Projections are one of our many defense mechanisms that get activated by a host of different thoughts and feelings. Have you ever blamed or been the recipient of blame for something that you didn’t think or feel? I would imagine undoubtedly the answer is yes. Projection is a defense against unwanted feelings displaced or projected onto another person. This looks something like this: You experience uncomfortable, unacceptable, or embarrassing emotions or qualities that you don’t want to feel; therefore you project them onto other people to carry them for you.
For example, you may project that someone doesn’t like you when in fact you are the one that doesn’t like them. If you have a belief system that states you should like everyone, projecting that someone doesn’t like you protects you against not liking him or her because after all, they don’t like you, right? (wrong). Here’s another common example; you may accuse your partner of cheating when in fact you are the one cheating or fantasizing about it.
We are often not good at sitting in and feeling our own pain. We alleviate that pain by letting others hold it for us. While this tactic may feel good in the moment, it isn’t long lasting nor is it a solution. So what do we do about those icky feelings we want to rid ourselves of?
1) Recognize Triggers: When we are triggered we become, according to Daniel Goleman, “amygdala hijacked.” The amygdala serves as the emotional part of the brain responsible for regulating the fight, flight, or freeze response. When triggered (threatened) it can respond irrationally. Stress hormones flood our body and take over before our prefrontal lobes can mediate this reaction. Therefore, recognizing how and when you are triggered before it happens, can help prevent the hijack from occurring.
2) Take a Deep Breath: This is as simple as it sounds. Taking a deep breath when you are triggered can prevent you from reacting in the moment. Taking a few deep breaths actually slows down your nervous system by bringing the executive functioning part of your brain (prefrontal cortex) back online. This enables you to think more clearly and rationally, and to respond rather than react in the moment.
3) Adjust expectations: If you continue to be activated by the same person or scenario, sort out what part you have control over vs. what part you don’t. Knowing what parts are not yours to own can help to alleviate the need to control a situation that will likely leave you feeling depleted and upset.
Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.