Projecting Feelings In Psychology (Meaning + 27 Examples)

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Published by:
Practical Psychology
Andrew English
Reviewed by:
Andrew English, Ph.D.

For many of us, projecting feelings onto others is something we do without even realizing it. We see in others the very things we cannot accept in ourselves. This tendency can negatively impact our closest relationships.

Projecting feelings is when someone unconsciously attributes their own thoughts, emotions, beliefs or motivations to another person.

This article will cover common reasons we project feelings, how to identify projection, and strategies for managing this impulsive emotional response. By becoming more aware of the role projection plays, we can have healthier relationships and improved self-understanding.

What is Projecting Feelings?

a man yelling

Projecting feelings is when someone automatically assigns their own emotions, beliefs or motivations to someone else without realizing it.

It is a way people defend themselves from difficult feelings by pushing those unwanted feelings onto others. This lets the person avoiding facing the unpleasant thoughts and emotions that are really their own.

Many people project feelings onto other people now and then without noticing. We see in our friends or partners the things about ourselves we can't accept. This habit can hurt our closest relationships.

Projection can serve different purposes:

It happens because of not understanding ourselves fully or feeling uncomfortable with certain emotions. It's easier to see the parts we don't like about ourselves in someone else rather than admit them in ourselves.

If you grew up with critical parents, you may feel inadequate a lot. When a friend gives helpful feedback, you may push those bad feelings of self-doubt onto them, thinking they are being too critical. But really, the criticism you feel is more about your own insecurities than their intention.

It provides a way to justify or make excuses for ourselves. If we can convince ourselves someone else acts or feels a certain way, it helps let us off the hook for guilt.

For example, a jealous partner may keep accusing the other of cheating. By projecting their own suspicion and jealousy, they feel it's okay to act controlling.

It makes inner issues into outer issues. We take our own uncomfortable emotions and place them onto the world around us. This gives short-term relief or a sense of the moral high ground.

For example, someone with anger issues may accuse others of being aggressive or overreacting. This gives them permission for their own outbursts.

Or let's say you have an angry outburst at work. You later feel ashamed and regretful. Rather than take responsibility for losing your temper, you project those feelings onto your colleague, convinced that they provoked you or are overreacting.

Of course, the downside is that projection rarely solves anything long-term. It just avoids the deeper self-reflection needed to deal with difficult feelings in a healthy way. Spotting our projections is the first step to taking responsibility.

27 Examples

  1. Jealousy: Sarah feels jealous of her colleague's promotion. Instead of acknowledging her own feelings, she tells her friend, "I think Jane is jealous of my close relationship with the boss."
  2. Insecurity: Mike feels insecure about his appearance. He often comments, "People must think I look out of shape."
  3. Anger: After a disagreement, Anna says, "You're always so angry!" even though she's the one who raised her voice.
  4. Fear: John is afraid of commitment. He tells his partner, "You're just scared of getting too close to someone."
  5. Guilt: After forgetting a friend's birthday, Laura says, "You probably think I'm a terrible friend."
  6. Loneliness: Feeling isolated, Mark tells his family, "You all must feel so lonely without me."
  7. Rejection: Feeling rejected by a group, Emily says, "They probably don't want me around."
  8. Sadness: Tom feels down but instead of admitting it, he asks his wife, "Why are you looking so sad today?"
  9. Anxiety: Feeling anxious about a presentation, Lisa tells her colleague, "You seem really nervous about our presentation."
  10. Disgust: Feeling repulsed by his own actions, Sam tells his friend, "You must think I'm disgusting."
  11. Shame: After making a mistake, Jake says, "Everyone must think I'm so stupid."
  12. Happiness: Feeling elated, Mary tells her sister, "You seem so happy today!"
  13. Frustration: Feeling frustrated with his own progress, Alan tells his teammate, "You must be frustrated with how slow things are moving."
  14. Confusion: Unsure about a decision, Clara tells her husband, "You seem really confused about what to do."
  15. Desire: Feeling attracted to someone, Nina says, "I think he has feelings for you."
  16. Hopelessness: Feeling down about his prospects, Paul remarks, "You must think there's no hope for me."
  17. Pride: Feeling proud of an achievement, David tells his friend, "You must be so proud of what you did."
  18. Embarrassment: After an awkward moment, Lisa says, "You probably think that was so embarrassing."
  19. Resentment: Feeling resentful about a situation, Chris tells his partner, "You must resent me for that."
  20. Relief: Feeling relieved after a stressful situation, Amy tells her friend, "You must feel so relieved now."
  21. Envy: Feeling envious of someone's success, Gary says, "You must be envious of her achievements."
  22. Desperation: Feeling desperate, Olivia tells her friend, "You seem so desperate to make things work."
  23. Boredom: Feeling bored at a party, Jack says, "You must be bored out of your mind here."
  24. Excitement: Feeling excited about a trip, Emma tells her brother, "You must be so excited about your upcoming vacation."
  25. Regret: Feeling regretful about a past action, Ben says, "You probably regret ever meeting me."
  26. Disappointment: Feeling disappointed about a result, Rachel says, "You must be so disappointed in me."
  27. Distrust: Feeling distrustful, Alex tells his colleague, "You probably don't trust me with this project."

