Ask The Psychologist Issue #18: Understanding Negative Projection or Transference as a Possible Reason for Hurtful Behavior

Since we see so much negativity on various media outlets, the below issue will cover the negative side of the concepts described, although there is also a positive side.

With all the angry exchanges we see every day on the news between politicians, news reporters, etc., how do we determine the reason they are so angry with others? If we look closely, we may see the possibility of two psychological constructs occurring called, Projection and Transference. By understanding these two psychological concepts, it may help us see what may be occurring and answer some questions we may be asking ourselves, i.e., why would someone be so angry with the other person they are talking to or talking about?

Recently, there was a network news reporter who contracted Covid 19 and had to be quarantined for two weeks in his home. But when he returned to work, he was very angry at other people for not being more cautious about Covid 19 exposure, even though he was seen out in public, when he was supposed to be restricted to his home. He was guilty himself for doing exactly what he was so angry with others for doing. To mental health specialists, this behavior can possibly be seen as projection on his part. To people in general viewing this behavior, they may simply call it hypocrisy, which is the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.

Projection refers to unconsciously taking unwanted emotions, behaviors or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else.

This happens when a reporter, politician, etc., takes a behavior that they have themselves and blames the other person for having these same behaviors, when it is not true for the other person, who may actually not have this trait.

That’s when a neutral observer can observe, that the projecting person is lying and spreading false information, because when you look more closely, the projecting person is truly the person with these behaviors and is placing them on another person. By doing this, the projecting person feels relieved that the other person is the one with the problem, even though, at a lower or less than conscious level, they know it is really themselves that has this trait.

Transference occurs when a person redirects some of their feelings or desires they have seen in another person in their life to an entirely different person. A person may direct perceptions they have for one person on to an entirely different person. For example, they may have had a father that was mean-spirited and place this perception onto an entirely different person that does not posses this characteristic. Again, a neutral person, observing the individual doing the transferring, may see it as lying and providing false information.

 The current Supreme Court Candidate Conformation Hearings on TV revealed that possibly some Senators redirected some of their negative feelings or desires they have seen in other people in their life onto the candidate. Transference may be occurring in this situation or possibly simple political hatred. In any case, when false information is attributed to another person, it is hurtful.

So I suggest that we look at people in politics and elsewhere, when we sense they are making false accusations about someone, as possibly demonstrating Negative Projection, Negative Transference, or simply purposely hurtful/hateful behavior.


Bart P. Billings,Ph.D.
COL SCNG-SC, Military Medical Directorate (Ret.)
Licensed Clinical Psychologist CA PSY 7656
Licensed Marriage, Family Therapist CA LMFT 4888

—Director/Founder International Military & Civilian Combat Stress Conference
—Initial Enlisted Ranks and Retired as Medical Service Corps Officer with a total of 34 years in US Army
—Recipient of the 2014 Human Rights Award from Citizens Commission on Human Rights International & The University Of Scranton “Frank O’Hara Award” in 2016.

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