I Am Projecting on You

Oh, my dear readers, how I love getting emails from you all. And I respond as I did in my Finding Relaxation and Joy post. Another thought in an email caught my curiosity the other day.  I have been thinking about it ever since. You know that I have to write and publish the result of my curiosity. So, please keep the emails coming. I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

This particular reader wrote me an email regarding another post, The Choice is Always Yours, regarding tapering my medication. After sharing their experience they wrote they probably were projecting their stuff onto me.

Of course, it got me thinking. What is projecting? Was that person projecting onto me? Is that always a bad thing?

Origins of Term ‘Projecting’

I went to the beginning of the word, projecting, to learn about the history.

Goddamn Freud, of course, Freud coined this term. Of course, he did. I have issues with Freud. He had an opportunity to change both the perspectives of those in his time and those for future generations. He needed to stand behind what he knew, and he didn’t. His and his colleagues’ denial of child sexual abuse has continued to the present day with denial, victim shaming, and guilt.

It all started with Freud denying women their truth. He did that to keep his status at the university and to keep his social standing. And his daughter fought to keep that information private. Hmph. Way to have your fellow women’s backs.1

I understand that Freud did what he felt he had to do to save his career during the century. However, I disagree with what he did, and I will forever hold him responsible for creating the foundations to deny women their truth. As a result, and consequently, has kept sexual abuse in the shadows, where it has flourished.  

“But slowly, as he realized that he would not have a place in the male society he had grown up in, nor at the university, and that he might even not be able to support his family, he began to change his mind on this important topic. Eventually, by 1900, he gave up, and in 1903 he publicly announced that he had been mistaken. There was no such thing as incest. Yes, sexual abuse, once in a great while happened, but it was of no consequence, and generally, women made it up. He completely gave in to the powers that be.” 1  

Definition of Projection: Unconscious discomfort can lead people to attribute unacceptable feelings or impulses to someone else to avoid confronting them. Projection allows the difficult trait to be addressed without the individual fully recognizing it in themselves. 2

Psychologists Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz took Freud’s definition of projection and argued that projection is also used to protect against the fear of the unknown. People’s way of developing patterns makes the world predictable.2

Based upon Jung and von Franz’s definition projection is primarily originating in the amygdala, aka Myggy doing that. Myggy is our protector part of the brain. If Myggy can’t predict what will happen, it can’t protect us.

Projection is a survival instinct then. That is how I am interpreting that. And much of survival is unconscious. Projection is then an unconscious action towards another person. It is what you do after you realize you have been projecting that determines whether projection is neutral or nefarious. 

It Isn’t All Bad Until It Is

I am not sure how projection got a bad reputation. Oh, wait, it was Freud’s original definition because all of the feelings that Freud said we project are all negative. It was also how he tried to explain away the large numbers of his patients who had been sexually abused.

Somehow the overall negative connotation of Freud’s definition from over a hundred years ago has stuck with society. But, I can see how there would be positives from projecting. Empathy, for one. Anyone who has tried to put themselves in another’s shoes has projected onto that person.

Projection is like all things. When wielded by those wanting to harm, it can be very harmful. I know that from personal experience. I will write more about that in Thursday’s post. So stay tuned for that.

Psychological projection is usually a subconscious action. Your brain isn’t ready to process what you’re feeling, but it still wants an outside perspective of what’s going on. Projection is not uncommon. Many people don’t even realize they’re doing it unless someone points it out. While “projecting” on someone may sound sinister, there are harmless examples of projection in everyday life, too.3

There are three common types of projection:3

  1. complementary projection: assuming others already share your beliefs
  2. complimentary projection: assuming others have the same level of ability as you do
  3. neurotic projection: assigning undesirable emotions or feelings onto someone else

Projecting or Not?

I was thinking of Jung’s definition of projection when I read that email. His definition makes sense to me. Of course, we project onto other people. Our brains are looking for patterns to figure out when something is dangerous or not.

The only way to do that is to use what we know in previous experience and apply or project that onto the current situation. That is also how we learn about new things.

Overall was that person projecting onto me? It is possible, but I don’t see what she was doing as a bad thing. Projecting can be part of a learning process. My dear reader was projecting onto me was helping her to learn about herself and show empathy towards me.

I will chalk that up to a learning experience for the reader who wrote to me about some of her stuff and was learning about herself through me. It is a GOOD THING in this instance. It was not harmful to me in any way. I am taking her projection as a compliment.

Sources Cited

  1. Miller, Jenny. (January 23, 2019) #MeToo! Believing Women and Freud’s Assault on the Truth. Open-Publishing Newswire. https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo
  2. PsychologyToday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/projection
  3. Gillette, Hope. (October 22, 2021). What is Projection? com https://psychcentral.com/health/what-is-projection
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