Element Questions: Projection

I’m trying to wrap my mind around this Element.

The Dramatica definition says:

Projection is a means of anticipating events and situations by extending the line of how things have been happening into the future. A character that represents Projection has a good grasp of what he might look for in things to come. However, this character will give great weight to past experience so abrupt changes in direction might be ignored until it is too late.

We can see this pretty clearly in illustrations like:

  • Making Dire Projections about a Group
  • Making Overly Optimistic Projections
  • Anticipating That a Group Will Meet a Bad End

However, there is also psychological projection.

From Wikipedia:

Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others … [psychological projection] is more commonly found in narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Projecting onto Others in the one illustration I found in Subtext that seems to lean toward this definition.
Are these two senses of projection related/different aspects of the same element? At first glance, it would seem like they’re not the same.

However, consider a quote from cult expert Steve Hassan:

“In most groups the leader claims to control or have unique knowledge of the future. He knows how to paint visions of future heaven and hell that will move members in the direction he desires…”

At the same time, psychological projection from narcissistic cult leaders is also a pretty well-established thing.

So from a Dramatica perspective, are these the same thing? Can someone connect the dots for me?

Well, I’m never comfortable interpreting for Dramatica. But it seems to me the difference you’re talking is about projecting out vs projecting in. In one form you are placing others into the future, and in the other your are placing yourself in the future, or in either case refusing to. No matter how you slice it, it is the process of envisioning something. The words that keep coming to me as I tumble this over in my head are displacement, and shift of focus. Not sure this helps you, but those are my immediate thoughts.

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I haven’t seen Knives Out, so I don’t know, but wasn’t there a suggestion that projectile vomiting was used to show Projection? Or something like that?

Since the characters are metaphors for processes of the mind, I don’t think it matters HOW you show projection to be a source of conflict as long as the message gets across. If you can use projectile vomiting as a metaphor for anticipating events and situations by extending the line of how things have been happening into the future, then it works. If you can use a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others as a metaphor for anticipating events and situations by extending the line of how things have been happening into the future, then it works.

One difference between Dramatica Projection and the definition of psychological projection you’ve given is that the Dramatica definition points to where a process ends (“If current trends continue, we’ll be filing for bankruptcy by the end of the third quarter”) whereas the other one points to where a process begins as a means of protecting ones self (“I’m not the one interrupting the meeting by telling unrelated personal stories. YOU’RE the one interrupting the meeting by cutting me off in the middle of my stories!”).

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Displacement … somehow that seems to be getting at it but I can’t quite articulate it!

There was… I admit I didn’t understand it then and don’t understand it now (intuitively maybe).

I understand what you’re saying about metaphor – but the feeling I have isn’t that one is a metaphor for the other – it’s that the two definitions are actually the same thing (or on the same continuum). But I can’t justify or articulate why. Is it just because its the same word?

Right – so this would suggest that they’re not the same thing.

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Depends on perspective. One might say to the other “we are nothing alike because one of us looks to the end, to the future, and the other looks to the beginning, to the past.”

But to that, the other might reply, “Actually you and I are exactly alike. Beginning, ending, future, past. These are all just ways of looking at order, of looking at ones position within a sequence.”

Projecting toward something (future) or projecting away (“no, you’re the one with the problem”). Dynamically different, perhaps, but structurally similar.

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This sounds right to me. Maybe it’s getting down to the root meaning of the word “project”.

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My gut here says these are not the same thing.

I interpret Projection as a line or path… we can only see part of it, but we know how it continues because we can see the pattern repeating.

Psychological projection is more like, “I can’t see my own flaws, except that I see them in you.” The chronic dieter upset that other people don’t eat better, etc.

[I think this is the root of the saying, “the pot calling the kettle black” – kettles are made of shiny copper. The pot seeing the black on the kettle is actually seeing their own reflection.]

I don’t see these as the same thing, and I can’t see projectile vomiting as “projection” either.

