Types of
Psychological Projection
in Relationships

Knowing types of psychological projection in relationships that you may encounter can be a helpful problem-solving tool. 


Your focus is best put on assistance in solving a problem


  • not diagnosing or labeling your partner
  • not on blaming them or yourself
  • but rather having a better chance of finding what will work better for you both.


Psychological defense mechanisms, of which projection is just one, are also called coping styles. 


These are described as automatic processes that each of us has learned to use when we feel threatened that are intended to both to

  • help deal with anxiety, and
  • to limit or block awareness of internal and/or external stressors.

They are called automatic processes because they occur mostly out of conscious awareness.  The person who is using a particular coping strategy is almost never aware that they are doing it, though through counseling or introspection it is possible to work backward and get a pretty good idea of what you tend to do in stressful situations.




Three Types of Psychological Projection in Relationship

You can view psychological projection in relationships as occurring in three general sub-types.  Thinking about the various shadings of the mechanism may help you in determining what do.


1.  Neurotic projection - taking thoughts, feelings, beliefs that you find objectionable in yourself and seeking to keep from feeling associated anxiety by seeing them in, projecting them onto someone else.

An example might occurring when you are thinking judgmental thoughts about another person, but you also have a deeply held belief that you should be loving and accepting of others as they are, so you say that they are judging you.  Or, a wife who is thinking about having an affair accusing her husband of planning an affair.

2.  Complementary projection - involves assuming that others believe, think, and feel the way you do or trying to be around people who you assume think like you do.  

If you're choosing a group of people with whom to play cards and you're seeking a relaxing, fun time, then this isn't a bad coping strategy. 

On the other hand, if you chose a spouse who seems to be like you, of the same religion, from the same college, of the same social set, etc. because you thought they would be easy to get along with, that might not turn out so well.  In a long term intimate relationship even if both partners seem to be starting on from the same page, neither partner stays the same and complementary projection can result in not being able to see those changes until a crisis or even until it's too late. 

3.  Complimentary projection - is occurring when you assume that just because you can do something, endure something, handle something, that other people can too.  By seeing your own traits in others, you never can see them as they really are.  The result of this likely will be your being insensitive or putting the other person into situations that are intensely uncomfortable or that they can't handle and overlooking them as they really are, what they are good and what they struggle with.

The best place to watch out for these forms of psychological projection is in yourself.

The best place to apply the perspectives offered by an understanding of this coping style is on yourself.  Since coping styles are automatic, this can take some sleuthing.  After an emotionally upsetting occurrence you can ask yourself

  • to what degree might my own projections be influencing how I feel about this?
  • what might a person believe/assume who is so sensitive to that behavior in the other person?
  • what were the parts of that interaction that I can reasonably guess were stirring up anxiety with which I needed to cope?
  • what are my best intra-personal skills for dealing with anxiety?

Save your family and friends from analysis.  People don't like it.  It makes them nervous, and who knows what manner of coping strategies they might unleash in response?


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