we work with them, or at least be mindful of their impact on our relationships?


 

Projection in a nutshell, is a term used to describe the psychological process by which a person displaces their own (usually unwanted) experience onto someone or something else, typically as an unconscious defense mechanism.



Scroll for some more ideas to get you started...


 




Looking in the mirror...


Working with our projections requires self-reflection, and the emotional tolerance to confront the uncomfortable feelings and beliefs we hold. If we neglect this work, we are more likely to spew our discomfort out onto others, in the form of projections.




EXAMPLES ~


➡️ If you hold a belief that everyone else “is a liar”, what is YOUR relationship to the truth? Are you habitually dishonest with people? How does your own dishonesty impact your ability to trust others?


➡️ Perhaps you believe that someone at work is “in competition” with you. Are you subconsciously competing with them? What happens if you stop? Is it possible your own insecurities in the workplace are creating the competitive energy that you are experiencing?


➡️ Are you feeling especially insecure in your romantic relationships and convinced your partner(s) are being unfaithful to you? Have YOU been faithful and transparent with them? If not, it’s possible you are projecting your own experience onto your partner(s). Admitting your true feelings will help you to show up more authentically in your relationships,and foster the trust needed to sustain them.



IMPORTANT ~


Be mindful of HOW you confront your projections. Are you meeting yourself with judgment and shame? If so, consider how that shame could leak out and become unconsciously projected back onto someone else. Meeting our projections with compassion and understanding rather than shame and frustration can also help encourage us to stay with the work rather than avoid it. 


 



Narrative therapy gets it right with helping us identify the stories we are telling ourselves. This is essentially what projections are, stories we make up about others based on our own feelings and experiences.


One way to begin to work with projections is to begin to notice those stories. Start with the above phrase or something similar, “The story I am telling myself is …”, “What I am imagining is…”



Next it comes time for reflection. What are the thoughts and feelings you have about yourself that might be the foundation for the stories you are telling yourself about other people?



 


HOT TAKE ~ Demonstrating awareness of your projections is sexy!!! 


Making your projections explicit is a great way to demonstrate awareness to the people you are in relationship with, and create space for multiple truths to exist. This may even invite others to notice their own projections and stories, and offer them up to the discussion. We ALL have cognitive biases and problematic thought patterns, if we can embrace this with vulnerability and curiosity we can learn to work with them rather than against them.






Let’s NORMALIZE projection for a moment!


We all do it, it’s inevitable. Instead of taking on the impossible goal of ‘getting rid’ of your projections altogether (seriously, it doesn’t work), focus on increasing awareness of your projections so that you can navigate them more mindfully in the present moment. 


 


CONSIDER THIS ~ Mental health terminology, theories and concepts do us little good if our goal for ourselves and others is perfection. 


Does your therapist demand perfection from you? If so, check in and see if you are projecting that onto them. It’s common for motivated therapy clients to want to be “good students” and “get it right”, assuming their therapist will come down hard on them when they inevitably show their humanity and “screw up”. Process this with your therapist and unpack what might be underneath it!



 

HOT TAKE ~ Good therapists value awareness and growth, not perfection.

GREAT therapists view perfectionism as a weapon of the oppressor that has no business anywhere near healing spaces.


 

SO, work with your projections, not against them. Accept that this is something your brain naturally does, get curious about it, and see how often you can notice it happening. Begin to learn how to challenge the stories you make up about other people based on your own feelings, fears and insecurities. Get support from a professional if this work becomes distressing so that you do not have to undergo it alone. Have compassion for yourself and even for your defenses.


💡 What are YOUR ideas?


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