How Projection Affects Relationships

Projection can have a significant impact on our closest relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners. When we constantly project our feelings and issues onto others, it creates misunderstandings and emotional distance in relationships.

If you are prone to projecting, you may often feel hurt, criticized, or angry with your loved ones for things they haven't actually said or done.

You might assume they are acting with bad intent or trying to manipulate you, when in reality you are projecting your own motivations onto them.

This puts relationships under constant strain. Your loved ones feel confused and frustrated that you are attributing feelings or motivations to them that they don't actually have.

They have to defend themselves against your complaints and walk on eggshells to avoid triggering projections.

A hallmark of projection is conflict over differing perceptions of the same situation.

For example, a projector accuses their partner of being distant and uncaring because that reflects how the projector feels deep down.

But in reality, the partner has been showing love in their own way. This leads to the partner feeling misunderstood and unappreciated.

If projection becomes a pattern, loved ones may start doubting their own feelings and perceptions. They feel deep confusion about what is real, as they get blamed for thoughts and feelings that exist only in the projector’s mind. This can erode self-esteem and trust over time.

Learning to identify when we are projecting can help prevent unnecessary conflicts and restore understanding in our closest relationships.

Recognizing When You Are Projecting

Since projection is an unconscious process, it can be hard to recognize when someone is projecting onto others. Here are some signs that you may be projecting your own feelings onto others:

  • You feel hurt by perceived slights that others claim they didn't intend. For example, you feel your partner was ignoring you or being inconsiderate, but they are confused by your accusation. Chances are you projected your own insecurities and attributed them to your partner's behavior.
  • Your reactions seem out of proportion to the situation. If you explode in anger or become inconsolable based on a minor comment or insignificant action from someone else, it’s likely you are projecting intense emotions onto them that really come from within.
  • You do the very things you criticize others for. For instance, you constantly accuse others of being selfish, only to be told that you yourself behave selfishly. Often when we criticize traits in others, it’s because we see that flaw in ourselves.
  • Friends/family behave differently around you. If those close to you seem to tiptoe around certain topics or walk on eggshells around you, they may be altering their behavior to avoid triggering your projections.
  • You feel suspicious and mistrustful of others' motives. You may continually accuse loved ones of disloyalty or deception. These suspicions in fact come from your own issues with trust and honesty.

The first step to overcoming excessive projection is tuning into these signs and catching yourself in the act. This increased self-awareness can help separate external realities from your own inner projections.

The Role of Insecurity in Projection

strict family

At the heart of psychological projection lies insecurity. We tend to project onto others those feelings we can't accept in ourselves.

Projection serves as a defense mechanism to cope with internal emotional wounds or parts of ourselves we dislike.

Common personal insecurities that can cause narcissistic tendencies and projection include:

Low self-esteem - If you suffer from poor self-image or lack self-confidence, you may project unwanted flaws or weaknesses onto those around you. This provides temporary relief from facing your own feelings of inadequacy.

Trust issues - If you have been betrayed or hurt in the past, you may struggle with paranoia and project your own distrust onto friends or romantic partners. Accusing them of disloyalty defends you against fully acknowledging your own trust issues.

