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Psychological Projection

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"Enough of this game, Goku! You're wrong about your son. Gohan may have that power, but it doesn't matter! He doesn't thirst for battle and mayhem! He isn't a fighter like you! Do you want to know what he's thinking? He's not thinking about strength, OR about competition! He's wondering why his father is standing there, letting him die! And so your son may be the most powerful person in the world, but he's also a scared eleven-year-old boy!"
Piccolo to Goku on projecting his Blood Knight/Challenge Seeker tendencies onto Gohan, Dragon Ball Z

Psychological Projection is a common behavioral phenomenon in which a character projects their own character traits/emotions/desires to another character by presuming they feel/are the same as they. Most often, the character denies some aspect of their own thoughts or behavior while simultaneously assuming or accusing other people of doing or thinking those same things (e.g. The Bully says, "I'm not a bully; that guy [that I'm picking on] is just a big Jerkass!"). They are using themselves as a basis for understanding others and through their perception see their own flaws and virtues in other people. This is usually done unconsciously and never explicitly stated by the character, which can make it hard to notice. But if a character presumes something about another without having any reasons to think so and the presumption has something in common with themselves, they are probably projecting.


Often (though not always) a Sub-Trope of Hypocrite. Clone by Conversion is the literal version of this. This trope can sometimes be a manifestation of The Golden Rule because people will by nature project themselves on to others and expect them to act the same as themselves. Often overlaps with Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, Good Cannot Comprehend Evil, Straw Hypocrite, Boomerang Bigot, and Protagonist-Centered Morality. Related to All Psychology Is Freudian, Darwinist Desire, and The Golden Rule. The Shadow Archetype is essentially this trope given a tangible form.




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    Anime & Manga 
  • A Certain Magical Index: Kakeru Kamisato absolutely hates suddenly gaining a superpower and being compelled to use it to save people. He believes it to be a curse and tries to become normal again by attacking the beings he believes are responsible for empowering him. When he learns of Touma Kamijou and his similar ability, he automatically assumes Touma feels the same way and tries to get him to join forces in his goal, and is thrown for a loop when Touma explains that powers or no powers, he's all about saving and protecting people.
  • This is part of the reason Kazuki becomes The Kindnapper in Akagami no Shirayukihime. Having previously been made a slave and bought as "decoration" by nobles, similar to what Prince Raj initially had attempted with Shirayuki in the beginning of the manga, Kazuki assumes she'd appreciate being taken as far away from nobles as possible and goes about doing so by attacking Obi and drugging her to get her away without even trying to talk to her first.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • During the Cell Saga, Goku ends up doing this to Gohan, automatically assuming that Gohan wants a good and challenging fight with Cell purely because it's what he would do in such a situation, going so far as to give Cell a Senzu Bean before the fight. It takes getting a major What the Hell, Hero? from Piccolo, and seeing the danger he's put Gohan in firsthand, for Goku to realize that this is not the case.
    • When you think about it, this is at least partially what Frieza's obsession with fear is all about. Frieza enjoys taking the time to install fear and horror in others, but when we see his actions, such as blowing up Planet Vegeta to make sure no one opposes him, he shows that deep inside, Frieza is nothing but a coward utterly terrified of the possibility someone would grow strong enough to face him on even terms, and in his fight with Super Saiyan Goku, where he blows up Namek in desperation to kill Goku, combined with his frantic attempts to kill him and shamelessly begging for his life when he’s bifurcated by his own attack, it’s all the more obvious.
    • Dragon Ball Super: Throughout the Future Trunks Saga, Zamasu constantly condemns mortals for being warlike, destructive, all about conflict, and sinful with disrespect to everything the gods stand for; when it comes down to it, the only one who's as twisted as Zamasu claims the mortals are is Zamasu himself, considering the fact that, among other things, he cut down an inhabitant of Planet Babari when he could have simply walked away, murdered his own master and stole his Time Rings and Potaras for his plan, and went so far as to kill all of the other gods in The Multiverse of Future Trunks' Alternate Timeline to prevent them from interfering. It's especially jarring since, as a Supreme Kai, Zamasu is supposed to be a Big Good who protects and watches over mortals.
    • Goku Black partakes in this just as much as Zamasu, his former and future selves, prattling on about how mortals are violent, destructive creatures who cannot learn from their mistakes and are inflexible in their ways. All of this coming from the person who is fanatically and unbendingly obsessed with annihilating all mortal-kind, completely and utterly insane and a danger to everyone around him barring literally himself, and whose first actions upon taking Goku’s body to fulfill his mad quest for power being to gruesomely murder him, his wife and youngest son, just as a final insult to the man for bruising his ego.
  • In Vampire Knight, Yuuki thought she and Zero were struggling with the same pain and fears, but when Zero denies it, she says, "I guess I was only seeing myself".

