If so, you’re probably already aware of the issues that many people tend to project onto others instead of dealing with them themselves.
What is a bit more difficult to navigate is the awareness of when we might be doing so. It is sometimes possible to look back over a situation with enough mental distance and perspective to identify instances where you’ve projected onto others; where you can add some retrospective objectivity to your view.
It is, however, much harder to hold this same awareness in the present moment. Harder… but not impossible.
Here are some tips to help you identify when you might be projecting feelings onto other people.
If you find that you’re having a knee-jerk reaction to someone’s behavior, or if you’re feeling strong emotions that seem to be coming out of nowhere, give yourself a time-out and a biscuit and see if you can be objective about your own thoughts and reactions.
Are you feeling angry because your partner is wasting time and being lazy? Okay, analyze that for a moment: is it because there’s domestic work to do and you feel like you’re doing more than your fair share to make up for their supposed laziness? Or is it because they’re taking some much-needed downtime and you don’t give yourself permission to do the same when you need it, so you’re acting out of resentment?
We often lash out at people for behaviors in ourselves that we don’t like, but we can also lose our sh*t at them if they’re engaging in something that we’d want to do, but don’t allow ourselves to indulge in. An example of this might be condemning a friend for eating ice cream when we’re trying to stick to a diet.
It can be difficult to withdraw emotionally and try to analyze where our reactions are coming from, but if you’re able to really be honest with yourself about why you’ve suddenly welled up with anger and frustration, you may be able to diffuse it with self-compassion and understanding.
Take Note Of Your Body
We often project things onto others when we have repressed anger, guilt, shame, or other emotions that we’ve convinced ourselves are “bad" and thatdon’t have a right to exist.
Instead of acknowledging these feelings and dealing with them in a way that’s healthy and productive, we repress them. The problem with doing so is that those swallowed emotions don’t just disappear when we stop paying attention to them. We push them away, deep down into the void of our unconscious, and since they’re not allowed to be released in a healthy manner, they manifest in less delightful ways.
You may find that your neck and shoulders ache from tensing up and clenching your jaw, or you may have a persistent headache that just won’t ease up. Use your fingertips and check for tightness across your brow or around your eyes. Do you feel pain or tenderness there? You may be frowning in your sleep and aren’t even aware that you’re doing so.
Have you been having stomach or intestinal issues? Stress held in the abdomen can cause all kinds of belly dismay. Insomnia, muscle twitches/spasms, loss of libido, kidney stones… any number of physical woes can be caused by repressed emotion.
If you’ve been suffering from any of these, you might wish to take some time and make yourself really aware of what may be causing them. Health problems don’t just spring up out of nowhere: they all have causes, and if you can figure out the emotional or mental triggers for them, you can ameliorate them in turn.
A person who is attracted to someone other than his or her partner may accuse said partner of flirting or infidelity, while dealing with low sex drive or discomfort with intimacy. Someone who condemns another for their eating habits may deal with gastro issues. It’s amazing to discover how emotional and mental stress can nestle into our bodies in countless different ways and make everything so much worse.
Let’s say that you’re fighting with your partner and you accuse them of being passive-aggressive or manipulative. When emotions are heated, accusations can get flung in all directions, so it’s important to go take a walk or a shower or something to calm down. Then you can negotiate the situation calmly and respectfully.
While you’re taking time for yourself, be very honest about why you’ve accused them of a particular behavior. Did they truly exhibit it? Or are you feeling guilty because that’s how you’ve been treating them, so you’re projecting it in their direction instead of acknowledging your own shortcomings?
A pang of guilt in your belly that comes from saying something that you know isn’t true, can be a damned good indicator that you’re projecting your own crap onto the other person. Usually, when we talk about something that rings with Truth, we feel whole and confident about what it is we’re discussing. It feels right to mention it, and after we discuss it with another person, we feel a sense of “rightness" or a lightening of the spirit.
In contrast, when we talk about something that we know deep down is less than honest, a sort of sourness can ensue. This can manifest as a tightness in your throat, or shifty twitchiness, or whatever personal tics you recognize that you exhibit when and if you lie.
It’s very difficult to own up to dishonesty – even if it’s unintentional – especially if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or emotionally distraught. But if you care about the person with whom you’re interacting, it’d be nice to respect them enough to acknowledge that behavior and own your own crap instead of flinging it in their direction.
Being present and mindful can be a lot of help when it comes to projection: when and if you find yourself freaking out about something, bring your attention back to the present moment. Focus on your breathing, and once you’re feeling more grounded, try to determine – honestly – where those thoughts might have come from.
Try to do so with gentleness and compassion, and forgive yourself for the momentary sh*t-losing. We’re all muddling through as best we can, but being able to be honest with ourselves about our reactions and behaviors can help us evolve exponentially into the amazing, glittery unicorns we’re all capable of becoming.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.