Projection Psychology: Shadow Defense Mechanism

Are you trying to understand how your shadow and projection psychology work?

Understand that everything about the unconscious is rather tricky and counter-intuitive.

Shadow and Projection Definition

The Shadow is the part of yourself that is disconnected and unfelt.

It’s the part of yourself that’s been rejected since childhood and you have no awareness of.

Projection is a defense mechanism your ego uses when you see someone with a quality that you’ve rejected in your own personality.

For an overview of shadow work and integration, you can read our guide here.

Why People Project

Projection is easier than assimilation, even though it leaves us less than whole.

There are two main reasons why people use projection:

  1. They’ve disowned a part of their own personality and they’re not ready to accept it
  2. People are scared of their own Goodness and darkness

The ego uses projection to keep us internally disconnected from qualities we find unpleasant.

However, just because you don’t identify with these parts of yourself doesn’t mean they’re gone.

Instead, they show up as qualities we loathe or admire in other people.

How Projection Works

When qualities of our personality are repressed, they are not eliminated. Instead, they are shifted outside of our awareness.

This is why you might not feel any connection to the quality in question.

Since the shadow harbors all of these rejected qualities, and it wants to be validated, the shadow uses projection to express the repressed.

In other words, these rejected qualities become easily observable in others, but nearly invisible to ourselves.

Our projections color our view of others.

This is an incredible insight because it means that much of what we perceive about other people, and the world is actually a reflection of our true selves.

This is why a woman who freely ridicules and judges flirty women one day, can consider those same women as sisters the next. Given that she owns the seductiveness that she formerly loathed in others.

Why Projection is Bad

Creates conviction that problems in life are “out there”.

Your view of the world can be a reflection of yourself. And if it’s especially negative, you can find yourself isolated since your worldview is too illusory.

Distorts our view of other people.

By their very nature, the projections you put upon others bring out noticeable emotional responses. This means people feeling resentful, loathsome, “triggered”, etc. But what seems bothersome to you likely doesn’t affect others at all. This difference is proof that you’re not seeing them objectively, or even as humanly.

Expresses unconscious hostility towards others.

When you negatively project onto the world you unconsciously keep your defenses up with a subtle hostility. This subtle hostility unconsciously provokes others, which causes them to extend their shadow projections onto yourself.

In this sense, negative projections are a way for you to express self-hatred.

Responsible for scapegoating, racism, and creating enemies.

It’s common for people to demonize others who they feel represent the opposite of themselves. Despite their demonization being a result of their projection. This is unfair to those who are being projected on—who have every right to protect themselves.

Why Projection is Good

Positive Projection is Validation, which includes admiration and recognition.

For example, when you admire and look up to someone, you are projecting your unclaimed, positive qualities onto them.

The reason why you haven’t claimed these positive qualities for yourself is that on a deep level you don’t feel you deserve them yet.

But since these qualities are a part of you—only repressed—you’ve projected them onto someone who may share that quality.

Like mentioned earlier, our projections are repressed qualities we place onto other people because we are not yet ready to accept them as part of ourselves.

So when you aren’t ready for your own validation, you give it to others in the form of admiration.

(You can only admire others when your unconscious senses that it’s worthy as well.)

In this sense, these admirable qualities aren’t created—they are discovered.

There are two scenarios in particular where we use positive projection:

Hero-Worship & Idolizing

When you look up to somebody as an idol you are projecting your best qualities onto that person.

Not only does show more about who you are, but it also reveals a path to take for your self-development.

However, when you idolize someone with your projection you are putting them on a pedestal.

In a sense, you are deluding yourself with an illusion of perfection.

When you do this you aren’t able to have a real relationship with the person you idolize. Otherwise, you’d be disillusioned by the reality of who they truly are.

Hence the quote, “Don’t meet your heroes.”

Instead, it’s best to admire from a distance. Despite your desire to monopolize the person.

The illusion is all you need from them until you are ready to integrate those positive qualities into yourself.

Besides, people who take on the projections of masses of people are already under lots of pressure.