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog. Invoked in Sonic Universe #63 when Espio accuses Knuckles of projecting fear of ghosts on to him.
  • Several Batman villains project their own origins and insecurities onto Batman.
    • This is what Joker is ultimately trying to prove in The Killing Joke that everyone is really like him deep down — justifying his murderous madness by trying to demonstrate people being strained by worries and neuroses until they have a particularly bad day, and snap just like he did. He fails in the general sense, but in the end still has a kindred spirit in Batman himself.
    • Hugo Strange thinks that Batman does what he does because he enjoys being powerful and feared, since that is what Strange wants to be (and for extra irony, he's a psychologist).
    • Tommy Elliot/Hush knows Batman's true identity, but thinks that Bruce Wayne is happy that his parents were killed, because Elliot's parents were abusive and he celebrated when they died.
  • In the story The Black Ring, Lex Luthor claims Superman doesn't empathize with humanity at all, but it is possible he's projecting this trait onto his archnemesis.

    Fan Works 
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act IV: Hokuto constantly condemns other living things, human and monster alike, for being evil, destructive beings who only care about themselves and will destroy everything around them and attack anything different. Considering the fact that Hokuto's idea of "true peace" amounts to reviving Alucard to destroy the world, as well as the fact that he set Kuyou loose on Yokai Academy, let Jovian and Jacqueline rape Felucia to near-insanity, and specifically ordered them to kill as many people and destroy as much as Tsukune's hometown as possible in an effort to prove to Moka that his nihilism is justified and humans and monsters can never co-exist, when it comes down to it, the only one who's as destructive and evil as Hokuto claims all living things are is Hokuto himself.
  • Fragmentation points this out as being the dirty secret behind ComStar.
    Historically, men judge others by their own acts. If a man is willing to steal from others, he lives in fear that others will steal from him. Murderers fear being murdered themselves. ComStar's greatest fear was that the technological advances that Kerensky had taken with him would one day return in the hands of others, making ComStar itself obsolete. So when rumors of new weapons of types never before seen had surfaced, weapons that even the Star League hadn't possessed, ComStar felt an understandable tremor of fear work its way down the backs of the persons responsible for maintaining that edge.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is the central character trait and biggest Fatal Flaw of Frollo in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
    Clopin: Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world of vice and sin
    And he saw corruption everywhere — except within.
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Lord Shen tells Po that his parents hated him even though there is no evidence to back this up; Shen, however, believes his own parents hated him.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In What About Bob?, Dr. Marvin tells Dr. Tomsky, "You've been duped by a textbook narcissist, a brilliant sociopath!", right after trying to get Bob admitted to a mental hospital on false pretenses.
  • In 12 Angry Men, Juror 3 is extremely insistent on the defendant being guilty and gets almost violently angry when this is questioned. He keeps insisting that the boy has to be guilty and compares the situation to his strained relationship with his own son. Soon it becomes clear that the real reason he's so sure the defendant is guilty is because he's projecting his feelings about his son onto the case. When 3 realizes what he's doing, he breaks down into tears and changes his verdict to not guilty.
  • In Irreconcilable Differences, Lucy tells Casey at her emancipation trial, "I know why you want to divorce your father. I know you never got over his abandoning us." Casey replies, "No, Mom, you never got over his abandoning us."
  • The Avengers: Loki's default mode in the film:
    • He gives the crowd of Germans a lecture on how the mad scramble for power and identity diminishes their life's joy, something he is reluctant to admit about himself.
    • He refers to Bruce Banner/Hulk as a "mindless beast" that "makes play he's still a man," asks how desperate Nick Fury is to summon "such lost creatures" to defend him and constantly taunts Banner with looks. When Black Widow calls Loki a monster he just replies "No, you've brought the monster." In Thor, Loki called himself a monster after finding out his true parentage, and in Thor: The Dark World he says that Thor must be truly desperate to come to him for help.
    • During his speech to Black Widow, he's as much talking about himself as he's talking about her. Bonus points for showing his own reflection in the glass that separates them:
      Loki: Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red. [...] You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors. But they are a part of you, and they will never go away!
  • And again in Thor: The Dark World, where he warns Thor about potentially losing Jane, while he himself is still mourning their mother's death:
    Loki: You'll never be ready! The only woman whose love you prized will be snatched from you!

  • In Dragon Bones the villainous characters are very prone to this. Ward's father regularly beat him, so violently that Ward took some brain damage (he still speaks very slowly) and decided to exaggerate it by Obfuscating Stupidity. There was no sensible reason to attack Ward, but the father had offed his own father for Klingon Promotion, and was now afraid Ward would do the same. Then there is king Jakoven, who is a chronic murderer of innocent people, which is, hilariously enough, caused by his paranoia about others planning things against him. (In part. It's safe to assume he's a jerk, too) Each and every villain assumes that Ward would kill his whole family to inherit castle Hurog. While Ward does want to inherit Hurog very much, he would never kill his family over it, but as the villains themselves would, of course, do it, it is "obvious" to them that, of course, that must be what he is planning.
  • Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn of Safehold tends to project his own Evil Can Not Comprehend Good mentality on others. His second in command, Wyllym Rayno, even lampshades the act as projection when Clyntahn describes the Church's Captain-General as a weak-spined coward, jumping at shadows and wanting to pull his troops back to safety immediately after Rayno recognizes that Clyntahn, at least subconsciously, fears the Church will lose the war. Church Treasurer Rhobair Duchairn notes much the same when Clyntahn proclaims, without irony, that "men who've sold their souls have every reason to murder true servants of God and then lie about their victims to justify their bloody actions."
  • Katniss tends to do this a lot in The Hunger Games. For example, in Catching Fire, she insists that the other Tributes are out to get her and Peeta and that they cannot be trusted...but the first thing Katniss does upon entering the Arena is try to kill the other Tributes and she plots about backstabbing them several times, with the justification that it's to save Peeta. The narrative never points out how hypocritical Katniss is here.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Khofit, a contestant on the second season of the Israeli Beauty and the Geek had a pet pug she would obviously project her negative emotions on. In a particular low point, when the local satire show Eretz Nehederet featured an impression of her and her dog in one of their skits, she said she wasn't insulted, but her pug was insulted because the pug used in the skit was fat.

