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What is projection?


In psychology, projection refers to a defense mechanism in which a person transfers their own unwanted thoughts, feelings, traits, or impulses onto other people or objects. This often occurs unconsciously, and the person projects these inner conflicts or unpleasant aspects onto others in order to relieve themselves or to cope with them more easily. Projection can lead a person to see in others behaviors or motivations that are actually their own. It is an important concept in psychoanalysis and can help in better understanding the behavior and interactions of individuals.


The word "projection" originates from the Latin word "projectio," which means "the act of throwing out" or "casting forward." It is derived from the Latin verb "proicere," which means "to throw forward" or "to cast out." The term was later adopted into the English and German languages and found its use in psychology to describe this specific defense mechanism where individual inner conflicts or unwanted emotions are "projected" onto others to distance them from oneself. The use of the term in the psychological sense can be traced back to Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis.


  • Externalization
  • Transference
  • Reflection
  • Manifestation

Additional interesting facts

Types of Projection

Projection can occur in various forms. Neurotic Projection is the most common form, where unwanted feelings or impulses are transferred onto others. Complementary Projection occurs when an individual assumes others have the same feelings or attitudes as they do, while Complex Projection involves the assumption that others share the same moral values or ethical beliefs.

Projection and Denial

Projection and denial are closely related. While projection involves transferring unwanted thoughts or feelings onto others, denial is a mechanism whereby individuals reject or ignore the reality of their own unwanted feelings or actions.

Example of Projection

A common example of projection is when an individual, having strong but unspoken aversion towards someone else, believes that the other person actually dislikes them. This projection can serve as a defense mechanism to avoid or rationalize the uncomfortable feeling of aversion.

Psychotherapeutic Approaches

Recognizing projection is a crucial step in dealing with internal conflicts and unconscious thoughts in psychotherapy. Therapists use various techniques to help patients identify and understand their projections, allowing them to better comprehend their true feelings and conflicts and work through them.

Self-Reflection and Projection

Awareness and engagement with one's projections can lead to gaining more insight into one's unconscious conflicts and impulses. Self-reflection is key to identifying one’s projection and fostering personal growth and development.

Projection in Groups and Societies

Projection does not only occur on an individual level but can also be observed on group and societal levels, where collective fears and insecurities can be projected onto other groups or nations.


Projection is a complex psychological mechanism that plays a significant role in human behavior and interactions. Understanding and managing projections can lead to increased self-knowledge and improved relational dynamics.