What the Heck is Projection?

Have you ever been accused of something, completely out of the blue, with no evidence that it actually happened? And even when you address this they continue pushing anyway?

Chances are you were the victim of projection.

This word is used a lot within the personal development circle, but isn’t talked about enough when it comes to abuse recovery.

Understanding what projection is, why it’s used and how to fight back is incredibly important.

Ready to get into it?

Let’s go!

What is projection anyway?

Projection is the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another. For example, if someone continuously bullies and ridicules a peer about his insecurities, the bully might be projecting his own struggle with self-esteem onto the other person. (Source)

Within an abusive relationship, this means that if they’re feeling guilty about something, they’ll accuse you of it. If they make baseless claims about you flirting with your coworker, there’s a good chance they’re flirting with their coworker.

This is important to recognize because if you can keep your cool and not give the reaction you’re looking for, they don’t win.

When you’re being accused of things you know you didn’t do, it can be incredibly disorienting. You lose your logic because you want to make sure that you protect your character.

But if you know ahead of time they’re projecting their own problems onto you, you can breathe through it and do as much as you can to remain calm.

Why it happens

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. (Source)

Narcissistic people often resort to projection to protect their self-image. Complaining about how someone else is so “showy” or “always needs attention” is one example of how a narcissist might project. They may also blame others for things that have gone wrong, rather than taking responsibility themselves. As the narcissist projects more shame and criticism onto another person, that individual’s self-doubt often grows, leading to a self-reinforcing cycle. (Source)
This is done in an attempt to bring closure to the abuser. They believe that because they’re doing something negative, you have to, too.

This form of gaslighting will cause you to question your actions. Even if you know without a shadow of a doubt that you didn’t do it, you will begin to wonder if maybe you’re remembering things wrong.

How to deal with it

Responding to projection can be tricky.

First and foremost, set boundaries. Understand how you’re going to respond before it happens. It’s easier said than done, but being prepared can make it so much simpler.

When you’re not caught off guard, your chance of reacting emotionally lessens. You’re able to create a plan and figure out how best to hold back.

One of the most important things to remember that there’s nothing you can truly say or do that will get them to stop accusing you. 

What a lot of survivors get trapped in is the thought that if you say or do the right thing, they’ll see the error of their ways and stop. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Accepting that you won’t be able to change their perspective is the first step to protecting yourself against projection.

The next step is to keep your cool. If you don’t give them the reaction they’re looking for, they can’t do much else.

This is something to be careful of, though. When you don’t give them what they want (i.e.- a reaction) they can throw a temper tantrum which may end up being dangerous.

If this is the case, make sure that as you’re preparing your response, also be planning your exit.

The whole manipulation of projection is confusing and sickening. But if you come at it prepared, your chances of not being taken down by it grow exponentially.

Understanding what it is, why they do it, and how to fight back can give you the ultimate advantage. The abuser counts on the fact that you think you’re unable to fight back.

That’s why understanding these things are incredibly important.

What now?

Take some time and think through how you want to respond. Take this information and apply it. You’re more powerful than you think.

You’ve got this, boo!

If this resonated with you and you’re ready to take your power back, then you should check out the Worthy of Recovery printable journal. Every day for 30 days you’ll complete a journal prompt and document your gratitude and your daily victories. Worried that you don’t have the time? Included with the journal is a course that teaches you how to journal your way to freedom in less than 15 minutes a day. As an added bonus, you also get over 45 printable affirmation cards. It has all the pieces that helped me on my recovery journey and I know it’ll help you, too. Click here to grab yours!

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