Understanding psychological projection in relationships, either in the form of simple projection or projective identification, is only useful to the degree that it helps you get more of what you want. If all you do is pin a label on your partner or yourself the result most likely is more harmful than helpful. If it helps you be more understanding and making your relationship a safe place to be, then it's good.
Simple psychological projection involves attempting to cope with anxiety caused by having unpleasant or frightening thoughts, feelings, and/or impulses. This is done by keeping them out of one's own conscious awareness, but seeing them in others, in other words projecting them onto them.
Some people find it helpful to think of three subtypes of projection, which you can consider.
When you experience projection in a relationship it can be very confusing.
If one of the partners is taking their own worst fears about
themselves that they don't even know they have because they don't want
to have them and seeing them in their partner, projecting them onto
their partner without being aware they are doing it, . . . the result is
likely to be even more confusing than this sentence.
Apparently this something that we all do to some degree, especially when we are under stress, so it is worth some effort to have a plan for dealing with it.
Projective identification is very similar to simple
projection, but it involves a bit more self-awareness and is reasonably
grouped under the heading of projection in relationships.
When projective identification is functioning, the person is aware of the feelings, thoughts, and impulses, but they still project
them onto the other people in such a way that we are justified in having
And, in fact, there often is a logic to the claims because when one person uses this defense style, it is very likely to evoke exactly what the one doing the projecting feared in the other person and now is are justified in fighting.
Most often the result is a situation in which no one can really figure out who is doing what to whom.
Keep your eye on the core reasons you are in relationships. Don't let these two distract you from your goal sharing feelings of appreciation, acceptance, and safety.
When you start thinking in terms of being right, of fairness, of justification, etc. it is a sign that your attention is on the wrong things and that projection may be involved.
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