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Psychological projection

From Academic Kids

Psychological projection (or projection bias) can be defined as unconsciously assuming that others share the same or similar thoughts, beliefs, values, or positions on any given subject. According to the theories of Sigmund Freud, it is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one "projects" one's own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, feelings -- basically parts of oneself -- onto someone else (usually another person, but psychological projection onto animals and inanimate objects also occurs). The principle of projection is well-established in psychology.

An illustration would be an individual (Alice, for example) who feels dislike for another person (let's say Bob), however her unconscious mind will not allow her to become aware of this negative emotion. Instead of admitting to herself that she feels dislike for Bob, she projects her dislike onto Bob, so that her conscious thought is not "I don't like Bob," but "Bob doesn't seem to like me." In this way you can see that projection is related to denial, the only other defense mechanism that is more primative than projection. Alice has denied a part of herself, and in order to deny it she projects that part onto another, namely Bob. Another, and an ironic, example is if Alice were to say, "Bob seems to project his feelings onto me."

Peter Gay describes it as "the operation of expelling feelings or wishes the individual finds wholly unacceptable too shameful, too obscene, too dangerous by attributing them to another." (Freud: A Life for Our Time, page 281)

The concept was anticipated by Friedrich Nietzsche:

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
- Beyond Good and Evil


Psychological projection is the subject of Robert Bly's book A Little Book on the Human Shadow. The "Shadow" - a term used in Jungian psychology to describe a variety of psychological projection - refers to the projected material.

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