Most people are immature or are stuck in unconscious cycles. This leaves them lacking in self-love and acceptance for others.

When others lack validation for themselves, they can act as emotional vampires and take away from your self-validation.

But this is unfortunate because the truth is—Everyone has enough validation for themselves, and more, but most people aren’t ready to accept it.

Falling In Love

Falling in love, as in the stage of infatuation, is projecting the best parts of yourself.

It’s possible to imagine adoring qualities that the other person possesses, which makes us obsessive and want to spend lots of time with them.

Although women can sometimes be shocked by how much a man can idealize her, this projection is also a man’s greatest motivation to make something of his life—a muse to his motion.

Of course, the ‘falling in love’ phase only lasts so long before a couple is disillusioned. After which the couple learns to truly love, or let the relationship crumble.

Projection in Romantic Relationships

Projection within romantic relationships is an interesting phenomenon that’s best understood in retrospect.

For example, let’s say your partner is the goofy fun-loving person in the relationship. Meanwhile, you’re more mellow.

Let’s say your relationship ends and you spend some time being single with no genuine interest in relationships.

You may find yourself acting goofier now that you’re not in a relationship.

What you’ve discovered is two things:

  1. You’ve got a goofy side too
  2. In a relationship, you’ve allocated all the goofy to your partner

This is also why you commonly find relationships where one partner is more loving and the other partner is more distant.

We tend to unconsciously divvy up our emotions between ourselves and our partner.

So not only is the way we view our partner skewed by our unconscious beliefs—but we also unconsciously signal our partner to express certain emotions for us.

However, identifying which projections are taking place takes a lot of observation, self-knowledge, and nuance.

It’s best to focus on your own personal shadow work before trying to nail down an understanding of how your romantic unconscious relationship works.

Check out my article Shadow Work in Relationships for a much better understanding of your projections, inner child wounds, and even shadow work prompts.

How to Know if You’re Projecting Your Shadow

Understand that the shadow is not an issue between you and the world.

Your shadow’s projections are presenting an issue between you and yourself.

There are two ways you can tell if you’re projecting:

1 – Ask people whom you trust and that know you well.

See if they notice traits about you that you don’t see in yourself. Get their opinion on your poise since the unconscious tends to express itself via body language.

2 – Pay attention to what you greatly LOATHE or ADMIRE.

Spotting admiration is easy and has already been discussed. But you should pay attention to traits and attitudes you dislike, and how strongly you dislike them.

If you find that a person strongly affects you emotionally, then there’s a very good chance you’re projecting to banish that precise quality (a real piece of who you are) from yourself.

In a very real way, what you believe someone is ‘doing’ to you, is something you are actually doing to yourself.

What you’ll also notice is that what’s emotionally a ‘big deal’ to you, doesn’t bother other people as much.

My experience projecting & how I integrated my shadow with self-acceptance

They say you spend the first 20 years of your life casting parts of yourself into your shadow—

Then you spend the rest of your life trying to get those parts back.

I grew up in an abusive household where my father domineered and degraded all of us.

When I decided I’d rather live out in my car than live at home, I left.

By that time my spirits were crushed and I decided that I would never be the kind of person he is.

That’s when I disowned parts of who I am.

You see, as a teenager I was much more assertive and outspoken. You could call it teen angst, but right now I could tell you that much of it was plainly who I was.

When I vowed to not be like my father I indirectly did two things:

  1. I disowned parts of who I was so I wouldn’t be like him.
  2. I would live my life always trying to prove I wasn’t “bad” like he is.

Put the two together and you have a person who loathes being told what to do, isn’t assertive, and doesn’t have any concept of boundaries.

That last one is a result of abuse.

Then I started working someplace that was especially toxic. Only I didn’t know it yet since it was my first job where I was in frequent contact with people.

That place went through a couple of managers—each one power-tripping harder than the last.

I stayed for two years. By then my shadow was dense.

When I finally left I picked up a temp job where everyone was kind and pleasant.

Then something clicked in my head:

This is the way I should’ve been treated.

