How to Stop Projecting Your Insecurities

What does it mean to project? Find out how to identify this devious habit, and use it as a platform for shadow work

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, but what if the 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 insecurities onto other people so you can uncover the root cause of these painful emotions, and embark on a path of authentic healing.

Why you project your insecurities

Projection

Look at projection as a form of escapism. You’re denying your uncomfortable feelings or insecurities by casting them on a scapegoat. This is an unconscious mechanism to avoid looking at your issues.

The reason why you project is because your ego deflects your awareness away from yourself, in an attempt to protect a wound.

When you have trauma, a part of you doesn’t want to address it because it hurts to address it. If you feel incompetent at work, you may look for incompetence in others and point your awareness towards them (to make yourself feel better) instead of looking at your issues and working on them.

Let’s imagine you were geeky in school. During these years you were bullied, and resultingly have some residual trauma because you were bullied.

In an attempt to escape this shunned side of you that causes pain, you begin disintegrating the geeky, but authentic self because you’re ashamed of it. You do so by learning how to act cool and mimicking others who get along with others.

This despised side of you becomes the shadow self. Years later you’re perceived very differently because you disintegrated from your nerdy nature. But you never addressed the wound, instead you slapped a mask over it.

Now let’s say you meet someone geeky later on in life, and they’re comfortable in their skin. Without being aware of it, you start being rude or condescending to that person.

But why would you be cruel to someone you have so much in common with?

You’re projecting.

You can’t stand that this person is secure, while you created a false image to get away from it. This person reminds you of the person you don’t want to be which brings your awareness towards those hidden, neglected wounds. Therefore, you externalize your frustrations by taking it out on the person to avoid feeling ashamed of yourself.

This is how projection works.

You’re driving your attention away from your insecurities by taking the role of the perpetrator (rather than the victim you feel you are).

To paint a clearer picture, here are some examples of archetypes that project:

  1. 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, they accuse their partner of being unfaithful and make them out to be the culprit.
  2. The gossiper: A coworker who often talks behind other people’s backs might accuse others of gossiping about them, or have a lot to hide him or herself. This person is projecting as a way to justify their behavior.
  3. The criticizer: Someone who is self-critical might criticize others over minor details. This person is projecting the flaws that they see in themself, but are unable to address them.
  4. The overreaching police officer: Some police officers will abuse their position of power, likely because they were bullied in school, or felt they had no power growing up. 

Why you externalize your wounds

Navigating a conflict

Projection operates below the level of conscious awareness. When you’re faced with thoughts or feelings that trigger painful emotions, your mind automatically externalizes these qualities onto someone 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.

Here are some signs that someone is projecting:

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  5. Fixation of others’ flaws: Obsessing over someone else’s shortcomings could mean you’re avoiding your own.

  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.

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 problems, which leads to stunted growth.

  3. Increased anxiety: While projection can relieve you temporarily, you’re not 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.

How to stop projecting and heal your hidden wounds

Stopping the cycle of projection

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. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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 healthily. The more you do, the less you will project.

  3. 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.

  4. Take responsibility for your emotions: Taking responsibility for your 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.

  5. Practice 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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