Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Projection and Borderline Personality Disorder: Part 1

I’m going to do this in a small series: What it is and Negative Projection, Positive Projection, and how to begin Healing from Projection.
What is projection and how does it apply to Borderline Personality Disorder?
Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people. Thus, projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others other people have those same feelings or traits.
Projection isn’t uncommon. What I find interesting is that in most Buddhist literature and other spiritual studies there is an overwhelming theory that we ALL project. What do you hate about other people? It's something you hate about yourself I have always heard. I have heard it most recently make a little more sense - we judge others for their behaviors and attitudes because it relieves the judgments we have against ourselves. It might even be a natural way for people to relate to one another. When we find someone with a common interest, we relate to them by unconsciously believing they share the same level of appreciation for that interest.
So for people with Borderline Personality Disorder this may be an issue of magnitudes; meaning like many other things it’s blown way out of proportion.

Sometimes people who suffer from personality disorders have an unstable view of themselves which leads them to lose track of where their own identity ends and where another person's identity begins. Projection can become malignant when it involves attribution of one's own actions, words, blame, fault, hatred, liability or flawed character onto another.
Projection can be conscious - where the perpetrator knows they are deliberately deflecting blame or liability onto another person. Where that blame or responsibility for a problem is conveniently attributed to to someone else.
Projection can also be subconscious - where the perpetrator is unaware that they are distorting or dissociating the facts. I try very hard to be aware of my own actions and try not to consciously project, however in retrospect I believe subconscious projection has happened quite often in my life.
This might explain a small part of why I always feel like an outsider. I see me as different, so I assume other people see me as different and may be acting to exclude, or at least not include me as fully, based on this assumption. Hm. Something to think about.
I think projection is easier to grasp in the form of examples.
Example 1: A woman cheats on her husband. She then begins “seeing signs” or picks up on normal habits that she now attributes as suspicious behavior in her husband which leads to her believing or accusing him of cheating on her. Instead of dealing with their own undesirable feelings of guilt, shame, whatever, they unconsciously project those feelings on the other person, and begins to thing that the other person has the same thoughts of infidelity/whatever and that the other may be having an affair as well. By doing this, the person alleviates their guilt if she/he projects their own impulses to faithlessness onto their partner to whom they should be owing their faith. .
Example 2: Someone who is prone to stealing or shoplifting may project those feelings onto other people and think that those around them are stealing from them, that something of theirs will be stolen, or that they’ll be shortchanged in some way because it’s something they themselves do – the subconsciously believe others will do it as well.
Example 3: A parent that sees herself as fat and criticizes or closely monitors her daughters diet and exercise to “prevent” her from becoming “overweight”.
Compartmentalization, splitting, and projection are ways that the ego continues to pretend that it is completely in control at all times. Unfortunately the reality of being human is anything but being in control at all times. The human experience is always shifting with reactive instincts and emotional motivations. While these experiences can sometimes be negative, they’re not always reprehensible, but for someone with a personality disorder this distinction may be blurry and the main sense of self tries to separate itself from things it knows are unsavory on some level. Further, while engaged in projection, individuals can be unable to access truthful memories, intentions, and experiences, even about their own nature, as is common in deep trauma.  This is deep subconscious type dissociation where a person really does believe that the projection and the “logic” behind the projection are real.

Dr. A.J.Mahari says, “The reality that people with BPD project out triggered dysregulated emotions onto others, attribute their own feelings, thoughts, devaluation and judgment to "other" and then feel "other" is victimizing them originates with the borderline's inability to hold their own distressing feelings. This cycle of projection also has its roots in the borderline's repetition compulsions wherein the other person is often lost in the "here and now". To the person with BPD "now" fades into a time from the past and the person on whom he or she is projecting is no longer visible or seen for who he or she is but rather becomes a person from the borderline's past with whom there was significant trauma, abandonment, and/or relational rupture with.”

When we shift our feelings from within to without, from Self to Other we are using a defense mechanism that essentially enables us to abdicate responsibility for what it is that we really feel. Doing this then separates us from our own very basic emotions. Being separated from our basic feelings also separates us from having the tools to meet our own needs. < ---- This is part of my Therapist works on my detachment and dissociation so much. Not so much to deal with projection, but because not being able to connect to my own basic feelings inhibits me from having the tools to deal with my own problems as best as I could.

Emotional defenses, such as projection, protect us from experiencing the pain and uncomfortable feelings like guilt, shame, and rage. The Borderline defenses of projection, projective identification and splitting enable the Borderline to put and maintain distance between him/herself and the rest of the world in which lasting bonds and congruent relational ties are formed. These defenses are both a protection from and a barrier to intimacy. And we all know how much we want to be loved in theory, but the practice of allowing someone to love us is an entirely different story.
Most Borderlines (until they reach a certain point of healing) often are not consciously aware of their projections. When they look at you and say you did this or that and it's all your fault when in fact it has all to do with what the Borderline has done, said or felt - a Borderline does not see this. They will fight you every step of the way, convinced that they are right and you are wrong. The right, wrong, good, bad black and white of splitting follows projection closely.
Projection is a defense mechanism used often by Borderlines to shift personal responsibility. It can often begin in childhood when a needed and relied upon parent is "hated" by the borderline. Hate or love/hate is often the environment from which projection is born.
So does that mean projection really is all bad? Nope…..


