7 Signs Someone Is Projecting Onto You — And Why It's Toxic

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woman looking for signs someone is projecting

Have you ever gotten the feeling the person you love is looking at you and listening to you but seeing and hearing someone else? It could very well be that they are seeing every other person they've ever been in a relationship with — or even themselves.

Our relationship experiences always teach us something so that we know better next time, but when someone still hasn't moved on from the past every problem they've encountered before could potentially come up again in yours as that person projects the ghosts of their past onto you.

What is ‘projection’ and why do people do it?

The term 'projection' most commonly refers to a defense mechanism that is demonstrated by "attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another."

The concept, first developed by Sigmund Freud and later expanded upon by Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, is based on the notion that "unconscious discomfort can lead people to attribute unacceptable feelings or impulses to someone else to avoid confronting them."

For example, let's say your partner won't stop accusing you of being critical of their appearance and worrying too much about their looks, when, in reality, your partner is the one who makes snide remarks about your appearance, like, "Did you put on a few pounds recently?" or "I'd think you'd make more of an effort to look nice when we're going over to my parents' house."

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In addition to defensive projection, there is also positive projection. This functions the same way, except one projects positive emotions on the other person, such as romantic feelings.

As Kristen Beesley Ph.D. states, "Projection can be "the basis of wonderful qualities such as empathy, generosity, and romantic feelings — or negative qualities such as rage, greed, and contempt."

7 Signs Someone is Projecting Onto You

1. They create their own version of reality.

When you talk to them, they hear what they want or expect to hear rather than what you intend to convey. They'll take bits and pieces of what you say and turn your original meaning into something totally different that fits what they are used to hearing or what they themselves would say.

If you're usually a pretty chill person, they might still perceive you as high-maintenance because that’s the kind of person they are or are used to. For example, no matter how many times you sincerely say that you are actually feeling "fine," they''ll insist that you aren't.

2. They don't see you as your own person.

Every individual has unique qualities, but if someone is projecting onto you, they don't see you as such. Instead, they see you as an amalgamation of every other person they dated in the past, a mosaic of all the painful memories they have experienced.

They may have gotten into the habit of speaking in generalities, like, "All women are dramatic," or "All women are extremely jealous." They create an interpretation of you that is different from who you actually are, and then act on their assumptions.

3. They expect history to repeat itself.

As much as they may be interested in you or even love you, they still hang onto the idea that this relationship will turn out like all the others. They have unresolved issues regarding past loves, and those issues continue to bleed through to this current situation.

If they'be been cheated on, they may continually express insecurity about the possibility of you cheating on them when that’s something you would never do.

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4. They overreact.

If they've been particularly hurt or even traumatized by a previous partner, they are likely to overreact if something you say or do hits that nerve. That’s what psychologists refer to as a "trigger." It’s a natural human reaction, but it can also be a relationship ruiner.

You may be able to help them through it and have this happen less and less over time. But then again, you may not.

5. They respond to conflict the same way every time and often play the victim.

Whenever you have an argument, they automatically default to the same reaction. Maybe they immediately shuts down. Maybe they instantly assume they knows exactly what you’re going to say. Whatever it is, they decide they already knows the outcome of the disagreement.

You could be an entirely reasonable person with the sole objective of calmly resolving issues together, but no one would never know if they were basing it off of their reaction, which comes from a place of being unable to overcome and see past their projection, weaponized against you as an unhealthy defense mechanism, which breeds self-victimization and shifting blame onto others.

6. They make references to their exes more than they should.

It’s natural and even healthy to talk about previous relationships — up to a certain point. It's good to understand where your partner is coming from and what kind of experiences they've had with love in the past, but you don’t want to be hearing about their exes all the time.

If you find that they seem overly preoccupied with their exes, there’s still something about those relationships they haven't been able to move on from.

7. They put up walls to keep you from getting too close.

The best part about being in a relationship with someone is getting close to them. Sometimes, however, people will only allow another person to get so close, no matter how much time they've spent together.

If you sense they're somewhat detached or emotionally hard to reach, it’s a sign they don't want to let you into a certain place in their heart — a place they've been hurt before.

Most if not all of us have some kind of wall inside, but what matters is what we decide to do about it.

If they're not willing to work with you to help tear their walls down, then they're always going to be projecting their past and their insecurities on you.

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Taylor Markarian is a writer and editor with a special interest in lifestyle, music, the arts, culture, and travel.