Projective Identification is: “An interpersonal defense mechanism where the individuals project their own thoughts, emotions, desires or traits onto another person.” Contrary to popular belief, it is not only about negative assumptions and can include positive traits as well. The individual might project certain positive features on others even when they don’t exist in the first place. It is a form of cognitive bias.

However, healthy projective identification is required to build healthy relationships and to communicate effectively. It helps us find common ground and relate with others. It provides a sense of belonging and individuals don’t feel odd or alien in society.

Hence projective identification(PI) is a form of adaptation, defense, relationship-building, and a way of expression which are necessary parts of our human experiences.


The underlying mechanisms of projective identification will provide insights into the concept and how it affects our daily lives. Generally, it comprises a three-stage cycle:

1: Projection:

As the name suggests, this is the key aspect of PI. The process begins with a person projecting his or her own thoughts, emotions, feelings, desires, expectations, and reactions onto others. It may involve both positive and negative aspects.

2: Reception:

This stage involves the recipient. The individual who becomes the target of projection unknowingly starts to internalize it. This frequently results in the emergence of behaviors, emotions, or traits that mirror what was projected onto them. As a result, the initial projection transforms into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3: Reflection:

In this stage, the person who initiated the projection attributes the projected traits to the recipient. This sets off a reinforcing loop, wherein the recipient unconsciously continues to exhibit the projected behaviors.

Examples of PI:

Following real-life scenarios are examples of PI:

1: Workplace Dynamics:

An employee who is doubting his capabilities due to a mistake he made would start assuming that his coworkers are incompetent. He would try to shift the blame on others instead of addressing his mistake directly. This projection will lead to clashes with colleagues and a toxic workplace environment.

Conversely, a self-confident employee would address his hostile feelings towards co-workers and wouldn’t blame them for his own mistakes.

2: Personal Relationships:

In romantic relationships, an insecure partner may automatically assume that the other partner is distant and uninterested, even in the absence of concrete evidence. Conversely, a secure partner would feel secure and exhibit respect for the other’s personal space without resorting to blame.

3: Parent-Child Relationships:

A parent who couldn’t fulfill their dreams or career goals might project these aspirations onto their child, even when the child is not interested in them. This projection often leads to a rebellious attitude in the child or the development of people-pleasing habits.

However, if the parent allows their child to pursue their own interests without imposing the expectation to fulfill the parent’s dreams, the child will have the opportunity to flourish in all aspects of life.


Projective identification functions as both a healthy response and an unhealthy defense mechanism. Identifying when PI influences our judgment and distorts reality can be challenging. To counteract this phenomenon, it is essential to cultivate self-awareness and hone effective communication skills, which can aid in minimizing projection. Moreover, gaining a more profound comprehension of our individual cognitive biases empowers us to foster healthy relationships and forge genuine connections.