Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person unconsciously denies their own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings.
Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted unconscious impulses or desires without letting the conscious mind recognize them.
An example of this behavior might be blaming another for self failure. The mind may avoid the discomfort of consciously admitting personal faults by keeping those feelings unconscious, and redirect their libidinal satisfaction by attaching, or "projecting," those same faults onto another.
The theory was developed by Sigmund Freud - in his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, '"Draft H" deals with projection as a mechanism of defence' - and further refined by his daughter Anna Freud; for this reason, it is sometimes referred to as Freudian Projection.
According to Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one "projects" one's own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. 'Emotions or excitations which the ego tries to ward off are "spit out" and then felt as being outside the ego...perceived in another person'. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree. The related defence of 'projective identification differs from projection in that the impulse projected onto an external object does not appear as something alien and distant from the ego because the connection of the self with that projected impulse continues'.
To understand the process, consider a person in a couple who has thoughts of infidelity. Instead of dealing with these undesirable thoughts consciously, they unconsciously project these feelings onto the other person, and begin to think that the other has thoughts of infidelity and may be having an affair. Thus one can obtain 'acquittal by his conscience - if he projects his own impulses to faithlessness on to the partner to whom he owes faith'. In this sense, projection is related to denial, arguably the only defense mechanism that is more primitive than projection. Projection, like all defense mechanisms, provides a function whereby a person can protect their conscious mind from a feeling that is otherwise repulsive.
Projection can also be established as a means of obtaining or justifying certain actions that would normally be found atrocious or heinous. This often means projecting false accusations, information, etc. onto an individual for the sole purpose of maintaining a self-created illusion. One of the many problems with the process whereby 'something dangerous that is felt inside can be moved outside - a process of "projection"' - is that as a result 'the projector may become somewhat depleted and rendered limp in character, as he loses part of his personality'.
Compartmentalization, splitting and projection are ways that the ego continues to pretend that it is completely in control at all times, when in reality human experience is one of shifting beingness, instinctual or territorial reactiveness and emotional motives, for which the "I" is not always complicit. Further, common in deep trauma, individuals can be unable to access truthful memories, intentions and experiences, even about their own nature, wherein projection is just one tool.
The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach based his theory of religion in large part upon the idea of projection, i.e., the idea that an anthropomorphic deity is the outward projection of man's anxieties and desires.
Psychological projection is the subject of Robert Bly's book A Little Book on the Human Shadow. The "Shadow"—a term used in Jungian psychology to describe a variety of psychological projection—refers to the projected material. Jungians consider that 'Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals'. Marie-Louise Von Franz extended the view of projection to cover phenomena in Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths: "... wherever known reality stops, where we touch the unknown, there we project an archetypal image".
Psychological projection is one of the medical explanations of bewitchment that attempts to diagnose the behavior of the afflicted children at Salem in 1692. The historian John Demos asserts that the symptoms of bewitchment experienced by the afflicted girls in Salem during the witchcraft crisis were because the girls were undergoing psychological projection. Demos argues the girls had convulsive fits caused by repressed aggression and were able to project this aggression without blame because of the speculation of witchcraft and bewitchment.
When addressing psychological trauma the defense mechanism is sometimes counter-projection, including an obsession to continue and remain in a recurring trauma-causing situation and the compulsive obsession with the perceived perpetrator of the trauma or its projection.
Jung writes that "All projections provoke counter-projection when the object is unconscious of the quality projected upon it by the subject."
In psychopathology, projection is an especially commonly used defense mechanism in people with certain personality disorders: 'Patients with paranoid personalities, for example, use projection as a primary defense because it allows them to disavow unpleasant feelings and attribute them to others'.
Indeed, all 'the primitive defenses, such as splitting, [projection] and projective identification, are commonly connected with primitively organized personalities, such as borderline personality disorder'.
Drawing on the theory that 'the individual "projects" something of himself or herself into everything he or she does, in line with Gordon Allport's concept of expressive behaviour', projective techniques have been devised to aid personality assessment. 'The two best-known projective techniques are the Rorschach ink-blots and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)'.
- Wade, Tavris "Psychology" Sixth Edition Prentice Hall 2000 ISBN 0-321-04931-4
- Jean-Michel Quinodoz, Reading Freud (London 2005) p. 24
- Shepard Simon. Basic Psychological Mechanisms: Neurosis and Projection. The Heretical Press. Retrieved on March 07, 2008.
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 146
- "Defenses". www.psychpage.com. http://www.psychpage.com/learning/library/counseling/defenses.html. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
- Otto F. Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (London 1990) p. 56
- Sigmund Freud, On Psychopathology (Middlesex 1987) p. 198
- R. Appignanesi ed., Introducing Melanie Klein (Cambridge 2006) p. 115 and p. 126
- Trauma and Projection
- Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time, page 281n
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Jungian Projection
- Carl G. Jung ed., Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 181
- Karl Wolfe Psychological Projection
- John Demos, "Underlying Themes in the Witchcraft of Seventeenth-Century New England," American Historical Review 75, no. 5 (June, 1970):1322.
- Glen O. Gabbard, Long-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (London 2010) p. 33
- Gabbard, Psychotherapy p.33
- B. Semeonoff, "Projective Techniques", in Richard Gregory ed, The Oxford Companion to the Mind (Oxford 1987) p. 646
- Semeonoff, Mind p. 646
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