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Projective Identification & Its Dangerous Effects

Projective Identification & Its Dangerous Effects

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Projective Identification - It's Meaning, Process and How to deal with It

Projective identification term is often misunderstood as a complex mental disorder. However, that is not the case. This is an extremely ordinary problem that many of us could already be struggling with.

So what is projective identification? Well, simply put, it is the act of attributing a flaw or an issue inside us to someone else. As long as you are giving it to someone, you may not notice the problem. But once you are at the receiving end, it takes a toll on your mental health.

Projective Identification Infographic

Projective Identification & Its Dangerous Effects
Projective Identification & Its Dangerous Effects

What is Projective Identification? 

Projective Identification is simply the act of attributing a flaw or an issue inside us to someone else.

It is a defense mechanism where an individual shows qualities that are unacceptable to himself or herself onto another person.

Projective Identification Example

Let us try to understand this with an example. Consider a hypothetical scenario where a friend tells you that you have gained weight.

When you are meeting this friend, you have absolutely no clue about his or her perception. But it may hurt when he points out that you have gained weight.

Why does it hurt? This question has two answers. We will examine both scenarios. The first case is when you have actually gained weight.

If that is the case, the uncomfortable feelings generated by your friend’s comments are actually your feelings too. Just that they were hidden until your friend pointed out the reality. 

However, in the second scenario, you have not gained weight. Yet when your friend points it out, you are hurt. This is because you start to believe in your friend’s perception. This results in you feeling hurt and unhappy.

But do you realize that you are actually carrying the baggage of feelings that have no logical connection to you?

As a side effect of that one comment, you are likely to become overly conscious about your physical appearance. There is a possibility that this may affect your confidence as well.

Projective identification leads to such issues. Renowned author and psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein introduced this term

Projective Identification Process

Interestingly, projective identification happens all the time. The minute you enter a conversation, there is a high possibility of projective fantasies being thrown at you by the people around you.

However, the problem only starts after you start believing in these projections. This establishes that projective identification is actually a two-way process. Irrespective of personalities projective identification is an issue.

Knowingly or unknowingly, people end up building relationships on projective identifications. Needless to say, these relationships usually end up in a soup leaving everyone complaining.

In order to lead a happy life, it is important for us to step out of these projective identifications and be our true selves. The authenticity in your behavior will empower you to contribute positively to your relations and thus make them stronger. 

When people are caught in someone else’s projective fantasy, there is a high possibility that they end up losing their personalities. The only way to stop this is to wake up and break the trance.

Some psychologists have also used techniques of projective identification as a defense while treating patients. But that is a tricky road meant only for the experts.

For a layman like you and me, projective identification is an issue that needs to be nipped in the bud. The reason why it is even scarier is that you are likely to ignore the initial impact.

You will notice the issues only when it manifests into a major problem that impacts your attitude and way of life.

How to Deal with Projective Identification?

Like we told you defending yourself against projective identification is extremely important. If we let our guard down, this issue can impact our social and mental health considerably. Here are five simple steps to tackle the issue:

1. Trust yourself

One of the first rules for improving your social health is to learn to trust yourself. Yes! The strongest way to avoid falling prey to someone else’s projective fantasies is to believe in your potential.

For example, if someone points out that you have gained weight, you need not be ashamed of your body.

If you have gained weight, be upfront and acknowledge it. This will help you work towards achieving a healthier body. And in case you have not gained weight, simply drop the baggage of feelings that the other person is trying to pin on you.

2. Tackle those unwanted feelings

Have you ever wondered why do we project our fantasies at others? The answer to this question is simple. In most cases, this happens because we are too uncomfortable to tackle our unwanted feelings.

As a result, these feelings tend to hide. And we are more than happy to project it on someone else, at the first available opportunity.

However, this is not the right approach. You need to learn to tackle these feelings. Start by confronting them and proceed to evaluate them logically. The minute you confront them, they are no longer unwanted and therefore do not form a part of projective fantasies. 

3. Patience is the key

Getting rid of projective identification is not easy. It will require time. You will need to invest a lot of effort to change your way of thinking. When people around you notice the change in your attitude, they are likely to reciprocate with the same gesture.

However, this requires a patient yet consistent approach.

If you lose your patience, people will stop paying attention to your conversation. Simply put, your efforts will not yield results

4. Don’t believe opinions blindly

So far, we have talked about controlling the urge to indulge in projective identification. But what happens when someone else does it to you? Remember, we are constantly projecting our fantasies at the people around us.

Many times this happens without us even realizing it. Therefore, the trick is to control your thoughts. You should not believe every opinion that you hear from the people around you.

For example, if a friend comments on your clothes for the day, do not let it affect your confidence.

If you are comfortable and feel good about what you are wearing, it is best to ignore the other person’s opinion. The idea is to evaluate what you hear and think it through before letting it impact your life.

5. Seek help

If you start finding it difficult to face your innermost feelings, it is a sign that you need help. Do not fret as this is absolutely normal and you should not be ashamed of it. Therapists can help you tackle projective identification issues.

Of course, such therapies tend to take a while before they begin to show any results. Therefore, you should be prepared to invest in the effort.

On A Parting Note

If you intend to live a logical and happy life, you need to put a stop to projective identification problems. Do not pass on your unwanted feelings to others because it will make them feel miserable.

What’s worse is that you are actually fuelling a culture where someone may do the same thing to you as well. Imagine the hurt that it would cause. The only way to put a stop to it is to start with changing your attitude first.

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