Hot potato, hot potato! The Dance of Psychological Projection!

Emotions and thoughts can be hard to hold onto, and as humans, we often use various tools and defence mechanisms to reduce their intensity. Sometimes, our tools and defences are healthy and help us to manage. Sometimes, they are less helpful!

Imagine holding a hot potato in your hand – it’s like uncomfortable emotions we all try to avoid. When we have feelings we don’t like, such as jealousy, insecurity, or anger, instead of facing them, sometimes we toss them onto others without even thinking about it. “Ouch, ouch, you take it, not me!”

The person on the receiving end of our emotional potato toss then wonders, “Why am I carrying this hot potato? This isn’t mine!” It can create confusion and conflict. Often, neither of you may even realise what’s happening.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts – the potato always finds its way back to us. Ignoring our feelings won’t make them disappear; they stick around, waiting for us to acknowledge them. So, we can keep playing the game…or try another approach.

We can hold and look at the potato. Using our self-awareness and leaning into our curiosity, we can observe, understand and sometimes embrace our feelings – yep, even those uncomfortable and distressing ones. Sometimes, it’s okay to feel jealous or insecure; we’re only human. By recognising our emotions, we can learn from them and grow, and then find ourselves handling our feelings more healthily and productively.

Next time you want to toss that hot potato of emotion to someone else, take a moment to think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Do you want to play this game or consider other healthy options? What about trying some deep breathing, moving your body, seeking social support, having a healthy snack, doing something creative, or seeking a temporary distraction? Or you can pause for some compassionate self-reflection or ask for help, for example, “I’m having some distressing feelings, can you sit with me while I deal with this?”

Remember, we’re all in this together, navigating the ups and downs of emotions in life. Let’s be mindful of our projections, take responsibility for our feelings, and cultivate healthier connections with a sprinkle of humour and sincerity.

Written by Jenna Axtens

Jenna is a Clinical Psychologist. Jenna enjoys connecting with clients across the lifespan with a range of concerns. Jenna has a special interest in Neurodiversity, Sleep Psychology and Transdiagnostic approaches to treatment.

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