Is Psychological Projection Disguising Your Low Self-Esteem?

May 24, 2018 Sam Woolfe


Psychological projection of your low-self esteem onto others prevents you from addressing your self-esteem problem. You may engage in psychological projection unconsciously because having low self-esteem can be incredibly painful, so much so that you will unconsciously find ways to avoid facing that pain. Projection is known as a psychological defense mechanism and it is an example of one that often plays out for people who suffer from low self-esteem. Projection is the process of attributing qualities to others that you find most uncomfortable about yourself. All of this happens unconsciously. But it helps to know when psychological projection is taking place as this way it becomes easier to confront the hard truth and grow as a person.

Becoming Aware of Psychological Projection

Psychological projection is difficult to admit to because it can be hard to admit to having low self-esteem, even though countless of us struggle with it. Low self-esteem is tied to low self-confidence and since confidence is highly regarded (and for good reason), lacking it can make you feel vulnerable, weak or infantilized. How can you be strong or mature if you chastise yourself at every given opportunity?

If you psychologically project, you may talk to yourself harshly in many different ways, from the subtle to the extreme, and in some areas of your life but not others. It’s not something that people aren’t prone to simply by virtue of success or age. Many people who appear incredibly confident may be battling a disparaging inner voice that constantly puts them down.

Someone who unconsciously seeks to avoid acknowledging (both to themselves and others) low self-esteem can be prone to projecting his or her low self-esteem onto others. It’s much easier to be irritated and annoyed by the perceived low self-esteem of others than face the fact that you’re actually troubled by low self-esteem yourself.

How You Might Psychologically Project Your Low Self-Esteem

The process of psychological projection also varies. You can project low self-esteem by imagining that others are constantly judging you in a negative way, that they hold negative opinions about yourself which they don’t – it’s just your own view of yourself projected into the world. This is problematic, as it can end up disrupting your relationships, with your family, friends, colleagues or romantic partner.

Another example of this defense mechanism in action is when you project onto others the negative qualities that your low self-esteem makes you believe you have, which could include ugliness, weakness, stupidity, laziness, so forth. You judge others in this way in order to defend yourself against the inner, critical voice that judges you in the same way.

How to Stop Psychological Projection of Low Self-Esteem

Psychological projection may be a very common defense mechanism for you, and it may unconsciously be going on, but it is possible to gain awareness of it. In addition, there are many things you can do to stop projecting your negative beliefs about yourself onto others.

Accept and understand your low self-esteem. Doing so makes it both easier to stop projecting and to catch yourself projecting when it happens. It really is okay to acknowledge that you’re not always fine. We all have our own unique struggles. When it comes to low self-esteem, a pivotal realization is that it is not your fault that you view yourself in a negative light. After all, no one is born with low self-esteem.

Noticing and responding in a healthy way to difficult thoughts is an art that requires practice (Don't Let Toxic Thinking Patterns Rule Your Life). By incorporating a time in your day for quiet attentiveness towards your thoughts, you can view your low self-esteem much more clearly. Useful practices would include introspection, journaling, visualizing, reading relevant material, and meditation.

You also shouldn’t be afraid to question your thoughts. Do you really know what others think and feel about you? What kind of evidence can you use to back up your assumptions about the minds of others? Aren’t there other facts that contradict these assumptions?

Of course, if you ever find that you are unable to disentangle yourself from your low self-esteem and see through the fog, then talking to a therapist can be a highly illuminating and restorative experience. Low self-esteem – and the projection that follows – doesn’t have to be a permanent aspect of your life.

APA Reference
Woolfe, S. (2018, May 24). Is Psychological Projection Disguising Your Low Self-Esteem?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Sam Woolfe

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June, 28 2023 at 5:53 am

Some of the most dangerous people I’ve ever known! A lot of them are envious of others and deliberately gossip and stifle their as well as others potential. A real disorder which needs a lot more attention.

Gurudatt Kundapurkar
May, 30 2018 at 11:08 am

Thanks a lot, Sam, for this insightful article with practical ways to cope with one's problem of psychological projection about which one may be totally unaware of. I am going to share it with as many individuals in my circle as I find it worth knowing and doing something about. Gratitude, indeed.

Iris Black
May, 30 2018 at 5:07 am

Great article Sam! Psychological projection is a common defense mechanism for people with low self-esteem and a reason for breaking up relationships. I like that you mentioned the fact, that even the most confident people of all might be facing these issues. A therapist can ideally help to accept these tendencies, and work towards them.

Lizanne Corbit
May, 29 2018 at 6:05 pm

This is a fantastic read. I also feel that it's a particularly important one because addressing and acknowledging low-self esteem can be one of the most difficult and painful things. We feel a lot of shame and vulnerability surrounding this so it can be easy to ignore or simply not realize.

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