How to Stop Projecting Your Insecurities

Have you ever accused someone of feeling a certain way, only to realize that you were the one dealing with those emotions? Are you tired of feeling misunderstood, pointing fingers, or playing the blame game? It’s easy to get frustrated when people push your buttons, or jealous when you see someone who has it so easy, but what if the real problem… is you?

A big part of shadow work is to recognize the small signs of dysfunction and follow them towards your hidden trauma. This is where I want to talk to you about projection. We all do it, one way or another, but most of us don’t realize we’re doing it.

If you’re on a path of personal growth, you need to realize when you’re projecting your own emotions onto other people, so that you can uncover the root cause of these emotions, and do the healing. So let’s get into this manipulative behavior so you can pull it out by its roots.

The mirror in our mind: How we see others as ourselves

rsz concept art of person projecting his feelings

Projection is a form of denial. You don’t project to deliberately hurt others as it’s usually an unconscious process. The reason why you project is because your ego deflects your awareness away from yourself, in an attempt to ‘protect’ a wound that your thoughts, emotions, or behaviors are covering up.

So let’s untangle this into something tangible. When you have trauma, a part of you doesn’t want to address it, because it hurts to address.

Let’s imagine that you were a nerd in school. During these years, you were bullied and made fun of, and you have some residual trauma because of that. Essentially you start disintegrating that nerdy side of yourself by repressing your authentic self by trying to act cool.

This nerdy, despised side of you becomes the shadow self, and shadow work is the act of reintegrating that abandoned side of yourself to heal which I’ll talk about more in the link below.

So years later you’re this cool guy because you figured out how to be cool. But you haven’t done the real healing or addressed the wound (why you were ashamed of being nerdy in the first place). So this cool guy that you are is really just a facade, it’s a mask you wear, to avoid feeling that shame when you were younger.

Now let’s say you meet someone who is a nerd, and they’re happy being a nerd. Suddenly you get angry and start projecting your own shit onto them, perhaps by being rude, condescending, or bullying this person.

This person reminds you of the person you don’t want to be (rather, the person you really are), which is a painful experience because it’s reopening those wounds that were never really healed, as you develop an entire persona to escape being that person or feeling those particular emotions.

Below are some common examples of projection:

The jealous partner

The jealous partner

Someone who feels insecure in their relationship might end up leaving their partner due to their anxiety about being cheated on. Instead of confronting these deeper insecurities that this person will bring into every relationship, they accuse their partner of being unfaithful and make them out to be the culprit.

The office gossiper

rsz 1the office gossip archetype

A coworker who often talks behind other people’s backs might accuse others of gossiping about them. They’re projecting their own tendencies to engage in gossip onto their colleagues, as a way to justify their own behavior.

The criticizer

rsz person being critical of someone else

Someone who is highly self-critical might criticize others frequently for every minor detail, and be on their arse about everything. This person is projecting the flaws that they see in themself, but are unable to address them.

The angry driver

rsz person projecting road rage

If you’ve ever been on the road, I’m sure you’ve witnessed road rage, or gotten disproportionately angry at other drivers yourself. Sometimes, the driver projects their own stress onto other drivers, blaming them for their own emotional state.

Projection: Externalizing your own wounds onto others

rsz person really frustrated

It’s a defense mechanism that allows you to evade feeling certain aspects of yourself by externalizing them onto someone else. But doing so also evades self-awareness, healing, and the opportunity to become more comfortable in your own skin. This is why projection is an issue.

Projection operates below the level of conscious awareness. When you’re faced with thoughts or feelings that trigger inner conflict, your mind automatically externalizes these qualities onto someone or something else. This externalization serves as a psychological “release valve,” deflecting the internal emotional tension outward, often without the individual even realizing what they’ve done.

The goal here is to be authentic in your expression and the way you feel. By getting to the root cause of these emotional leakages such as projection and triggers, you’re able to heal. By understanding the phenomenon of projection, you can develop a greater awareness of your unconscious motives and patterns.

Psychological benefits of projection (short-term)

  1. Immediate emotional relief: Projecting your issues onto someone else can give you instant emotional relief, as you’re using someone else as a vent to their problems. Taking out your problems on someone else distances you from your internal conflict.
  2. Preservation of self-image: When you project, you’re putting your undesirable qualities on others instead of looking at them yourself. This helps you maintain a more favorable or socially acceptable self-image of yourself.
  3. Avoidance of accountability: Projection allows you to dodge responsibility for your actions or feelings by shifting the focus onto someone else. As long as someone else is to blame, you’re not accountable.

Psychological drawbacks of projection (long-term)

  1. Impaired relationships: Consistently projecting can cause a lot of strain in your relationship, as the projected feelings are often incongruent with the other person’s reality. It’s also a good way to piss off other people, as they feel that the situation is unfair, but you won’t listen to reason.
  2. Hindrance to personal growth: As projection is a way to avoid looking at deeper issues with yourself, projection acts as a block for personal growth. As long as you’re not aware of it, projection prevents you from reflecting and resolving your own problems, which leads to stunted growth.
  3. Increased anxiety: While projection can relieve you temporarily, you’re not actually fixing the root cause. This means the issue is just going to keep coming back up, and the underlying wound is not going to be healed, and you’re just going to pile on the internal tension.

