Why Projecting Feelings Can Be Harmful To Your Relationship

Updated September 8, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Humans are social creatures by nature; our brains have evolved to function in social societies where we depend on and learn from each other to survive. But this ability to understand emotions and experiences from other people can lead us to make assumptions about what others might be thinking or feeling. We may likewise project our feelings as a means to get others to understand us, try and relate to people, or express the emotions we’re managing. Doing so can cause more harm than good in many relationships, romantic or not. Here, we'll talk about what it means to project your feelings, how to identify this behavior, why it can be harmful to your relationship, and how to communicate more effectively.

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Do You Believe You May Be Projecting Your Feelings?

What Does It Mean To Project Your Feelings?

"Projecting your feelings" is a term that psychologists may use to describe the act of attributing your feelings to other people, even if they aren't expressing those feelings themselves.

Suppose you're angry about something. When you're projecting your feelings, you might think that other people are angry with you even if they aren't doing anything to convince you that they are.

Projecting Feelings Can Be Common

To understand what projection is, it may first help to recognize that it can be a very common occurrence. It's something many of us can do because of strong, unaddressed feelings we hold ourselves or in our attempt to try to understand the feelings of others.

However, when you understand projection and are aware that you are doing it, it often becomes easier to stop and pay closer attention to those around you. You may even begin to notice others around you engaging in this kind of behavior as well, whether intentional or not.

Why Do We Project Our Feelings?

There are three main reasons that we might project our feelings. However, you might see all of these causes at different times or a combination depending on the feelings involved and the situation that causes them.

The first of these is that our emotions, especially difficult emotions, can form a feedback loop. Anger can lead us to see anger around us. Sadness can lead us to see sadness around us. As a result, when we experience one of these emotions, we often see it in others, even if they aren't experiencing or exhibiting those emotions. 

While people usually see projecting as things done by selfish or self-absorbed people, it may be something that we can do when we are trying to understand people. If someone else is going through something, our instinct might be to try to understand what that is. One way that can we do this, usually subconsciously, is by assuming that the other person feels the way we would feel in that situation. In this way, projection can be a genuine, if a little short-sighted, attempt at understanding those around us.

In other words, our basic ability to experience empathy may lead us to try and assume how others feel. Because we’re used to trying to relate to other people, we might assume that they relate to us when we’re upset.

How Projecting Feelings Can Be Harmful To Your Relationship

Projecting feelings can be harmful to your relationship for several reasons. They can roughly track with the reason why you might project your feelings. That does not mean, however, that there is a one-to-one relationship between them. Anyone of the causes or combinations of the causes above can cause any one of the following problems or a combination of problems.


The first of these is that it isn't projecting isn’t very productive for the other person. When you project your emotions onto other people, you may try to help them and think you are helping them. However, because the emotions aren't theirs, you likely aren't doing them any good.

Similarly, projecting our emotions onto other people seldom actually helps us in understanding our own emotions. More often than not, it may just distract us from solving our problems, allowing them to perpetuate.

Finally, projecting your own emotions can prevent you from understanding other people; assuming that everyone feels the same way you would in a given situation might prevent you from understanding what they're experiencing. This, in turn, can hold you back from actually helping them.

Healthier Alternatives

Now that we've established that projection generally isn't a healthy way of managing emotions or the emotions of those around us, what are some healthier alternatives?

If you know that you are managing some difficult emotions and are worried about projecting, get some alone time to work through what you need to. Consider taking a walk, going for a drive, or just retreating into a room by yourself for a bit.

Having alone time can be a good option sometimes and for some people. However, others may best solve their concerns with the help of other people. If you think you need some help processing and resolving your emotions, don't be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or even a mental health professional. We'll talk later in the article about how you can expand your options for convenient and affordable therapy.

Finally, if you're trying to understand someone else's emotions, it might be best to simply ask them. It's almost guaranteed to be more effective than projecting. You can alleviate a lot of stress and misunderstandings by asking someone how they feel upfront rather than making assumptions.

How To Tell If You Are Projecting

The biggest problem with choosing healthier alternatives to projecting your emotions on others may be that we often don't know when we are projecting. The good news is that there can be a couple of ways that you can tell that you are projecting so that you can choose a healthier and more productive path.

Often, if you are projecting your feelings, someone may indirectly tell you via phrases like "you don't understand what I'm going through." Phrases like these aren't necessarily direct challenges to our projection, but they can help us understand that we may be projecting or assuming.

Another way to tell that we are projecting can be to watch for patterns that seem improbable. As mentioned above, when you are angry or sad, everyone around you can seem angry or sad (or at least like they’re not understanding or seeing that you are). Instead of looking to others for a solution or understanding, it might be helpful to take a look inward and see what might really be going on beneath the surface.

Finally, you can tell that you are projecting by being more in touch with your feelings. One great way to do this may be through mindfulness. Things like meditation and journaling can help you recognize thought patterns to better understand and identify your feelings so that you can express or process them in healthy and productive ways.

Finding Help

Projecting can be a very personal concern, and addressing it often starts with the self. However, as we have seen, projection may be potentially problematic in relationships. Sometimes, the best way to move forward may be by talking to an expert, possibly a relationship counselor.

Do You Believe You May Be Projecting Your Feelings?

Many people believe that relationship counselors repair broken relationships, but in reality, these professionals can help strengthen relationships regardless of how strong they are. You can likewise choose to pursue individual therapy with a mental health professional to discuss your relationship, feelings, or tendency to project emotions.

Fortunately, due to today's advanced technology and resources, options like online therapy can connects clients with one of the thousands of experienced and professional relationship counselors over the internet. All that's required is an internet-capable device. That means you can join sessions from the comfort of your own home.

Regardless of whether you choose to seek individual or relationship therapy, it’s likely you can benefit from getting some outside advice and support. In fact, one recent study revealed that an impressive 95% of couples who engaged in online couples counseling found the experience to be helpful. Working on communication, emotional processing techniques, and other strategies can help you learn to overcome projecting your feelings for your sake and that of those around you.


Whether you try to work through challenges with projecting your feelings on others by yourself, with your partner, friends, and family, or with a relationship counselor, it can be an important objective that’s worth pursuing. Addressing your projection can help you better communicate with and understand others. It can also help you better understand your own emotions so you can feel empowered to manage them on your own.

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