  • Could be the point of these lines in Voltaire's "Future Ex Girlfriend":
    "And no-one cares that you love Keanu
    Oh, what's the difference anyway,
    Everybody knows he's gay
    Oh, all right, I don't really know that,
    But let's face it, he's too hot to be straight."

  • This is what the viewer is supposed to do when watching Hello Kitty. Without a mouth, the viewer can project their own feelings upon Kitty.

    Video Games 
  • Mugen Souls Z:
    • The tired and relaxed Syrma assumes everyone will take the relocation of their planet calmly and Nao lampshades her projection: "You seriously think everyone is as dopey as you? You are in for a big surprise!".
    • Ryuto assumes everyone loves lady Chou Chou, but the others are quick to point out that is only him.
  • In The Magic Circle, this is perhaps the crux of a character's "The Reason You Suck" Speech directed at the player. Ishmael angrily declares that gamers are obsessed with control because they feel they have none in their real lives. He himself is an unquenchable Control Freak driven by inadequacy and overwhelming fear of failure provoked by his personal issues.
  • Shadowrun Returns: The Dragon projected her Well-Intentioned Extremist tendencies onto her step-brother Sam, who had just cut up his mother to donate her organs to himself and other dying people, claiming he was a ruthless junkie who infested everything he touched, and that even the children he saved were diseased and had to be erased. That... didn't end well. For ANY of the donors. You can call her out when she lets her own issues slip in a Villainous Breakdown, claiming that she used Sam (and all fourteen donors) as a scapegoat to blame for her own repulsive behavior, and then lynched them to vindicate herself.
  • Undertale: When you fight Papyrus on a route that you've tried to befriend him, he'll open up to you in his pre-battle speech, talking about the complex feelings you must be having — the joy of finding another pasta-lover, admiration for a Worthy Opponent in solving puzzles, the desire to have a cool, smart person think you're cool... He then quickly says how much he pities you for that sort of loneliness.
  • Augus in Asura's Wrath projects his own Blood Knight nature on Asura. Asura, who is fighting to save his daughter and not for fun, is not amused and keeps telling Augus to shut up whenever he tries to claim they are Not So Different during their boss battle. In the end, Asura's desire to protect his daughter gives him the strength to defeat Augus. As Augus lays dying, he finally acknowledges that he was wrong about Asura and encourages him to walk his own path.
  • Infamous 2: Joseph Bertrand III views all Conduits as monsters and demons, deeming them not part of the "divine plan." In reality, he's a Conduit himself, and was more than happy to be one until he discovered his powers were Lovecraftian Superpowers in the form of transforming into an Eldritch Abomination and converting other people into the Corrupted. In Bertrand's mindset, since he became a monster by activating his powers, then that means all Conduits, active or otherwise, are monsters.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 
  • Nebula: Mercury immediately jumps to the conclusion that Sun's as angry as he is at the idiocy of the other planets as soon as Sun mentions feeling weird around them, and starts to rant about their faults until Sun cuts him off and says that no, that's really not what he was going to say.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Gwynn thinks Torg is out to get her and can't be trusted not to do and say nasty things behind her back. That only describes herself in respect to him — really he thinks highly of her and would never be intentionally malicious (unintentionally is another matter). On the other side of the coin, Torg thinks their fighting is not serious — which would only be true if she could take it as well as he can.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Twilight's Kingdom" (parts 1 and 2). Discord ends up assuming Tirek appreciates their "friendship" as much as he does, but it turns out Tirek only wanted to use Discord for his own benefit.
  • In Steven Universe, Pearl has done this, particularly in "Sworn to the Sword," where she ended up (temporarily) indoctrinating Connie into the mindset that she was "nothing" compared to her liege, Steven, and that to protect him she needed to be willing to put herself into hopelessly dangerous situations and even die for him without hesitation. It is revealed that during the war, Pearl "took great pride" in giving her life for Rose Quartz, using herself as a shield and getting needlessly "killed" numerous times despite Rose being much stronger than her and fervently objecting to Pearl senselessly putting herself in danger.

    Real Life 
  • There's a Spanish proverb, "cree el ladrón que todos son de su condición", that translates to "the thief believes everyone is like him".
  • Hell, the whole point of the Audience Surrogate is this trope.