How do clinicians define psychological projection?
Projection is defense mechanism, and defense mechanisms are ways a person protects themselves form things that they are possibly unready to hear or manage. That means that these defenses are out of the awareness of the individual. Projection is when we take feelings that we might not want to acknowledge in ourselves, such as jealously or anger and we "project" them onto someone else. Think about what a projector does - it takes an image in a movie theater and places it on the screen so you can see it. The image is not coming from the place we seen it (ie - the screen), it's actually coming from the lens of the projector onto the screen. This is the same thing here.
What causes it?
The person sees parts of themselves in others that they cannot stand in themselves. They may be overly upset when they see someone who might be showing jealousy or anger, when in fact they too may feel those same things. For whatever reason, the person has sort of cut this part off, and potentially placed it in the "shadow self" (another trending term) but this part of them is not gone - it's now taking the wheel when they are unaware and creating reactions that might cause them issues in relationships.
Are there signs or symptoms?
I think signs to look further into are "triggers," meaning when your emotions escalate extremely quickly in response to someone you might not know well or haven't reacted to in that manner prior. This is an indication to take a step back and ask what might be deeper here.
How does it affect your mental/emotional health and physical health?
This defense mechanism is normal to an extent in all of us and therefore it might not affect you at all, other than random fights with friends or your partner. However, for others it is a totally different story. This might lead to cutting off relationships, dramatic fights and feeling out of control with emotions. This is when you really need help sorting things out.
How can you stop if you recognize the behavior in yourself?
As noted above, this is extremely hard to do on one's own because it is often out of one's awareness. You need help exploring this and that can be done in individual and group therapy.
What should you do if someone is projecting on you?
Apologize if you have something to apologize for - that's an important quality for anyone to have! However, be careful to over-apologize for things you know you have not done. Instead maybe express concern for the person and let them know you really have not intended to do what you are being accused of and that you are willing to hear them out, but you do not believe you have actually acted in such a manner so you want to be heard too. At the same time, it is important to have boundaries for yourself and not just accept projections of others as this can be dangerous.
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