'What a man is unable to have in a relationship within himself he needs to have in a relationship on the outside' (Åke Chadell)

There is an ancient wisdom from the American Indians who say that when you are sitting in a circle with other people you should note what annoys you with the person opposite you. This same thing that annoys you is something that you need to work on yourself.

It is often that we can't see in ourselves what we need to develop to grow as people and get healthier, funnier and more intimate relationships. Instead we take others to help by seeing it in them first. It seems safer to put it on other people than with myself.

It can for example be that I get annoyed with my partners inability to plan his time in a good way, my colleagues difficulties to express themselves clearly or my tennis partners short and blunt replies.

Everything that we see in other people is obviously not something that we need to work with within ourselves, but if it is something specific in someone else that evokes a particular strong signal within yourself it is worth asking yourself it his has something to do with you.

Projections is the word

What we are talking about here is with a fancy word called projections. Just like a movie projector we are projection a drama, a story of something else. Just like a movie screen, this is not where the actual movie exist, but in the camera. Just the same, the real story, the real drama does not exist with the other person that you are projection on but with yourself.

A common form of projection is that we project our parents on our partner. If I had a mum who was excessively caring and wanted to control everything I did, the chances are quite good that, if I haven't worked on developing my reactions to this, I will see the same traits in the woman I live with as an adult. Maybe I might even find a suitable woman, a suitable movie screen, to play my inner drama on.

The benefits, with playing it on a movie screen, are that everything gets so much bigger and clearer. What is within me might be hard to catch. Then it is great to have other people to project on. We can call it to mirror you in others. I mirror me in others through relationships and the image of myself becomes clearer.

However, problems can occur if you can't manage to take your projection home, you can never solve your own inner drama, your own story, just by putting it on others. The real change won't happen until you can see it within yourself.

Another example on a common projection can be if you get angry or frustrated in situations where you don't know what to say. If you're in a situation with a group of people where the others are silent you might be thinking "Ugh, they must be angry sitting there so quiet" Here I don't take responsibility for my own anger and if someone in the group at later moment would be angry for a different reason I would think "See, I was right."

Letting others do the groundwork

Another shape of projections is to put my problems on to others to see how they solve it. Obviously this is not a conscious process as in us waking up in the morning and plan who we should put our problems on to today, who should I project my problem filled movie on to today to see if, or mostly how, the end will be happy.

For example, I might find it hard to handle that other people gets annoyed with me. An unconscious way to handle this can then be to be annoyed with people in my surrounding just to see how they handle this. That is, I am unconsciously putting other people in to the same situation that I find hard or uncomfortable. Then I will see if I can learn anything from the way they handled it.

Markus: I have a part of myself that stronlgy dislike to be incompetent or to make mistakes. This part I have noticed that I from time to time has thrown over or projected on to my partner by, for example, stress a situation to make it hard or almost impossible for her to handle on a good way just to see how she handles this.

It isn't something that I have done deliberately, but it becomes clear when I think back and think of it on the perspective of projections. When instead I own this fear within myself and take responsibility for it me, life and our relationship becomes calmer.

To get your message through using other creatures

We write creatures, because it doesn't at all have to be just human people that we project things on. It can be animals, plants, almost anything. An example of this is the mother who misses her adult children and wish that they would visit her more often. Instead of just saying it the way it is it can come out as her cat is longing to see them again, "you know how happy he gets when you are here".

Filippa: I like using our dog as the messenger to what I want to have said to my partner.

If he for example gets angry with me and I can see that the dog finds it a bit uncomfortable I can ask him to calm himself down for the sake of the dog, even though it would be as much for the dog's sake as for mine.

It can also be the housewife who wishes that her husband would come home earlier from work and expresses it as it is the children missing their father, even though it is most certainly true, but if she isn't capable to express her own longing the relationship to her husband won't mature and develop but it will stay in the power of projection.

Another popular and common variation in this theme is that through projection identify yourself with your favorite team in soccer. If it goes well for the team then I am well too, if it goes bad then I too feel bad and the Monday morning will feel extra heavy after the defeat in yesterday's game.

Markus: On a course in personal developing where I was a participant we got to experience a powerful experience. The course leader has a plastic bottle that we got to verbally relate to in different ways by saying what we saw when we looked at this bottle.

We also got to say something about ourselves that were consistent with the shape of the bottle, the quality or the look. This pretty fast moved on to that we all started to identify ourselves with this plastic bottle and we all cared that it was handled in a gentle and appropriate manner.

