by Gwen Randall-Young
Projection makes the whole world a replica of our own unknown face.
– Carl Jung
Projection in relationships is the tendency to disown qualities we don’t like in ourselves and see them in others instead. It is a subconscious defence mechanism, meaning we are not even aware we are doing it.
A man who finds himself attracted to other women, but has not fully admitted it to himself, may accuse his partner of being unfaithful. A woman may accuse her partner of having anger issues, unaware that her anger issues are just as significant.
This is a destructive process as we are certain the problems in the relationship are the partner’s fault. If you find yourself blaming your partner for what you are thinking or feeling, or for how you are reacting, you are likely projecting your issues onto them.
If you feel you are projecting, the next time you are triggered by your partner consider the part of you that is like them. If you complain your partner is disorganized, maybe there are some aspects of your life that are not as organized as you would like and you are bothered by that. When we can see how our partner is triggering our own issues, we no longer judge so harshly.
Try to stay with your feelings when you are triggered. Do not react or push back. This will not be easy because you will be feeling pain, but the pain is coming from emotional pain you have denied.
It can feel like craziness if your partner is accusing you of the very things you know are true about him/her. Our first impulse is to defend ourselves and point out that he, too, has the qualities he is attributing to you. Resist this urge.
Instead, quietly disengage. Take some space and don’t get sucked in to the old pattern of fighting about it. Be compassionate and supportive to yourself and recognize it is not about you.
Here is the hardest part. Do not argue, defend, explain or counter attack. You will get entangled in the craziness if you do. Because you have attacked them, your partner does not have to own their stuff. They will defend or counter-attack and the downward cycle starts again.
It gets even more complicated when we add co-dependency into the mix. If one has low self-esteem and feels the partner is responsible for making her feel good, valued, beautiful and smart, she will react with strong emotions when she is not getting that from him.
In co-dependency, there is a tendency to manipulate others to get what you want or to blame them for your feelings of inadequacy or unhappiness. The reason couples get stuck in negative feelings is because both are being triggered and neither one is taking responsibility for making themselves feel strong, good and worthy.
In some ways, it is even more difficult when one person is able to look inside and self-reflect and is not projecting or co-dependent, while the other is. It can be so difficult to navigate through this, as the one projecting cannot see the other in a good light. It is as if they are having a bad dream and they see you as the antagonist.
If you find yourself stuck in this dilemma, it is time to find a good therapist. You can also download an MP3 on Codependency and Projection at gwen.ca
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” series, visit www.gwen.ca ‘Like’ Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.