By Lisa Caplan

We have all had people in our lives say things to us that are hurtful or treat us in a way that is not nice. Whether it is someone close to you or a complete stranger, it’s understandable to internalize what they say or how they treat you, even believe it, or think we deserve the treatment and take ownership of it. We may blame ourselves for doing something or saying something wrong. We all can admit that at one time or another what someone has done or said to us has had an impact on how we feel about ourselves.

But, why assume it’s you? Why not assume it is the other person? Why are you taking this on? I believe that if we don’t build a healthy self-esteem, then we take on what others say and how they treat us as our problem. We don’t typically assume it is their problem, and that how they think and feel has nothing to do with us. So, what do we do about it?


First, you must understand what projection is:

  • Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone has a conflict between their unconscious feelings and their conscious beliefs. In order to deal with this conflict they place these feelings on someone else. It’s a way to trick themselves into thinking that these undesirable feelings or traits belong to someone else and that they don’t need to take ownership for them. This is their way of externalizing the problem. Projection also acts as a way to deal with insecurities by not dealing with them. This is often what motivates a bully.
  • Recognize that projecting emotions onto others is common and that we all do it to some extent. Any feeling can be projected onto another person. Whenever we have an internal conflict, it is human nature to shift the uncomfortable feeling, subconsciously, elsewhere.
  • During an interaction, you or someone else can be projecting feelings. Whether malice is intended or not, it can be very harmful. Projecting influences our thoughts and feelings, and can impact our self-esteem, make you doubt yourself, and feel crazy.

How to minimize the impact of projection:

  • Recognize projection. Recognizing is always the first step in dealing with any problem. Once identified, you can learn to protect yourself from it. Look for language in others that use the word, “you”. For example: You have been really edgy lately. You have been lazy. Why don’t you lose some weight? Why are you so fearful? Have you ever thought of… When you hear this language this might indicate you are being projected onto.
  • Projections aren’t facts. Just because someone says  it doesn’t make it true.
  • Trust yourself. Think about what the person is saying and objectively determine if it is true? Do you want to work on it or are you comfortable with who you are? If you don’t like to fly, that is okay. Own it. If you want to work on it, then choose to.
  • Don’t engage, and set boundaries. Once you realize that you are being projected onto, don’t argue. Remove yourself from the conversation by using an “I feel” statement, for example: “I feel concerned that you are talking to me like this and I’m not going to continue this conversation.” Walk away. Arguing fuels the fire.
  • In one ear, out the other. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean you have to hold onto it and waste your energy engaging in conversations in your head, or with them. Let it go. When you let it go you don’t give the other person anywhere to go with the conversation and it stops in its tracks.
  • Evaluate why this person is in your life. Is this a work relationship, your boss, friendship, romantic? Evaluate what type of people you want in your life and decide what choices you have. Make changes if necessary. It’s very empowering to look at your choices, and it will help build a healthy self-esteem.

For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors throughout Maryland. Jim Quinn, Director, (443) 703-3041,; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Associate Director, (443) 703-3042,  Toll Free line 1 (888) 388-5459.

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, paddle boarding, sailing, rock climbing, and training for triathlons.