  1. Very well written and informative. You are quite a gifted writer. What I don't get is the whole "cutting" thing. Maybe because I am a guy who has just been diagnosed in my early 30's but self harm was never my thing. And I really don't understand it.

  2. Thank you. I've written A LOT about cutting and Self-Harm. I did an entire series on it actually.

    This is the first post where I explain my reasons for self-harm: Cut to the quick

    Then this link will take you to all the posts I've written about self-harm. Maybe that will help you understand.

    Self Harm

    Ultimately I think it's a feeling you're either inclined to have or not. I'm not sure someone who's never felt the need to self-harm can ever understand it in the most fundamental way, but all this should at least help.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. love your blogs, im undiagnosed BPD who's searching for a better understanding of himself

  5. Haven, this is really helpful. I have a co-worker who I think is undiagnosed BPD, and is the queen of projection. I thought part of it was conscious and part unconscious. My problem is that she has a patter of abusing me, getting called on that by me or our bosses, and then being friendly, wanting it "all in the past", and then eventually getting back to the abuse. I think somehow I'm a threat to her. I'm finally seeing the pattern, and setting boundaries -- no contact outside of work, but both of us trying to work together in a pleasant and professional way. The odd thing to me is that she is very capable of being very professional and a good team player when she wants to be. Which makes work easier for her. (And the rest of us.) But she sabotages that process and then because she is uncooperative, work gets harder for her. I wish I knew how to deal with her. She desperately needs help, but can't see it, and won't do it. Any suggestions?

  6. I am currently going through a divorce from a Psygologist who did (does) a LOT of projecting. The scary thing is that he will fight you, like you say, every step of the way!!!!

  7. I, too, am divorcing an undiagnosed, stubborn BPD male who started to act out at the age of 62 yrs. old! After noting all his symptoms, I concluded that he really doesn't know why he does as he does yet I understand why his anger is now volcanic. I, however, was never one to take blame if not warranted but listened to the untruths he bestowed upon me. I soon realized all adjectives were misdirected and should have been shouted to his caretakers...both his parents! Likewise, some descriptive words pertained to him as well. Although he will not seek professional help, he cannot tolerate all the projected traits onto me and, therefore, his need to rid of me. It's not worth my time and energy...I'm done with him and his dysfunctional family! I, for one, am thankful that I was blind but now I see!

  8. I love your blog - very informative and helpful understanding my S/O. I have a question, if you could help shed some light it would be greatly appreciated. I am not sure if this would be considered projection or not. My BF of 7 years, who has cheated in the past (several times), has had an issue with a facebook male friend of mine, whom I have never met and lives on the opposite coast, just from him posting on my wall.

    The current situation is this friend posted on my wall 5 days before my actually birthday
    with a picture of a birthday cake and only posted "I hope it rocks". I had posted a quote my status and my BF wrote on my quote, "This rocks". I questioned him on his comment, since he does not speak that way, and he was obviously jealous of my friends post of an early birthday wish. He made such a big deal that it was 5 days early and that I liked it, so he thought he would use the same verbage. Then he started with me that his gut says there is more to it than facebook friends only that he must not be aware of, which I told him was absurd.

    Now, one thing I should share is this, after 7 years you would never know we are even dating as far as FB is concerned. There is no sweet posts from him to me. He does not publicly acknowledge me on holidays, but this FB friend does and it irks him. He does not even have himself listed as being in a relationship. I have discussed with him that it would be nice to be acknowledged as if he was someone who cared about me, once in a while, but he does not. Is it that he is jealous of the nice posts from a friend that he is not doing knowing that I would probably appreciate that type of post from him? Or is it his projecting what he once did (cheating on me) with these simple posts from someone I never even met. OR could it be he is still cheating on me and just got better at hiding it and is actually projecting what he is currently doing? We are in a long distance relationship, btw.

    He is in his late 50's and I find this type of behavior very childish. He then tries to say that if it were one of his female FB friends I would react the same way. No, I wouldn't. The only time I have been hurt and talked to him about it was when I had wrote this heartfelt post on his birthday about how much I loved and appreciated him and wished him the best birthday ever and he hit the like button. Meanwhile, all the other posts he received from his female FB friends he took the time to say how much he appreciated their posts.

    I know this all sounds so stupid and petty because it it is! I am just looking for some in site and help understanding where he is coming from - I just don't get it.

  9. My husband went though a divorce almost 20 years ago. His daughter, ex-wife and sister-in-law has personality disorders. We have encounter abusive behavior from all three and transfer or projection from all three. We have cut ties with all and struggle with the behavior as it still exists. Can you explain what would cause this behavior to exist for so long and how to cope with this.

  10. Please let me know if it's not too much trouble for me to email you my current situation with a bpd person in my life... It's killing me... pain beyond words can possibly describe. I was hoping to be able to seek your advice... Thank you..


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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