The red flags: How to spot when you’re projecting your feelings onto others

rsz 1woman sitting down and reflecting about her life water color
  1. Intense emotional reactions: When your emotional response seems disproportionately intense compared to the situation at hand, it could be a sign that you’re projecting. Sarah suddenly bursts into tears during a casual conversation about commitment, unaware that her extreme reaction is a projection of her own fears of abandonment.
  2. Judgement: Ever meet someone, and you think ‘I don’t know why, but I just hate that guy’? An immediate, irrational dislike for someone often means that you’re seeing someone that you don’t like about yourself in them. Tom instantly dislikes his new colleague because he seems arrogant, not realizing that he’s projecting his own insecurities about competence.
  3. Blame shifting: If you’re quick to blame others for what’s going wrong in your life, you’re avoiding taking responsibility for your failures and putting them onto others to make you feel better. Emily blames her partner for the lack of emotional intimacy in their relationship but fails to see her own emotional unavailability.
  4. Defensiveness: Becoming overly defensive when someone points out a particular trait or behavior likely means you’re projecting. You don’t want to be aware of the underlying cause, so you irrationally defend something you shouldn’t defend. When Alex’s friend tells him that he seems distant lately, Alex becomes hostile and accuses his friend of being needy.
  5. Fixation on others’ flaws: Obsessing over someone else’s shortcomings could mean you’re avoiding your own. Lisa constantly talks about her sister’s lack of responsibility, distracting herself from her own procrastination issues.
  6. Projection in relationships: Patterns of blame, intense reactions, or persistent issues often indicate that projection is affecting your relationships. Take note if you keep getting into the same arguments or situations, and take responsibility for it. Kevin continuously accuses his girlfriend of not listening, but never acknowledges his own lack of communication.

Breaking the mirror: Steps to overcome the trap of projection

rsz 1woman breaking a mirror

Projection is a crutch. People usually do it for a sense of relief (like they’re winning an imaginary battle), but it becomes a pretty relentless cycle. Obviously, projection isn’t a good thing. It causes long-term problems in relationships and acts as a big fat barrier to your personal growth.

Time to break this cycle. When you recognize that you’re projecting, push yourself to not replicate the same behavior. Create other pathways forward and through situations where you would usually project.

Pay attention to those emotions, and see where they lead you. When you do that, you can start doing the healing by following the article below. Otherwise, here are some ways to be aware of when you’re projecting, and to put an end to this unhealthy habit.

Pay attention to your patterns

Recognizing that you’re projecting is the first step. First off, I would think about instances that continue to repeat themselves in your life. Maybe you constantly get into arguments with a family member, usually about the same thing. Perhaps you have the same triggers, the same relationship struggles… whatever it is, it happens like clockwork. This is a sign that you have a repeating pattern that you haven’t yet caught onto, and that’s a good place to start.

Find a healthy vent for your emotions

Part of why you project is because you aren’t finding a healthy outlet to express your emotions. When you’re feeling something undesirable such as anger, sadness, jealousy, or guilt, it’s important to find an outlet to purge those energies. The more you bottle those painful emotions in, the more they’re going to leak out in the form of triggers and projection. So find ways to vent and express yourself in a healthy way. The more you do, the less you will project.

Identify your triggers

Your triggers are in the same boat as projection, because they both stem from a disintegrated sense of self. When you find yourself getting uncontrollably angry or frustrated at someone or something, use that as a time to reflect, feel, process, and discard those painful energies. The more you do this, the more aware you will be of your tendency to project, and the less you will feel the need to.

Take responsibility for your emotions

Taking responsibility for your own feelings can make a significant difference in reducing projection. Instead of saying, “You make me feel insecure” try “I feel insecure when this happens.” Start taking real self-responsibility by looking into yourself, why you’re feeling a certain way, and what you can do about it instead of deferring responsibility.

Open and honest communication

The willingness to communicate openly and honestly can go a long way in resolving projected issues. If you find yourself projecting your insecurities onto your partner, have a frank discussion about what makes you feel insecure and how you both can address it.

Question your thoughts

If you’re having negative thoughts about someone else or yourself, stop when you’re feeling it. Question these thoughts and see if they’re congruent with the reality of the situation. See if they have been pulled out of proportion, or exaggerated to fit your narrative. This ability to question your train of thought and be a little rational about the situation can go a long way.

Be Compassionate Towards Yourself

Stopping projection is a process that requires patience, and self-compassion. Forgive yourself when you catch yourself projecting and don’t beat yourself up about it. Of course, don’t take this as an excuse not to do the work, but realize that the process of discovering wounds and healing them can take time.

Stop victimizing yourself

Instead of admitting to yourself that you don’t have your life together, you’ll find a way to become the victim instead. You might do this by disliking the colleague who is doing well in their life. So before you get caught in the whole victim spiral, recognize when you’re rolling down this hill.

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