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Projection vs. Displacement: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 12, 2023
Projection involves attributing one's own feelings to others, while displacement is redirecting emotions from the original source to a safer target.

Key Differences

Projection and displacement are both defense mechanisms identified in psychology, but they function differently. Projection involves taking attributes, emotions, or desires one has and attributing them to someone else. For example, if someone is feeling particularly hostile but finds it uncomfortable to accept these feelings, they might project this hostility and believe that it is others who are hostile towards them. Displacement, on the other hand, involves taking the emotion one feels and redirecting it from the person or situation that is the real source of the feeling to someone or something else that is less threatening.
In projection, the focus is on distortion of reality to manage unacceptable feelings or thoughts. It is as if one is casting their own characteristics onto another, like a projector casting an image onto a screen. Displacement is about the transfer of emotions. If someone is angry at their boss, they might displace this anger onto a family member because it is safer or more socially acceptable than showing anger towards their boss.
Projection can often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts in relationships because it is based on seeing in others the feelings or motivations that are actually one's own. Displacement might not cause immediate interpersonal conflict in the same way, but it can lead to confusion or distress for the person who becomes the target of the displaced emotions, as they are not the appropriate or intended recipient of these feelings.
Both mechanisms serve to protect the ego from anxiety and to maintain self-esteem. With projection, the individual protects themselves from acknowledging their own flaws or negative qualities. With displacement, they avoid the discomfort or consequences of expressing negative emotions in the contexts where they were generated.
Despite their differences, both projection and displacement can be problematic for personal growth and relationships. Recognizing when one is using these defense mechanisms can be the first step in addressing underlying issues and working towards healthier ways of dealing with emotions and conflicts.

Comparison Chart


Attributing personal qualities to others
Redirecting emotions to another target


To avoid recognizing one's own attributes or feelings
To avoid direct confrontation or discomfort


Misunderstanding and misattribution of intentions or feelings
Misdirected emotions and potential harm to relationships


Often unconscious
Usually unconscious

Psychological Impact

Can lead to blame and conflict in relationships
Can cause stress or guilt from misdirecting feelings

Projection and Displacement Definitions


Extending outward from something.
The cliff had a dangerous projection over the sea.


Transfer of emotions.
After the argument with her boss, her displacement of frustration affected her friends.


Attribution of personal feelings to others.
He accused her of anger, a clear projection of his own feelings.


The act of moving something from its place.
The earthquake resulted in the displacement of several boundary markers.


The act of estimating future events.
The company's sales projection was optimistic.


Physics term for volume displacement.
The ship's displacement was critical for its buoyancy.


Display of an image via light.
The old projector flickered as the film projection began.


Engine capacity measure.
The sports car had an engine displacement of 4.0 liters.


Psychoanalytic defense mechanism.
His criticism of others was really a projection of his self-doubt.


Replacement of people or groups.
The development project led to the displacement of many families.


The act of projecting or the condition of being projected.


The act of displacing.


A thing or part that extends outward beyond a prevailing line or surface
Spiky projections on top of a fence.
A projection of land along the coast.


The condition of having been displaced.


Is displacement always about anger?

No, it can involve any emotion.

How does displacement work?

It involves redirecting emotions to a safer target.

Are projection and displacement conscious behaviors?

They are typically unconscious defense mechanisms.

What is projection in psychology?

It's attributing one's own feelings or thoughts to others.

Is projection a form of lying?

It's not lying; it's an unconscious defense.

Can you displace positive emotions?

Displacement typically involves negative emotions.

Can projection cause relationship issues?

Yes, it can lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

Can projection affect how one views the world?

Yes, it can distort perceptions of others' intentions.

Can displacement be positive?

It can provide temporary relief but usually has negative consequences.

Is displacement a healthy coping mechanism?

It can be harmful to relationships and personal growth.

Do children use projection?

Yes, it's common in children and adults.

Can displacement be a symptom of stress?

It can be a response to stress or anxiety.

What's an example of displacement?

Yelling at a partner after a bad day at work.

Are there therapies to address projection?

Yes, various forms of psychotherapy can help.

How does projection relate to prejudice?

Prejudice can sometimes be a form of projection.

Can animals exhibit displacement behavior?

Yes, in the form of redirected aggression or behaviors.

How can one stop projecting?

Through self-awareness and psychological work.

What's the difference between projection and transference?

Transference involves redirecting feelings to a therapist, projection attributes feelings to others.

Does displacement occur in dreams?

Yes, emotions can be displaced onto dream symbols.

Is it possible to project positive qualities?

Yes, though it's less common than projecting negatives.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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