That Time I Projected My Feelings Onto My Husband

During my PhD program in psychology, I was trained to code defense mechanisms in written transcripts (therapy transcripts or attachment interview transcripts). IT WAS SO INTERESTING! Specifically, I was trained to code defense mechanisms using the Defense Mechanism Rating Scale (DMRS) which was developed by Dr. Christopher Perry.

There are many defense mechanisms. Some are healthy or adaptive (i.e., humour), and some are unhealthy or maladaptive (i.e., being passive aggressive). In this post, I am going give an example of a defense mechanism called projection. Projection occurs when we put an emotional state onto someone else as a way to protect ourselves from that unwanted emotion.

Projection occurs when we put an emotional state onto someone else as a way to protect ourselves from that unwanted emotion.

Unhealthy defense mechanisms are maladaptive, although in certain circumstances they are useful as they protect us from awareness of stressors, anxiety, and associated conflicts (i.e., repression). Healthy (or, healthier) defense mechanisms, allow us to be aware of internal and external stressors but they help us cope with them (i.e., humour). So, defense mechanisms, which are typically talked about negatively, actually play an important role in our emotional regulation.

Just incase you think defense mechanisms are SUPER INTERESTING (like I do), I thought I would put in a fun infographic that outlines some defense mechanisms.

Here is an example of a time I used the defense mechanism projection…

In the Fall (2020) Milo developed a fever at daycare and of course I picked him up right away. Because it was COVID times, just him having a fever triggered worry and stress in me. But, as you probably know, when your child is sick you just motor through and don’t really pay attention to your own emotions or stress levels. I was just focused on Milo.

It was Friday afternoon and my Mom happened to be visiting (it wasn’t lockdown at this time). My husband was working (at the hospital as he operates on Fridays). While at home, I started to noticed Milo had a really sore throat. He was fussing any time he swallowed something. We tried to give him medicine for the pain and it seemed to burn his throat. It was so sad. I texted my husband to let him know that Milo had a red throat and was really bothered when he tried to eat. It was recommended by an ER doctor that we bring him to the hospital to get checked out and have a COVID test done just incase.

Anyone with children knows how stressful it is to bring them to the hospital on a NON-PANDEMIC day. So, the stress and worry I had during this entire situation was definitely exacerbated by COVID.

My mom and I packed up the diaper bag and drove Milo to the hospital. My husband met us in the parking lot and took Milo in by himself (only one parent was allowed). I was SO ANXIOUS but, instead of acknowledging that it was ME who was anxious and upset, I was stressing about my husband having to be in the hospital with Milo alone. I wasn’t acknowledging that I was anxious and stressed that Milo was sick and in the hospital and a freaking pandemic was going on! My mom was the one who brought it up to me that maybe I was projecting how I felt onto my husband. She was right.

My husband is so good at dealing with medical situations (obviously). He is calm. He was at his place of work and knew everyone in the emergency room. He was definitely much more comfortable and at ease than I would have been if I was the one with Milo. But, instead of focusing on how well my husband must have been handling the situation, I was projecting my anxiety and how uncomfortable I would have been in that situation, onto my husband. It’s almost like I was worried and anxious for my husband instead of acknowledging that I was worried and anxious about Milo and the situation. It fascinates me to think that I was protecting myself from these negative feelings and emotions by putting them on my husband. I definitely still catch myself doing this sometimes, even in really small situations. For example, if Milo wakes up in the middle of the night and my husband goes to get him, I put my anxiety onto my husband. “He must be so stressed.” No Renee, you’re stressed. This is also a huge reason why I tend to involve myself in the situation even though my husband is totally capable of handling it on his own.

Projecting things onto Milo is also my specialty. But, it’s more things like if I’m cold, he must be cold. If I’m hungry, he must want a snack. I project physical feelings onto Milo.

Do you ever project your feelings onto your partner?

XOXO Renee Reina

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Why I am changing the way I approach working with families & children. By: Bethany DeCollibus, M.S. LMFT
That Time I Projected My Feelings Onto My Husband