Dealing with difficult emotions: What is psychological projection and how do I spot it?

Research suggests that 35% of people feel insecure in their romantic relationship. Could it be psychological projection? And if so, what does that mean?

Let me begin by asking you a few questions.

Have you ever lied to your partner and then become paranoid that they might be lying to you?


Have you ever concluded that someone at work doesn’t like you even though you’ve no solid evidence that this is the case?


Have you ever thought or said something mean about someone else’s appearance? Or become jealous of another person taking a friendly interest in your spouse?

These are all classic examples of psychological projection.

What is psychological projection?

Psychological projection is a defence mechanism we all have and use unconsciously. It is a process whereby we mistake what is happening inside of us for something that is happening on the outside. 

Sigmond Freud coined the term in 1895, when he noticed that many of his patients would accuse others of having the feelings or behaviours that they themselves demonstrated. In a letter, he described a patient who avoided her feelings of shame by imagining that her neighbours were gossiping about her. One of the most common recurring issues was women being convinced their husbands were unfaithful when it is they who were actually having the affair. 

The theory has been refined many times since its conception. However, what most psychotherapists agree on is that psychological projection happens because it feels more comfortable to project than to deal with ourselves and the inner world. It is more straightforward to conclude we are being attacked by others than it is to accept we are attacking ourselves. 

Becoming aware of our psychological projection can help us to have more mature, rational experiences of the world around us. Individual psychotherapy and couples therapy can help. 

Is insecurity a projection?

If you are experiencing insecurity in your relationship, career, or just in general, you could be projecting. Let’s say you are constantly worried your partner doesn’t like you, or is thinking or saying horrible things about you. If this is not the case, then you are most likely projecting your feelings about yourself onto your partner. 

Sometimes, it can be extremely challenging to accept that we are projecting. You may have found a false sense of security within your projections, especially if you’ve been doing it for a long time. Therapy can help you to break this pattern and live a more authentic life, free from harmful projections. 

How do you spot a projection?

As a fully trained and qualified psychotherapist, I have studied psychological projection and helped clients bring projection into their consciousness. It takes time and in-depth honest conversations to identify projections and bring them to the surface. The therapeutic relationship plays a crucial role in this process. How you feel about me and what you imagine I think about you is a great starting point.

In a therapy session, I might ask you to explore your true feelings about yourself, identify your attachment style, and talk about any difficulties or traumas you’ve experienced that may have led you to projecting on others. My aim is to help you to free yourself from unhealthy and cyclical thoughts and recurring behaviours, so that you can live a happier, more authentic life.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.