Projection is a common bias that we all fall victim to at times. It’s the opposite of empathy: It’s when we take what’s going on inside our own minds and mistakenly assume that’s what other people think too.
Projection is the tendency to falsely attribute our own thoughts and feelings to someone else.
It is a type of cognitive bias that is often done unconsciously without our realizing it.
For example, someone who is very self-critical and has a negative perception of himself is likely to believe that other people are critical of him and have a similar negative perception.
During projection, the “internal” becomes “external”: we assume what is true for our oneself is also what is automatically true for others.
In many ways, projection is the opposite of empathy
Instead of genuinely understanding someone, we take what is going on inside ourselves and us Project that in the lives of others; it’s a type of mind reading where we mistakenly assume we know what’s going on in a person’s head (without asking or clarifying).
Projection can take many different forms, harmful examples include:
- Blaming someone else for doing something that you have done.
- Assuming your partner is cheating on you when you are cheating on them.
- Bullying someone for things we don’t like about ourselves.
- Assuming that other people are being dishonest or lying in a situation where we would lie.
- Believing that others judge us negatively for things we are not sure about.
- Calling someone sensitive when you attack after being hurt or offended.
- Thinking “everyone is selfish” because you are selfish.
The common pattern behind all of these examples is to translate what is true about oneself to others.
Projection is often seen as a type of “defense mechanism” to protect our egos. Instead of confronting our problems, flaws, or insecurities, we try to find them in others to distract ourselves from ourselves.
As Carl Jung once said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to understand ourselves.”
He believed that aspects of our “shadow” or dark sides of our personality were particularly prone to projection, both on a personal and social level, because those are the things we most want to deflect or ignore.
It’s easier to blame others than to confront the things we don’t like about ourselves.
For example, someone who says the wrong thing may be yelled at as “Stupid!” by someone who is also afraid of being called “Stupid!” by others and have had similar experiences in the past that have been mocked.
When someone annoys or annoys us, it can be helpful to ask: “What does this say about me?” The person may be reminding you of something you don’t like about yourself.
Projection is not always malicious or harmful.. It can also take innocent forms, like assuming that people will like a certain movie or restaurant simply because we did.
In general, people assume that others are similar to them.
In psychology this is sometimes called “social projection” (or the false consensus effect), where we mistakenly assume that our thoughts and behaviors are “common” or “normal” for most people.
Of course, our personal experiences are the first point of reference for how others may feel. The idea of ”I wouldn’t want that if I were in his place” is a basic component for empathy.
Naturally, we share a lot of common ground, especially when it comes to basic needs like wanting to be safe, loved, and respected. Acknowledging those commonalities is essential to feeling interconnected and acknowledging our basic humanity.
However, genuine empathy requires acknowledging both similarities Y differences of others.
Human beings are diverse, so we cannot expect everyone to be exactly the same.
People can lead radically different lifestyles and still be happy. An introverted writer who prefers to stay at home will probably have a hard time living like a rock star musician who is always traveling and putting on shows for large audiences.
Both of you will have trouble empathizing with each other unless you are open to different perspectives and different types of people.
The simple acknowledgment, “I am the type of person who prefers solitude, but this person likes to be with others” is acknowledging differences while remaining empathic and understanding where a person comes from.
This is why self-awareness and empathy are so intertwined. not everyone is like you. Often, we need to learn the ways we “stand out” from others in order to better understand them (and ourselves).
- If you are a shy or introverted person by nature, you may have a hard time empathizing with someone who is more outgoing or extroverted.
- If you only enjoy classical music, you might have a hard time understanding someone who only listens to metal and hardcore music.
- If you are married with children, it can be difficult to empathize with someone who has chosen to be single or not to start a family.
Neither of these things is “right” or “wrong,” they’re just different ways people choose to live.
These options often make a lot of sense to the other person, even if your can’t relate or your I wouldn’t do the same in your shoes.
To empathize, you must temporarily put aside your biases, prejudices, and personal preferences in order to understand another person.
It’s not easy, but if you can do it, you’ll be better off minimizing projection in your daily life.
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