Understanding Projection: How Your Past Shapes Your Present Parenting: Summer Playback Series – 309

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Two episodes ago, we explored four psychological defense mechanisms I often encounter in my work with moms.

Today, we're zooming in on one of them even more – projection – the sneaky way your mind casts your own insecurities, fears, and past experiences onto others, especially your kids.

This episode sheds light on how these unconscious thoughts shape your parenting and might just be the lens you need to see yourself – and your children – more clearly.

HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL DISCOVER:

  • How to recognize when you might be projecting onto your kids
  • What questions to ask yourself when you catch yourself projecting
  • Why understanding projection can lead to more compassionate parenting
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LISTEN TO THE SHOW:

Transcript

You are listening to the Less Drama More Mama podcast, episode 309: Understanding Projection: How Your Past Shapes Your Present Parenting, week 9 of the Summer Playback Series

This is Less Drama More Mama, the podcast for moms who want to feel calm, in control, and confident about how to handle anything life throws their way. If you’re ready to go from feeling frazzled and disrespected to feeling calm and connected, this is the podcast for you. I’m your host, Pam Howard.

Hi Mama! Welcome to the show. Two episodes ago, we explored four psychological defense mechanisms I often encounter in my work with moms. Today, we’re zooming in on one of them even more – projection – the sneaky way your mind casts your own insecurities, fears, and past experiences onto others, especially your kids. This episode sheds light on how these unconscious thoughts shape your parenting and might just be the lens you need to see yourself – and your children – more clearly. Let’s get started!

***

Think about a movie projector. It transfers an image onto a screen. Psychologically speaking, projection is when you transfer your thoughts, feelings and motives onto another person. All defense mechanisms are about self-preservation. Projection protects us from having to deal with parts of ourselves that we find unacceptable or unwanted. When we keep certain fears, insecurities, and motives out of our conscious awareness, we project them onto others.

All human beings do this. So, don’t get defensive about your defenses, ok? It doesn’t mean you’re a narcissist. But you may know a narcissist and this is one of their main defenses. Everything they hate about themselves, everything they can’t accept about themselves that isn’t perfect, loveable, or acceptable gets projected onto others and they blame others for the exact same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that they, themselves, have. The reason it’s nearly impossible for narcissists to change is that they’re unable or unwilling to self-reflect and therefore have no sense of awareness. My guess is that if you’re listening to this podcast, you want to be self-reflective and you’re willing to take a look at those parts of yourself that might be getting in your way of having the best relationships and living your best life.

So, it is human nature to project onto other people, including your kids. When you’re annoyed with them, you may be projecting insecurities onto them regarding something you dislike about yourself. Sometimes their behavior triggers a fear or insecurity you didn’t even know you had. You might be familiar with the famous quote by Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Your experience of life and of other people is always being filtered through your own brain. And so what you think of other people, or your opinion of others, is based on what you think of yourself and your opinion of yourself.

For example, whenever I used to perceive that one of my kids was being overly needy or clingy, I became very irritated and annoyed. Why? Because in some of my past romantic relationships, I would get super needy and clingy and it always ended in heartbreak for me. I didn’t like myself when I showed up that way. And so when I observed my kids behaving that way and I felt irritated, I reacted in ways that actually made them even more needy and clingy. I would snap at them or distance myself from them instead of getting curious, tuning into their needs and why they were behaving this way, and connecting with them. Once I owned, made peace with, and had compassion for the part of me that feels needy sometimes, I stopped getting triggered and irritated by their neediness.

Another common example from the moms I coach is that if they felt left out or excluded in childhood, they may repeatedly ask their own kids, “Who did you play with today? Was so-and-so nice to you? Why don’t you invite them over for a play date?” They’re constantly projecting their own fears and insecurities about being excluded onto their kids. Eventually what can happen is that the kids take on those fears and insecurities as their own and they behave in ways that bring about the result of being excluded. Or they exclude themselves.

Sometimes, moms project anger onto their kids. For example, let’s say your kids don’t clean up after themselves or don’t follow the rules. You may get angry with them and blame them for not being responsible. Shifting the blame onto your kids keeps you from recognizing your own lack of responsibility in not being clear with your expectations or maybe following through with enforcing consequences.

If you find that you react strongly to something your kids do, but your partner doesn’t, your reaction could be a projection of something being triggered about your past or a part of yourself that you unconsciously want to deny. Whenever you think you know what others are thinking about you, you’re likely just projecting onto them what you’re thinking about you. For example, if you’re upset because you believe, “My kids think I’m a bad mom,” the reason you’re upset is that on some level you’re believing, “I’m a bad mom.” And then your brain goes looking for all the evidence to prove that thought and you even create more evidence because that thought creates shame. And when you feel shame, you don’t show up as the best mom you can be.

So, as you can see, there are countless ways you can project onto your kids. And the more threatened you feel by an emotion you’re experiencing, the more likely you are to project it onto someone else.  You’re probably using this defense mechanism when you notice yourself:

  • Taking things personally
  • Feeling hurt, defensive, or sensitive
  • Blaming, complaining, or judging
  • Comparing yourself to others and feeling either superior or inferior to them
  • Keeping people at a distance and feeling alone
  • People pleasing
  • Believing that you know what others are thinking about you

and

  • Taking on a victim mentality

So, whenever you catch yourself doing one of these things, you can get curious and ask yourself:

  • What fear is being triggered in me?
  • What story am I telling myself about this person or situation?
  • Who or what does this person or situation remind me of?
  • In what ways am I like or unlike this person?

and

  • Am I afraid that I might be like this person, or that others might think I am? And why is that a problem?

Any time you find yourself hyper-focused on other people’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior, stop and take a look at your own. Instead of being in their business and deciding who they should be, decide who you want to be. How do you want to think, feel, and behave? That’s what you have control over. And consciously making that choice is what will help you gain insight into yourself and help you grow.

This defense mechanism of projection is tricky to identify in yourself because it happens unconsciously. As a coach, I’m able to bring awareness to my clients when they’re projecting and help them examine the thoughts and feelings causing them to do it. This is some of the most challenging but rewarding work you can do for yourself and for your kids. So, if you’re interested in learning more, go to lessdramamoremama.com/mini and sign up for your free consultation with me. I hope this episode was useful, and provided a little bit of insight into your mind. Have a great week and I’ll talk to you again soon. Bye, bye.

If you enjoy listening to this podcast, and you’re ready to feel calmer, more confident and more at peace in your family and life, I invite you to sign up for a free consultation with me to learn about how my coaching can help you achieve the exact life you want. You’ll take the concepts and tools I share in the podcast and apply them to your own life, and as your coach I’ll be there to support you every step of the way. Go to lessdramamoremama.com/mini and sign up now.

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Hi, I’m Pam

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Master Parenting Coach, and former K-8 School Counselor, I’m on a mission to empower moms to feel calmer and more connected to their kids.

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