I put up with so much bullshit, so much mistreatment, and for what?

By now I would get intrinsically ‘triggered’ whenever I was told to do anything.

A simple request like “pass the remote” or “try out x“ gave me inner dread, followed by sharp resentment.

Day-by-day I would think back on it and ruminate. Every day growing more and more resentful.

I couldn’t get out of my head. I wanted some sort of release, some sort of vengeance.

Don’t worry, this happened a long time ago, no damage was done.

I’d imagine hurting these people. But then I’d tell myself “That’s not who I am” and “I don’t want to do that.”

This would happen for some time, and each time the fantasies would get darker.

Until one day, the rumination started again and I sat down, and just, watched.

My darkest, twisted fantasies were playing in my head for what felt like the thousandth time.

Staring at me.

And as I stared back I had a realization—

“That is who I am… I do want to do these things… and I could do these things”.

I knew my realization held a lot of truth.

My body relaxed. I hadn’t realized I was so tense.

Then I remembered the book Ordinary Men, where unassuming men became monsters and performed monstrous acts.

The truth is that anyone is capable of becoming a monster. Anyone.

And if you don’t believe that, then you haven’t come face to face with what you really are.

As a human, you are capable of doing the greatest acts of kindness known to man, and you are capable of doing the worst acts of horror known to man.

It doesn’t matter who you think you are.

If someone has done it, anyone else can do it too.

Including you.

This was when I met my shadow.

This is when my ill feelings finally started to dissipate.

I’m sorry if my story disturbed you reader. But it was a long time ago. And I didn’t know myself back then as well as I do now.

When I finally admitted there was a monster in me, I started feeling better.

Over time I would try and talk with this shadow, try to connect with it.

In fact, the last time my resentment boiled up and my mind was beginning to start the thoughts again, I demanded my shadow to make it stop:

“Enough! This happened long ago! Enough! It’s over. Get over it!”

And I did.

After the curse was lifted, I grew even more interested in my unconscious.

So I tried reaching out to it, however I could think of. Getting in touch using active imagination.

I still noticed that meager requests would bother me. There was something in me that still loathed being told what to do.

Although I integrate what I was from a birds-eye view, I didn’t yet integrate the full spectrum of who I was into my personality.

So I pondered on it.

Many people were able to be assertive, each in their own way, and nobody seemed to have a problem with it.

The only person who seemed to really have a problem with it, was me.

My view of reality, of people, and myself were completely distorted. To me, assertiveness was largely unacceptable.

I realized that I had disowned it.

My problem wasn’t between me and other people. My problem was between me and me.

The truth is that I am assertive.

This was easy because I had already accepted that I was the type of person capable of the highest atrocities – with no intention of doing so, of course.

But the more I looked into it the more I found.

am domineering, I am manipulative, I am a dreaded tyrant.

I looked back far enough and I realized that I was a tyrant, just like my father.

But it wasn’t until my father forced himself back into my life, until he crushed my spirits, that I realized that what he was doing to me is what I was doing to other people.

So I made my vow.

When I started accepting who I really am, I didn’t start bullying or hurting people.

Instead, I was just more assertive. I was no longer getting that dreaded feeling anymore when I was told what to do.

I became happier.

Shadow Work for Projection: Integration & Self-Acceptance

When you can finally embrace the thing that you despise in yourself you will repossess the energy and power that you’ve been projecting outward.

You’ll know you’ve successfully integrated a part of your shadow when you are no longer affected intrinsically when it shows up in another person.

Instead, you’ll be better adjusted for reality, because you’ve been able to move aside your wish to be good and instead allow a certain amount of your evil to be expressed.

Although it takes time and emotional labor—

Giving your shadow side validation prevents it from trying to get it from you through others.

Allowing your shadow to free up energy and work with you instead of against you.

Thanks for reading.

Check out the Shadow Work Course here.

Check out A Light Among Shadows: A Guide to Self-Love & Being here.

Subscribe to get your free ebook 30 Shadow Work Prompts



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