That gave me a good lesson of how easy I project characteristic in people and other things in my surrounding and how I let this projection gain power over myself.

Your dark sides

If your first thought when you read the topic on this was "my dark sides, I haven't got any of them" then you might recognize yourself in the following. A form of what we are talking about here, that is projections, is to project out your own evil, your own meanness or your own anger on to the news in TV or newspapers. To acknowledge how mean they are against each other in the Middle East and then only half an hour later give your kids a sharp telling off because they are too noisy when they are playing.

To moan over the gossip magazines that is spreading rumors, true or untrue, and on top of that has the guts to earn money on it. To the next coming day stand at work and talk behind your boss back how stupid his latest decision was.

It can be devastating for any relationship if you haven't at least learnt to know some of these so called dark sides in yourself. We call them dark sides as it isn't always we are encouraged to talk about them and it is a bit shameful to talk about your own greed, your own anger or jealousy. Instead we live them out by different Medias, unable to bring them home to ourselves where we have the power to do something about them.

When someone is playing their movie for you

When this happens, that someone is trying to play their movie for you, there is every reason to be cautious. It can be that what the other person says doesn't at all relate to you and then it can be good to talk about it in an adult way. To be clear by saying "that doesn't at all relate to me, it used to before but not anymore."

Det kan också vara så att du tänker eller säger "det här stämmer inte alls på mig", men inombords så väcker det någon känsla i dig. Det kan vara en signal på att här faktiskt finns information att hämta som kan gynna dig i din egen utveckling.

Filippa: I know that I sometimes don't say what I want to my partner but instead say"it is probably a good idea that you eat now, you should be hungry?

Instead of saying "I'm hungry, would you also like to eat now?"


A word of caution

We have seen relationships where the word projections has become a throw around item by seeing that as soon as an annoyance has been expressed with someone else's actions it has been said "that is just a projection, what it is, is really about yourself." As a wise teacher once said "there are reasons to why these projections end up where they end up." Most often it has something to say about both persons.

Maybe my partners after all isn't my mother, but she has traits that reminds me about my mother and that she would benefit from getting help in finding more in herself. At the same time as I myself needs to make up with my inner mother so that I stop playing this drama on my partners movie screen day after day.

Projections is a powerful tool that when well used can develop, change and transform individuals and relationships. Take a moment from time to time to be aware of what you at the moment in your life are projecting out on others. You can get support in this by the experience in the end of this article.

Projections in partner relationships

A lot is already to be found about this text about the projections dynamic in couple's relationships. A lot of rights and wrongs in discussions in intimate relationships come from us being poor listeners because we are projecting different things on the other.

A more open hearty and mutual conversation of what we play of each other in a relationship can open up a freer flow of love, more intimacy and less unnecessary conflicts.

Another wise person said:"sometimes the partner is the last to see the change, sometimes the first to see it and like it".

Steps to process and change their projections

The following is a brief explanation of how you can change your projections and improve the quality in your relationships to other people.

  1. Discovery – be aware of a trait that you are projecting out on
  2. Acceptance – "bring home" and own this trait as a part of yourself
  3. Get to know it – when is this trait evoked within yourself? In which situations? With whom? What does this trait do for you in your life?
  4. New relationship – create a new relationship to this trait in yourself. For example by for a moment you pretend that this trait is a person. Write a letter to the person where you thank them for a faithful service and explain that you would now like to move on and live life in a different way, where you also describe what you want this different way to look like.

We will in several articles in the future come back to and immerse ourselves in how you can work with the changing process in yourself.

Homework assignment

This homework has three levels of difficulties. You can choose to do one of them or all three. The level of difficulties has been equaled with how challenging it can be experienced to do the different levels.


Sit down with a paper and a pen and from what you have read in this article reflect over what bothers or irritates you in people that you generally meet in your life. Think honestly about what behaviors that bothers or annoys you that you also can recognize in yourself.


Think about your mother and father when growing up. If you missed one or both of them then choose another important adult from your upbringing. Write down what kind of characteristics and behaviors these people had. Which of these characteristics and behaviors can you see recurring in people in your surrounding today?


Sit down with your partner, a close friend or another important person in your life and talk about what you are bothered by or annoyed with in the other person. List these characteristics and behaviors and then discuss whether or not the other experiences these as something that fits in as characteristics in him or her. Then discuss from yourself if what you are bothered by or annoyed with in the other is something you have to learn about yourself. Focus on listen open heartily on each other and feel free to change roles so that you both get to talk about your projections.

Couple with laptop studying relationships