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  • Writer's pictureHazel


What are psychological projections, how can you recognize them, and what do you do with this information? There’s a quote floating around the spiritual community, I suppose it’s been there for quite some time, that goes something like “I am not who you say I am- you are who you say I am.”

When I tell you this quote knocked me clear out, I mean exactly that. Coming from a collectivistic culture, I know the importance that social status plays in development of the self and personality. most collectivistic cultures assign value to a person based on their relationship with others. In Arabic, there’s a term “wajib” which, in essence, implies owing the curtesy of something to someone. In Islamic dogma, wajib is also known as ”fard” or a religious duty to God. I won’t go too in depth about this here, I’ll definitely cover it in my second book though. It’s a very interesting concept in terms of social psychology.

But anyway, back to the quote. If you just listen, people tell on themselves a lot. They’ll tell you what they think of themselves by the questions they ask and by the comments they make to you. “Aren’t you afraid if you eat carbs you’ll get fat again?” “How come you don’t watch the news? Aren’t you concerned about the future?” “If you keep going so hard you’ll burn yourself out.” Most of these are projections. They are the verbal manifestations of other people’s fear. They could, of course, be completely true- but only if you adopt them as such. That’s a term we call “internalization.”

Although there is strength in community, there is an even greater strength in understanding one’s self outside the context of the immediate environment trying to define you. Once you’ve been able to clearly identify who you are as an individual, you don’t allow others to project onto you what they deem you to be. There’s great beauty in proclaiming your rightful spot as the creator of your own reality. To not accepting the boxes that people try to fit you in to make their interpretation of reality more digestible. It’s not your job to help other people chew their food. But I digress.

Most commonly, human beings are inclined to internalize the projections of the closest people to them- this is due to a myriad of reasons but specifically I’d say for security purposes. There’s a false sense of security that’s implied with labels- whether those labels are good or bad, at least you know what you are. I‘ve come to find that you truly are whatever you say you are. The strongest security system you will ever have is the one you build for yourself. Waiting for outside validation rarely ever comes.

Part of what I teach my clients is how to distinguish self from other. It’s an important skill to learn- especially in the context of interpersonal relationships. However, this is equally an important skill in the world of business. As an example, if your boss is having a bad day and lashes out, they are projecting their anger on to you. You essentially have two options, take it as a personal attack and question your own capabilities and character, or approach the situation with a deep sense of understanding that his anger has nothing to do with you. Anger and fear are the two most common projections, by the way. And it’s easy to see why.

Psychological projections are the expelling of unwanted emotion onto another. I’d argue that people wouldn’t be so inclined to project onto others if the religious phenomenon of confession were more widely accepted as common practice. Unfortunately, we seemed to have lost the understanding of the value of confession as it pertains to expulsion of emotion in a healthy and safe environment. Maybe that’s what psychotherapy has become. Who knows. I sure do hope to see people actively working on recognizing their own shortcomings before passing judgement or assumptions onto their neighbor. Projections only amplify what you’re trying to avoid.

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