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Projection is a psychological tool that we all use to varying degrees to help us evade thoughts and feelings that trouble us. While it may prove somewhat useful in this regard, it has a real impact on the thoughts of the person being projected onto.
Whether or not any malice is intended, projection is often insidious by its very nature.
After all, it is almost always a negative emotion or thought that is being projected: an insecurity you hold about yourself, the ill-feeling you have towards another, or the remorse felt about your behavior. You project these and other feelings in order to avoid having to deal with them directly.
Yet the very act of projection requires that you ignore the effects that it may have on the other person. If you considered them, you would be conscious of your projection, which is simply never the case.
If we now flip things around and look at the situation from the perspective of the person onto which these feelings are being projected, what can you do to protect yourself and prevent someone else’s issues from becoming your own?
There are various steps that you need to take if you are to prevent the projections of others from influencing your thoughts and feelings:
1. Recognize when you are being projected onto
As with many things, recognition of the problem is the first and most important step to addressing it. Only when you have identified the process of projection, can you begin to shield yourself from it.
One of the easiest ways to spot projection is by watching out for the “yous” in the language of others. Remember, they are trying to push their own negative thoughts and emotions onto you so that they do not have to deal with them. To do this, they will insist that you hold the same qualities that they are uncomfortable with.
If they have weight issues, they may ask, “Have you put on a few pounds recently?”
- Someone who is disappointed by what they see as their own failures may state, “You need to try a little harder if you want to achieve X, Y, or Z.”
- A person who has treated you badly may seek to absolve themselves of blame (and thus avoid addressing their behavior) by insisting, “You have been such a b*tch to me lately.”
- To deny their own fears and deflect attention away from them, someone might resort to ridicule, saying, “You’re not really afraid of flying/horror movies/bugs are you?”
When you have identified language such as this, you need to stop and consider whether you are being projected onto. Is the statement true in any way? If it is, are you already aware of it and is it something you wish to address? (Perhaps you’re happy with your new weight or you’re quite all right with being afraid of creepy crawlies.)
If there isn’t any truth in what the other person is saying, it is important that you recognize this fact rather than simply accepting that it might be true because they said it. As soon as you start to believe the possibility that it is true, your thoughts are no longer your own and you fall under the influence of this other person’s projection.
You must be willing to question your own thoughts and ask whether they originate from you, or whether you have taken them on from others after they have made statements referring to you.
The sooner you are able to identify a thought or feeling as having been planted in your mind by an outside influence, the better. The longer it goes unaddressed, the deeper its roots can grow – to the point at which you believe it is your own thought and always has been.
Never assume that all of your thoughts are your own – they may seem like they are coming from inside your mind, but their source could well be another person entirely.
2. Step into the shoes of the source
Once you realize that you are being projected onto, try to step out of your own mind and into theirs. See through their eyes, feel what they feel, think their thoughts (just be aware that they are theirs and not yours).
Try to understand why this person might be projecting onto you. Recognize that their projections are a defense mechanism with the sole purpose of avoiding the uncomfortable feelings that would inevitably arise should they have to confront their underlying issue.
Projections are merely manifestations of their own insecurities and by stepping into their shoes, you will be better placed to empathize with them. This process will also teach you a great deal about that person and maybe even deepen your connection with them.
You will see the human in them, the doubt-riddled soul that yearns for the safety and security of kind words from others.
In time, you can use the knowledge you gain to help build their self-esteem and help them address those issues they project onto others.
3. Let the projections of others come and go
As mentioned above, projections can inflict considerable damage on the receiver, altering their thought patterns to the point where they see truth in the projections where there is none.
The harm is not, however, an instantaneous consequence of the projection. Instead, the damage is done when those thoughts and feelings are held onto, and dwelled upon again and again. Only then can your mind subsequently adopt these foreign invaders as one of its own beliefs.
Not falling under the influence of another’s projections, then, is simply a case of letting them come and go as fleeting ripples in the pond of your mind. Whatever is said, let the words pass through you like the wind passes through the branches and leaves of a tree.
However hurtful the comments may be, remember that they are not gospel; no matter who said what, your truth and your mind are your own. You have the power to control what is and isn’t allowed to permeate your thoughts and, indeed, how you react to the person who projected in the first place. Remain aloof (emotionally uninvolved; at a distance) to any negative remarks and remind yourself of their true source.
4. Accept that you are being influenced
While this article deals with how not to be influenced by the projections of others, one must also accept that your thoughts and feelings are being constantly shaped and sculpted by the world around you.
Whether it’s the words or actions of another person, the situations you find yourself in, or even the weather on any given day, you are, to some degree, a product of your surroundings.
This is not something to fear, but merely the natural result of the interaction between an organism and its environment. Just as you can have no up without down, and no black without white, your life would be wholly and utterly meaningless in the vacuum of nothingness. Meaning arises out of your interplay with the things and people around you.
You, therefore, have to accept that as you imprint on them, they imprint on you. The trick is to know which imprints to make permanent and which to let fade. So let the joyous moments in your life stay with you forever, and let the hurtful projections of others float away on the breeze.