A psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defence mechanism where a person unconsciously denies their own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, a tool, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings. It is known as one of the six main self-defence mechanisms.
Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted unconscious impulses or desires without letting the conscious mind recognize them.
An example of this behaviour might be blaming another for self failure. The mind may avoid the discomfort of consciously admitting personal faults by keeping those feelings unconscious, and redirect their libidinal satisfaction by attaching, or projecting, those same faults onto another.
According to Sigmund Freud, projection is a psychological defence mechanism whereby one projects one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. ‘Emotions or excitations which the ego tries to ward off are spit out and then felt as being outside the ego […] perceived in another person’. It is a common process that every person uses to some degree. (The related defence of) ‘projective identification differs from projection in that the impulse projected onto an external object does not appear as something alien and distant from the ego because the connection of the self with that projected impulse continues’.
To understand the process, consider a person in a couple who has thoughts of infidelity. Instead of dealing with these undesirable thoughts consciously, they unconsciously project these feelings onto the other person, and begin to think that the other has thoughts of infidelity and may be having an affair. Thus one can obtain ‘acquittal by his conscience – if he projects his own impulses to faithlessness on to the partner to whom he owes faith’. In this sense, projection is related to denial, arguably the only defence mechanism that is more primitive than projection. Projection, like all defence mechanisms, provides a function whereby a person can protect their conscious mind from a feeling that is otherwise repulsive.
Projection can also be established as a means of obtaining or justifying certain actions that would normally be found atrocious or heinous. This often means projecting false accusations, information, etcetera, onto an individual for the sole purpose of maintaining a self-created illusion. One of the many problems with the process whereby ‘something dangerous that is felt inside can be moved outside – a process of projection’ – is that as a result ‘the projector may become somewhat depleted and rendered limp in character, as he loses part of his personality’.