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Emotional Projection: What It Can Tell You About Yourself and Others

Many of us perceive others as we perceive ourselves.

If we are self-conscious, we will judge others’ appearances. If we are perfectionists and set high expectations for ourselves, we will likely expect the same from others.

When self-aware, projection can be an insightful mirror, revealing what we need to work on. Equally, it can provide insight into what others are subconsciously experiencing and needing to work through.

Think of projection as a crystal ball.

Seeing what is within yourself:

Take notice of your thoughts about the world and the people around you. If your overarching outlook is unpleasant, there is a good chance you have underlying traumas that need resolving.

I’m not saying that feeling anger, frustration, or sadness about certain situations means that you have an internal unease. These are normal emotions we all experience. However, internal work must be done if your dominant perspective is negative.

The stronger we feel about something or someone, the more connected we are to the issue or topic ourselves—even if we are unaware of the connection.

Those who claim to hate drama ironically tend to create drama and feed off drama.

Those who see the good in others tend to have deep compassion and understanding for themselves.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed to notice the connection between what we dislike and personal challenges. Instead, it can be a beautiful ‘ah-ha’ moment that allows us to resolve inner conflict.

For example, if you find that you judge others, ask yourself, “how do I judge myself?”

Then, seek to discover why you judge yourself. What beliefs have you developed about yourself? What experiences or conditions have made you believe you are unworthy or incompetent?

When that becomes clear, you can work to reverse these beliefs and build confidence. As you do this, notice how your perception of others also changes.

Seeing what is within others:

Just as we project onto others, others project onto us. Instead of taking the insults of another personally, realize that it is their unresolved conflict being projected.

Side Note: The difference between feedback and projection:

It’s important not to confuse honest feedback with projection. The primary indicator between the two is how it is delivered.

For example, if you are slacking or behind on your work and someone says, “I noticed that you haven’t been completing ____ on time. Can you help me understand what’s going on?” This is feedback. This is an objective observation and relevant question unless there is a noticeable judgment tone.

However, if someone says, “What the hell is wrong with you? You need to get your @#&% together!” This indicates they are dealing with their own judgments regarding expectations, self-worth, and potential self-respect. They are demonstrating a lack of compassion and understanding for others and, subsequently, for themselves.

How to address the projection of others:

Give them what they need, not necessarily what they want.

In the example used above, they may want you to feel ashamed and remorseful so that they can feel powerful. However, they may need firm compassion and to feel heard.

If the individual is in a high emotional state, you may want to address the issue later once they have cooled down. In the meantime, you might say, “I hear what you are saying, and I am willing to work on improving. I would like to schedule some time to talk later today or this week about how to move forward.” When you speak with them, then you can address their approach.

Remember, you are not letting them “win,” you are postponing the time to address how they approached you for better results. When you address them, you might say, “I apologize for not meeting your expectations or causing delays for the team. That’s on me. However, ridicule does not motivate me to do better. It does the opposite. May I ask why you felt that was the best course of action to take when addressing the issue?”

Validating another’s concerns without justifying their actions is the best way to show firm compassion. Once they feel heard, you can set healthy boundaries and address your feelings or concerns with them.

Being honest and assertive can be difficult for many people for fear of the backlash that may follow. While we cannot control how others will react to our feedback, done with good intention and a non-judgmental delivery and tone, we know that we addressed the issue with care for ourselves and the other person.

The more pain or insecurity an individual is dealing with, the greater the chance they will fire back with another insult. Know that this has nothing to do with you.

By not reacting, they lose fuel, and whether they admit it or not, you are earning respect from them, even if at a subconscious level. However, as soon as you react or give in to their verbal abuse or demands, they have won, and you have failed to honor yourself.

Not taking others’ projections personally takes conscious awareness and time. However, when we do inner work, it allows us to be more mindful when dealing with others’ displaced pain.


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