Projection is a common defense mechanism that causes more harm than good. This is closely linked to transference, and the two can wreak havoc on an individual’s mental health and interpersonal relationships. Understanding these defense mechanisms and why they are often employed can give people insight into their own relationships and how to more effectively communicate at work and home.
Sigmund Freud first identified projection as a defense mechanism in the late 1800s. He noticed that many of his psychoanalysis patients accused their loved ones or acquaintances of negative emotions they were experiencing themselves, making the individuals better able to cope with unpleasant feelings. This is very common today, particularly if someone is insecure about something in his or her life. A classic Freudian example is a married man having an affair, then accusing his wife of being unfaithful.
Another time projection is commonly used is when someone is feeling self-conscious about a skill or personal attribute and assumes others feel the same way. Instead of acknowledging this insecurity, whether it be regarding age, a new pair of pants or abilities at work, the individual might be paranoid that people think he or she is too old, that the slacks look like clown pants or that his or her work product is mediocre. These assumptions reinforce negative self-talk and anxiety regarding insecurities and breed unnecessary hostility toward others.
Transference is often related to anger and other relatively hostile emotions. People naturally want to avoid feelings of anger or hurt, so they get on the defensive when faced with an attack. Instead of being vulnerable and acknowledging feelings of pain and hurt feelings, some people instinctually turn the tables and launch a counter-attack. As Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., author and clinical psychologist, explains, “…a good deal of our anger is motivated by a desire not to experience guilt… [or] the distressing emotions of hurt and fear.” Transference can be implemented by an individual to distance himself or herself from such feelings.
Failure to acknowledge unwanted emotions can result in the use of potentially destructive defense mechanisms. Collateral damage can take the form of strained relationships and continued low self-esteem or anxiety related to insecurities propelling the defense mechanisms. Behavioral health professionals recommend that individuals examine the negative relationships in their lives to determine whether projection or transference might be at the root of the toxicity.
If you or a loved one is struggling with harmful coping mechanisms or anxiety, help is available. Sovereign Health Group treats individuals facing mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Psychology behind defense mechanisms: Rationalization and moral relativism (Part 3 of 4)
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer