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3-Steps to Clarity: Know When You're Projecting and How to Stop

You know that old saying: what you dislike about others is what you dislike about yourself. In the heat of a challenging moment, this might be the most annoying thing anyone can say to you. Yet, it's often true.

Understanding Projection

Projection is an unconscious defense mechanism stemming from the ego. In projection, you take an unacceptable part of yourself, such as your feelings, thoughts, tendencies, and fears, disown it, and place it onto someone else. Projections contain our blind spots. Although almost everyone has engaged in projection at some point in their lives, it's often difficult to know when you're doing it.

Projection can cloud your vision and skew your perception of reality. This makes it hard to see a situation for what it is, and instead, morphs a person or situation into something it is not. When you engage in projection, you become susceptible to self-victimization and blaming other people for something you need to address within yourself.

Common Projections:

  • Fear and anxiety

  • Shame

  • Insecurities

  • Childhood pain

  • Trauma

  • Suppressed fantasies

  • Repressed desires

  • Parts of ourselves that we don't understand

  • Our parents

  • Expectations

  • Judgment

  • Unfinished business

  • Pent-up emotions

  • Core beliefs

Projecting is like dumping clutter into someone else’s living room and then hating them for being messy. It's a way to avoid the responsibility of dealing with your own emotional clutter and instead, making it someone else's fault. Projection is often a calling for self-reflection and setting healthy boundaries.

Sometimes we even project our positive qualities onto others, such as aspects of ourselves that we are unconsciously afraid to own. Just like the negative aspects, it can feel difficult to own your positive qualities, but much easier to acknowledge them in others.

Be Aware of Other People's Projections & Don't Gaslight Yourself

While it's important to determine when you're projecting, it's also essential to not take on other people's projections, and not make yourself responsible for someone else's behavior. There will be times when you encounter manipulation, uncontrolled rage, disrespect, abuse, and other boundary violations that say more about the other person than they do about you. In these situations, your response is still your responsibility, whether that includes practicing nonviolent communication, setting a boundary, or removing yourself from the situation.

Read more: Learn about codependency + boundaries and explore strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and anger.

3-Step Projection Exploration

Below, you'll find a three-step process to help you identify and explore potential areas of projection. You can apply this inquiry process to any challenging situation that comes up for you.

STEP 1: Notice if you're exhibiting these symptoms of projection:

  • Feeling overly hurt, defensive, or sensitive about something someone has said or done.

  • Allowing someone to push your buttons and get under your skin in a way that others do not.

  • Feeling highly reactive and quick to blame.

  • Difficulty being objective, getting perspective and standing in the other person's shoes.

  • Noticing that this situation or your reactivity is a recurring pattern.

STEP 2: Self-honesty.

Ask yourself these questions and write down the answers:

  • What part of my past is this person triggering?

  • Where does this send me on an emotional level?

  • What types of stories am I telling myself about this person/situation?

  • Do I feel reactive about this? If so, in what way? What do I want to do?

  • Who or what does this person or situation remind me of?

  • In what ways do I act like this person? Is there any area in my life where I also show up in this way?

  • In what ways do I not act like this person? Why is that?

  • Am I afraid that I might be like this person, or that others might think of me in this way? If yes, what's at the core of this fear?

  • What do I need to do to take care of myself right now? How can I self-soothe?

  • How can I be compassionate while also setting a healthy boundary with this person/situation?

STEP 3: Implement Boundaries and Reclaim Your Power.

This final step includes a somatic process to help you integrate the information you've gathered in the previous steps. This practice will help you to self-regulate, reclaim disowned aspects of yourself, let go of projections you may have taken on, and shift into a more objective, compassionate mindset.

  • Take 10 slow, deep belly breaths with your eyes closed to relax the body and quiet the mind.

  • As you breathe, imagine all disowned parts of yourself (your projections) coming back to you.

  • Visualize compassion as a color or symbol that surrounds your entire body.

  • Take 10 deep breaths to release other people's projections you may have taken on.

  • Imagine that each breath is clearing a path in your awareness, helping you to cultivate clarity.

  • Set the intention to implement at least one new boundary to help you deal with this situation.

  • Take 10 deep breaths to integrate and digest this experience.

  • After your meditation, write down your insights and how you feel. Follow through with the intentions and boundaries you identified.