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I would say 100% this is Projection. The mind is taking “how things have been happening” inside itself and using that to anticipate how other people will likely think and act. (Without necessarily being aware of what it’s doing.)

I can see it being a problematic way to use Projection because a lot of the time people don’t think/act/react the way we do. But problematic is good in a story!


It’s nice to see you and I are in 100% agreement !!! /s

To try to distinguish our takes, I think true, by the book “psychological projection” is not Dramatica Projection, but imagining how others are going to act because of how you understand them is.


So to sum it, Lakis, the answers to whether psychological projection are Dramatica Projection are Yes, No, and Maybe. That should just about cover it. :rofl:


Yeah, I was interpreting the definition of “psychological projection” there rather loosely. So I think I agree with you. But I feel like the way that laymen use the concept probably fits Dramatica’s Projection most of the time.

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:rofl: Or if this is a quad, the last one would probably be “don’t ask” or as the magic 8-ball would put it:


Nice! I’ve stumped the boards.

Just for context, this came up for me because I’ve been working a bit with @mlucas on the storyform for my WIP. I think it’s going a different direction now – but for a minute I was wondering if the MC/OS Problem was Projection:

OS Projection: the cult leader’s apocalyptic visions keep the members frightened and in line.
MC Projection: the main character finds herself as the unwanted center of attention – the vehicle upon which disturbed people project all of their hatred.

It seemed like a cool parallel to me that worked.

That OS sounds a lot more like Speculation to me.

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The difference between Projection and Speculation (and the source of the “projectile vomiting” connection) is explained in this analysis of Knives Out:

While some writers may see Projection and instantly think projectile vomiting, the truth is that to project is assert what will probably happen based on what you know. Like Walt Thrombey challenging Marta to do the right thing because of his access to the “right” kind of lawyer.

It’s not a literal interpretation that Projection in the Dramatica sense is somehow about throwing up - that completely misses the point of the entire article - the idea is that she throws up because she knows that probably–based on all information prior–that if she lies she can manipulate Chris Evans into revealing himself as the killer.

It’s just funny that Rian decided to use a physical illustration of projecting (the result of an imbalance between what she thinks will happen to her) to put across her resolution moment.

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@jhull What about the idea of Projection somehow encompassing psychological projection? Or that just a linguistic coincidence?


Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others.[1] For example, a bully may project his or her own feelings of vulnerability onto the target, or a person who is confused may project feelings of confusion and inadequacy onto other people.

If you look to the Issues that sit above Projection (Sense of Self, Falsehood, Conditioning, Destiny) you could see each being motivated by an inequity of doing/being based on what is most probably going to happen (based on previous info).


Awesome, thanks Jim!

I’m not sure I understand this answer.

Edit: I am sure I do not understand this answer. :laughing:

Assuming that, I already wrote something this morning that I was going to put up as a blog post, but will put here:

If I project onto you some vulnerability or negative feeling of my own, I am literally projecting my experience onto yours. When issues arise where I assume or imagine some behavior you are most likely go into do, I’m doing that based on my experience with myself. The motivation to damn someone before they’ve done wrong is an attempt to punish oneself for behavior that they themselves see as negative within. Unable to course correct or heal that personal trauma, they externalize and “take it out” on the other person.

You can see these issues popping up in Variations, or Parent Methods, of Projection in the Dramatica theory of story model. Sense of Self calls to mind negative self-imagery, as described in the example above. Falsehood encompasses the lies we tell about others, and ourselves, when projecting. Conditioning describes those projections brought about by a lifetime of managing internal pain through external means like personal and interpersonal physical abuse. And lastly, Destiny shrouds those negative connotations of being trapped in a body–or a lifetime–that desires something perceived as negative or illusory. That feeling of being unable to escape and the overwhelm that arises from a path not taken, or even accessible, can lead some to even consider taking the short road out of this life.

In short, a Motivation of Projection finds one driven to do something or be some way because of what will most likely happen based on prior evidence–within and without.