Why We Project Anger Onto Our Partners (And How to Stop)
You’ve likely heard about the concept of projecting anger. Projection is the idea that individuals sometimes deny their feelings and attribute them to someone else. But what does that look like in everyday life?
Picture this: you’ve had a difficult day at work. Your boss blamed you for a mistake they made, your lunch order was wrong, and a co-worker was given the promotion you deserved. You’re feeling unappreciated, disrespected, and angry. But, you don’t like feeling angry and have to move on with your day.
You get home after work and slam the door. Your partner notices your behavior and says, “are you okay?” Instead of sharing about your difficult day, you might accuse them of having a tone or raising their voice. You might even tell them that they seem angry.
Where did that come from? In this scenario, you projected your anger onto your partner. Why do we do this?
Why We Project Emotions
Projection is a primitive defense mechanism that we all use from time to time. Defense mechanisms are a natural behavior and typically show up when facing some kind of internal conflict. Often, individuals use defense mechanisms subconsciously without recognizing what they are doing.
In the case of projection, you may feel that your anger is irrational, bad, or unacceptable. In these cases, you may find yourself projecting that anger onto your partner.
Some people project anger when they feel guilty or ashamed over their anger. For example, if you are uncomfortable with feeling angry, you might project that anger onto your partner. In this case, it may feel safer to act as if they are angry than to grapple with your own feelings about anger.
Others project anger to protect their egos. It can be hard to admit that you are feeling angry, especially if anger is an uncomfortable emotion. When someone acknowledges your anger, you may feel defensive. This defensiveness can lead to projection.
How to Stop Projecting Anger
You recognize that projecting anger is a natural defense mechanism--so, how do you stop?
Projection can be a sign that you are dysregulated and unable to sit with your own feelings in a moment. As a result, your anger might feel too overwhelming or unacceptable. Next time you find yourself struggling with anger, try these steps.
Label the Feeling
Feeling angry? Name it! Allow yourself to notice how you are feeling and label what that is. Your anger might feel like a tightness in your chest or tenseness in your shoulders. It might even help to say “I am feeling angry” to yourself.
You might notice that some emotions are harder to name than others. That is normal! It's also entirely possible to feel multiple emotions at the same time.
You’ve named how you’re feeling, now what? Take that information and focus on grounding yourself back into the present moment. Mindfulness techniques are helpful in grounding your mind and body. Mindfulness is focused on observing the present moment without judgment.
This might look like taking a few deep breaths, going for a walk, getting some rigorous exercise, or listening to loud music. In all of these cases, the goal is to find something that helps you bring yourself back to the present moment.
Communication is Key
You know you’re feeling angry, and you’ve practiced techniques to bring yourself back to the present moment, now what? When it comes to your relationship with your partner, healthy communication is key.
Tell your partner how you are feeling. If expressing your feelings is uncomfortable, it may feel helpful to practice! Keep it simple. Saying, “I am feeling very angry, and I need some time alone right now,” may be all you need.
Seek Professional Support
Emotions can be difficult, and you do not need to struggle to process them on your own. If you find that you are projecting on your partner frequently, it may be a good idea to seek professional therapy to help you understand and regulate your emotions. A mental health professional can support you as you learn to name, observe, and control your emotions.
Projecting anger is a natural defense mechanism. If you find yourself projecting anger on your partner, you are not alone. Emotions can be difficult to manage, and emotional regulation takes time to develop!
If you notice you are often projecting, it can be helpful to:
Name your emotion
Ground yourself using mindfulness techniques
Communicate clearly with your partner
Seek professional support as needed
Projection is natural, and treatment can support you as you navigate the challenges of emotional regulation. At The Resurface Group, we are here to guide you during your growth journey. Contact us today to learn more!