It’s not uncommon for conflicts with spouses, family, friends and co-workers to arise from the self-perception that one knows what another person thinks or feels, in lieu of the other person actually expressing his or her thoughts. This behavior is clinically defined as projection and it involves the process whereby a person attributes his or her own feelings and thoughts to another person.
The person who is projecting is often unaware of what they’re doing. Projection can be a result of having undefined emotional boundaries or lacking a sense of self. Projecting also involves the belief that those close to us should be able to anticipate our needs and desires without having to express them. This often results in miscommunication, misunderstanding, hurt feelings and resentment.
Developing clear emotional boundaries is the first step towards stopping projection and having healthier relationships.
Five tips to reduce projection:
1. Get to know yourself. We can’t set useful boundaries if we don’t understand our physical and emotional expectations, wants and needs. Having a genuine understanding of our selves is the cornerstone of setting boundaries and improving communication.
2. Tune in to your emotions. When we are aware of our true feelings we are better able to express them and identify what feelings and thoughts actually belong to us, instead of another person.
3. Practice reflection. Take time to reflect, think through and gain an understanding of why you are feeling a certain way. This can reduce reactions that lead to miscommunication.
4. Set boundaries. Many people are aware of the importance of setting boundaries but don’t out of guilt or fear of backlash. Recognize that you’re not responsible for others’ struggles to honor your boundaries.
5. Remember that no two people are exactly alike. No matter how close you are with someone, no two people think, perceive and feel exactly alike. Developing the ability to accept that is a step towards cultivating a more intimate relationship.