Projection is when an individual unconsciously projects their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors onto someone else.

Sigmund Freud first introduced defense mechanisms, which include projection. These are ways people adapt to cope with and decrease internal stress.

There are various ways and circumstances in which someone might project onto another person.

This article further explores projection. It also explores examples of projection and why people project. Finally, it discusses ways an individual may be able to stop projecting onto others.

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Sigmund Freud first introduced the idea of defense mechanisms in the 19th century.

Later, his daughter, Anna, further defined defense mechanisms as unconscious resources that the ego can use to decrease a person’s internal stress. People learn these mechanisms to protect themselves from their internal conflicts.

Projection is one type of defense mechanism. It occurs when a person projects their feelings, behaviors, or thoughts onto someone else. They typically do this unconsciously.

There are three types of projection:

  • Complementary projection: This is when a person assumes that others already share their beliefs.
  • Complimentary projection: This is when someone assumes others have the same level of abilities that they do.
  • Neurotic projection: This is when an individual assigns undesirable feelings or emotions to someone else.

Learn more about defense mechanisms.

Projection can present in various ways — it does not only have to be in speech form. Sometimes, someone’s actions can also be a form of projection.

For example, if an individual throws a party and only serves meat-based dishes, assuming everyone else likes and eats meat, this is a form of projection.

Often, statements can show that someone is projecting.

StatementFeeling being projected
“I know they don’t like me.”The individual may not like the other person.
“I can do it, so can you.” The individual may be assuming everyone has the same level of ability as they do.
“She’s wearing far too much makeup.”This may show that the individual has insecurities about their makeup and abilities.
“Why are you so angry?”The individual may be frustrated and irritable with the other person or in general from their day.
“They’re so stuck up.” The individual may feel unhappy that the other person has not paid attention to them.

Experts consider defense mechanisms an important part of understanding human development. They divide defense mechanisms into a hierarchy of categories.

The most common category is immature defensive. These types of defense mechanisms include projection, passive aggression, and devaluation of self-image. A person’s defense mechanisms can give insight into their level of adaptiveness.

This means people may use projection in the belief that it will help them reduce their internal stressors and adapt easier to stressful situations.

It is possible for projection to occur without an underlying mental health condition. Stress and life choices can cause a person to project.

However, projection can also be a sign or symptom of mental health conditions. This is particularly true in personality disorders.

Research shows that individuals with certain personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), may use projection and other defense mechanisms more excessively than those without a personality disorder.

If projection occurs due to a mental health condition, such as BPD or NPD, treating the underlying condition may also reduce projection. Treatments for personality disorders can include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two.

Projection can occur when a person is unaware it is happening. Self-awareness and recognizing it occurs may help an individual address it and prevent it from happening in the future.

Practicing mindfulness may also help an individual become more aware of projection. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that focuses on turning a person’s attention to the present moment and the thoughts, feelings, and emotions they are experiencing. It then teaches them to observe those sensations and feelings without judgment. It can also help a person build their self-awareness.

Projection occurs when an individual unconsciously projects their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors onto someone else.

This defense mechanism can occur without an underlying mental health condition. Stress and lifestyle choices can cause someone to project.

However, it is also common in those with personality disorders such as BPD and NPD.

Treating underlying mental health conditions, self-awareness, and mindfulness can all help stop and prevent projection.