According to Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one inflicts one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree.
To understand the process, consider a person in a couple who has thoughts of infidelity. Instead of dealing with these undesirable thoughts consciously, he or she subconsciously projects these feelings onto the other person, and begins to think that the other has thoughts of infidelity and may be having an affair. In this sense, projection is related to denial, arguably the only defense mechanism that is more primitive than projection. Projection, like all defense mechanisms provide a function whereby truth about a part of themselves that may otherwise be unacceptable is shielded.
Compartmentalization, splitting and projection are ways that the ego continues to pretend that it is completely in control at all times, when in reality human experience is one of shifting beingness, instinctual or territorial reactiveness and emotional motives, for which the “I” is not always complicit. Further, common in deep trauma, individuals will be unable to access truthful memories, intentions and experiences, even about their own nature, wherein projection is just one tool.
It has been described as the operation of expelling feelings or wishes the individual finds wholly unacceptable, too shameful, too obscene, too dangerous by attributing them to another.
The philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach based his theory of religion in large part upon the idea of projection such that the idea that an anthropomorphic deity is the outward projection of man’s anxieties and desires.
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. Marie-Louise Von Franz extended the view of projection to cover phenomena in Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths and notes that wherever known reality stops, where we touch the unknown, there we project an archetypal image.
When addressing psychological trauma the defense mechanism is sometimes counter projection, including an obsession to continue and remain in a recurring trauma causing situation, and the compulsive obsession with the perceived perpetrator of the trauma or its projection.
Carl Jung mentioned that all projections provoke counter projection when the object is unconscious of the quality projected upon it by the subject.
Projection is the opposite defense mechanism to identification. We project our own unpleasant feelings onto someone else and blame them for having thoughts that we really have.