Anger problems - Individuals with difficulty managing anger often claim others are aggressive or overreacting while denying their own temper. Projecting anger outward helps deflect from their own loss of control.

Guilt - People who feel guilt over something they've done may attribute blame or ill intentions to others. This projection helps justify their own negative feelings and avoids taking responsibility.

Shame - Those who feel deep shame about themselves, often due to strict upbringings, are prone to projection. Shaming others temporarily relieves their own feelings of inadequacy.

By becoming aware of our deepest insecurities, we can start catching our projections and separating our own distorted perceptions from reality. This self-insight is the path to overcoming projection's hold over us.

Projection as a Defense Mechanism

According to psychological theory, projection serves as a defense mechanism to protect the ego or sense of self. Defense mechanisms are unconscious coping strategies the mind uses to deal with emotional conflict and anxiety.

Some key aspects of projection as a defense mechanisms are:

  • Projection lets us take uncomfortable inner feelings and give them to others. This temporarily relieves anxiety.
  • Blaming outside things for our bad feelings helps make those feelings seem justified. For example, believing others are aggressive allows us to project anger onto them.
  • Projection stops us from admitting flaws or faults in ourselves. By keeping unwanted traits separate from how we see ourselves, our self-image stays intact.
  • Projection distorts reality to control difficult emotions and make them more manageable. Even if inaccurate, projection eases psychological stress.
  • Early life experiences often set up later projection. Children taught negative emotions are bad by a family member may use projection to avoid punishment or disapproval.
  • Projection avoids dealing with our own issues. By focusing on others' supposed faults, we don't have to look at our own faults.

Understanding projection as an unconscious defense mechanism can help us unravel this complex emotional habit. The goal is not to eliminate defenses but to regulate them for healthier functioning.

How to Stop Projecting

Breaking the projection habit takes commitment, courage and self-compassion. Here are some tips for overcoming the tendency to project your feelings onto others:

Practice self-awareness - Catch yourself in the act of projection through tuning into feelings of suspicion, blame or anger. Ask yourself, "Is this feeling coming from the other person's actions or my own inner state?"

Check in regularly with your emotional state. Don't ignore difficult feelings or wait until they explode. When you notice anger, hurt or insecurity arising, sit with the feeling rather than instantly look for external causes.

Ask yourself "Is this feeling familiar?" Tracing it to past experiences can reveal emotional patterns.

Separate perceptions from projections - Just because you feel something does not mean it's objectively real. Your perceptions reveal more about your inner world than outer reality. Train yourself to recognize this distinction.

Separate immediate feelings from the stories the mind generates about them. Our perceptions of situations often fuel emotions.

Take responsibility for your feelings - Don't look to others to validate or alter how you feel. Your emotions belong to you; own them rather than wrongly attributing them.

Communicate directly - Avoid accusations or assigning motives. Use "I feel..." statements to take responsibility for your experience. Ask clarifying questions rather than assume you know others' intents.

Apologize when your projections cause harm. Take responsibility for the impacts, not just intentions. Learn how to communicate more clearly.

Examine your insecurities - Explore where feelings of mistrust, anger or inadequacy come from. Understanding these insecurities helps prevent unconscious projection.

If a conversation with someone stirs up intense feelings, ask yourself what old wounds it may be triggering. Feelings can stem from past and present.

Practice mindfulness - Meditation and inner reflection help develop self-knowledge and reality-based thinking, reducing the need for projection.

Seek counseling - Working with a therapist provides guidance in improving self-awareness and managing difficult emotions productively. Online therapy or in person therapy can both help.

With consistent effort, you can break projection patterns. The result is healthier relationships and emotional freedom.

The Risks of Projection in Therapy

a woman and her shadow

Projection poses unique risks and challenges in the therapy relationship. Clients often transfer feelings and assumptions onto their therapists, which can harm the therapeutic process if unchecked.

