He Has the Perfect Life and I Want It!: The Power of Projection

The counselor’s chair offers me a unique perspective on people. Like a bad Hollywood movie, sometimes it feels like if only I could rearrange people’s lives everyone would find happiness. Joe was sitting in my office bemoaning his life. He was stuck in a job he didn’t enjoy, divorced when he wanted to be married, and distant from his kids. He was jealous of his co-worker Bill who seemed to have the life Joe wanted. Bill just married a beautiful woman who was head over heels in love with him; Bill was the happy, lucky one. What Joe didn’t know was that Bill and his new wife had been in couples counseling with me for over a year. In fact early on in their sessions, Bill confided in me that he was jealous of Joe, a single guy with few responsibilities.

Both Joe and Bill were projecting their fantasy lives onto each other. If Joe had taken the time to really look at Bill he would have noticed that Bill, an avid hiker, hadn’t been out on the trails in months. If Bill took a break from worrying about his own life he might have seen that his friend Joe, usually a social butterfly, hadn’t been out to the bar with the guys in weeks. Projection is a powerful defense mechanism that helped both men ease the pain and anxiety they were feeling in their daily lives. But when projection continues for too long it starts to seem less like fantasy and more like reality. People stop living their actual lives and begin to make decisions based on projections. What if Bill leaves his new wife to join Joe in the fun single lifestyle, only to find out Joe sits at home alone every night? What if Joe decides it’s pointless to change his life because it’ll never top Bill’s marriage?

Take time this week to search for projections in your own life. Language like “always” or “never,” scenarios that sound like a TV script—all of these are clues that you might be stuck in a projection.