|Psychological projection is reacting as if, or imagining that, others have some trait that they don't and which actually comes from one's self. |
It could be an "innocent" projection where ignorance of alternative ways of being lead someone to project onto others a trait that the person assumes everyone has. This sometimes occurs when people don't grasp large cultural differences - someone just assumes people from a different world will see things the same way. You can also see it where people are innocent of the degree of deception or willingness to do harm that some people have. There are many good people who don't grasp the degee of meanness that can exist and project their more honest and benevolent traits onto others (to the endless delight of dishonest politicians). But these aren't really psychological projection, they are examples of mistaken assumptions and insufficient knowledge.
Those are not examples of psychological projection since there is no defense mechanism at work. There is no underlying motivation to reduce anxiety. First there has to be an internal conflict - like two concepts 1.) It is not nice to be angry and if I get angry people won't like me, and 2) I am feeling extremely angry. The conflict generates anxiety - "I feel angry, but I must not feel angry." That motivates the second step - the repression of one side of the conflict (instead of resolution). In this case, say the person represses the anger, buries it from sight, and even from himself inorder to continue to be liked and to be a good person. (Which can never be totally hidden, we know when we are repressing). That brings up the possibility that someone else might begin to trigger feelings of anger, they would be repressed but not without generating a background discomfort - anxiety, and the person might project the repressed anger. The result is that the sense of discomfort and anxiety of their internal conflict is reduced, but at the expense of generating an illusion - a barrier to seeing what really exists.
There are times when some of us have experienced being accused of being angry when we don't have that impression of where we are. That can be valuable information - "Am I repressing some anger and they are seeing it? Or are they projecting anger they repressed onto me?"
People who feel insecure about their worth can project a sense of smallness or lack of worth onto others (often as a part of buffing up a psuedo-self-esteem, feeling superior to those others). It is a feeling that they aren't worthy that they are hiding from themselves that they are projecting. Notice that arguments that are ad hominum might be a case of side-stepping logic regarding some discussion of the moment inorder to support a projection mechanism that has been activated to keep the person safely buffered from any connection to their own feelings of inferiority. I think that some of the best communicators in fields where high levels of conflict are the norm, are successful to a high degree because they 'project' (non-defense type of projection) benevolence and acceptance and that means their opponents are less likely to experience a threat that makes them get defensive. Think of Reagan and Milton Friedman.
Here is a fairly good description from Wikipedia: "In one example of the process, a person might have thoughts of infidelity with respect to a spouse or other partner. Instead of dealing with these undesirable thoughts consciously, the subject unconsciously projects these feelings onto the other person, and begins to think that the other has thoughts of infidelity and that the other may be having an affair. In this way, the subject may obtain 'acquittal by his conscience - if he projects his own impulses to faithlessness on to the partner to whom he owes faith'. In this sense, projection is related to denial, arguably the only defense mechanism that is more primitive than projection. Projection, like all defense mechanisms, provides a function whereby a person can protect the conscious mind from a feeling that is otherwise repulsive." [Note that there must be a conflict first - 'At times I want to be unfaithful, but it is immoral and wrong to be unfaithful' and that the conflict involves internalized values that are important enough to generate significant anxiety and that the person must choose to deal with this and get conscious resolution, or to mentally blank out - from the consious mind - one side or the other. In this example the person blanks out the feelings of lust for someone other than their partner... and what is repressed becomes material for projecting.]
Back to Wikipedia: "Projection can also be established as a means of obtaining or justifying certain actions that would normally be found atrocious or heinous. This often means projecting false accusations, information, etc., onto an individual for the sole purpose of maintaining a self-created illusion. One of the many problems with the process whereby 'something dangerous that is felt inside can be moved outside - a process of "projection"' - is that as a result 'the projector may become somewhat depleted and rendered limp in character, as he loses part of his personality'." There is a psychologist in Australia who works with children and he has helped children who are soiling themselves and feel to ashamed to be able to do good therapy, by encouraging a useful, temporay projection. Michael White might ask the child, "When does the Poo Monster come after you, more at night or more during the day?" They encourage the child to see it as on the outside and thus less contaminating. But the same kind of mechanism allowed Nazi concentration camp guards to be monsters by projecting onto the Jews a non-human nature.
Wikipedia: "Compartmentalization, splitting and projection are ways that the ego continues to pretend that it is completely in control at all times..." It is always about defending against anxiety, and it always involves different ways of creating illusions, or a form of avoidance (of not seeing, not understanding, or not feeling). Wikipedia could have added rationalization, denial and repression. They can all blend together as techniques for attempting to deal with internal conflicts that generate anxiety. In software terms one would say that a subroutine was created early on, in an immature application, and that subroutine keeps attempting to filter out bad things, but the final result is that problems are deferred instead of brought forward to be dealt with and it will always be a bad way to deal with the bad data.