Common projections clients make include:

  • Assuming the therapist is judging, dismissing or not understanding them based on the client's own inner critic.
  • Believing the therapist is distracted or uncaring because of the client's fear of abandonment.
  • Projecting their own anger and blame onto the therapist when feeling confronted or challenged on personal issues.
  • Transferring feelings about a parent or past abuser onto the therapist, responding as if the therapist is that person.
  • Viewing the therapist through the lens of romantic fantasies or sexual feelings.

These projections can ruin therapy by causing mistrust, resistance, and bad communication. The client then relates to the therapist based on projections, not the real person.

The mental health counselor has to balance validating clients’ feelings while correcting wrong assumptions. Gently showing the differences between projections and reality helps maintain the therapeutic relationship.

Carefully handled, projection can provide a chance for clients to gain more insight and self-awareness.

Helping Clients Deal with Projection

As a therapist, how can you help clients who project too much?

  • Increase awareness - Help clients notice when they are projecting as it happens. Point out when their assumptions don’t match reality.
  • Explore the purpose - Look at what need projection serves psychologically. How does projecting outward give relief or protection?
  • Separate past and present - Projection often comes from past wounds or physical or emotional abuse. Show how relating to you differs from authority figures in their past.
  • Test reality - Ask if their assumptions have factual proof or just feeling.
  • Focus on self-control - Rather than change others, help clients learn to manage their emotions and discomfort mindfully.
  • Set boundaries - If projection disrupts your work, set limits on accusatory language but validate the projected feelings.
  • Model accountability - Take responsibility for your mistakes rather than defending. Show how to own feelings and apologize for impacts.

With patience and compassion, therapists can turn projection into a chance to heal old wounds and increase self-awareness. The goal is to help clients accept the uncomfortable feelings and work on personal growth.

The Healthy Alternative to Projection

The alternative to projecting our unwanted emotions onto others is to develop self-awareness, responsibility, and self-compassion. Here are some healthy practices to replace projection:

Practicing mindfulness - Tune into your moment-to-moment emotional experience with curiosity and non-judgment. Become aware of feelings without needing to act on them.

Developing emotional vocabulary - Build your ability to identify and express a range of emotions so you can communicate them better.

Owning your feelings - Rather than look for external causes, accept responsibility for your own life and inner experiences. Own even socially undesirable emotions as temporary states that will pass.

Healthy introspection - Through therapy and reflection, work to understand your core wounds, attachment patterns, and triggers. Gain insight into the roots of painful emotions.

Reality-testing perceptions - Before accusing others, check your assumptions against the facts. Ask clarifying questions to understand different perspectives.

Managing unpleasant emotions - Build distress tolerance and self-soothing skills to handle anger, hurt or shame when they arise.

Practicing self-compassion - Treat yourself with the same empathy, care and validation you desire from others. Heal feelings of inadequacy through self-love.

With commitment to these practices, projecting unwanted emotions outward can transform into opportunities for self-discovery, wisdom and inner security.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Projection

  1. What is projecting feelings?

Projecting feelings is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism where someone attributes their own unacceptable emotions or motives to another person. It allows avoiding ownership of unwanted inner experiences.

  1. Why do people project feelings onto others?

People often project because they lack self-awareness or feel intense discomfort with certain emotions like anger, insecurity, jealousy or shame. Projecting these onto others provides temporary relief or justification. Early childhood experiences can also lead to projection as a defensive strategy later in life.

  1. How can projection damage relationships?

Excessive projection strains relationships by creating misunderstandings, false accusations, and emotional distance between partners, friends or family members. Those on the receiving end feel bewildered and frustrated at being assigned feelings that aren't their own. Over time, constantly being misperceived can erode a loved one's self-esteem and trust.

  1. How do I know if I'm projecting my feelings?

Signs of projection include overreacting to minor issues, criticizing others for flaws you have, hurting loved ones with assumptions they claim are untrue, and constantly feeling suspicious or mistrustful of others' motives. People close to you may also start walking on eggshells to avoid triggering projections.

  1. What is the healthy alternative to projecting?

Alternatives include practicing mindfulness, developing emotional awareness, taking responsibility for your feelings, reality testing perceptions, and building distress tolerance and self-compassion skills. The goal is self-understanding rather than making others responsible for your emotional state.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, October). Projecting Feelings In Psychology (Meaning + 27 Examples). Retrieved from

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