I think my question is a little tricky to express, but I have observed this kind of behaviour pattern many times, and would like to know if it is coined in cognitive science.

As an example, consider an employer who has problems with time management - he is often late and even misses appointments. None of his employees have this kind of problem - his team is well functioning. However, the employer forces his team to use time tracking systems.

Another example: A person with a drinking problem tries to manipulate her friends and family to completely avoid bars, parties, and clubs, because these are the places where people tend to abuse alcohol.

The pattern I see is that a person is unable to deal with a particular personal problem, and instead obsessively tries to make sure that others don't get anywhere near that same problem. The measures to achieve this protection are often not rational and exaggerated.

I understand that at a healthy level, the described behaviour can be beneficial. For example if I experience a very painful situation and have an opportunity to teach others how they could avoid that experience, then I would vigorously do so.

However, I wonder if there is a term that describes when this behaviour is irrationally applied.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Cognitive Sciences. I am probably not the most experienced user, but from my vantage point your question lists two unrelated, anecdotal phenomena. Time management and alcohol addiction need quite some imagination to be bundled up in a single behavior. Therefore, I have voted to close this question because I don't understand what you are after. Others here may disagree with me, and it's just a single close vote, so not to worry. However, if you could attempt to generalize this question, that would be great. Good luck! $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question provides two examples of what could potentially be a similar behavior (trying to get others to avoid problems that you have), and is fine as is, though I don't know if there is an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Josh
    Aug 24, 2015 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ AliceD thanks for your opinion. I was afraid that my examples were not well chosen, so its good to see feedback about that. I think i should have sticked with an abstract description for the problem. In my opinion, the answers for this questions yields good explanations for what iam looking after. $\endgroup$
    – lneb
    Aug 25, 2015 at 6:27

2 Answers 2


There are a couple of defence mechanisms that may fit the bill. Keep in mind that these defence mechanisms typically involve an unconscious denial of the problem - ie, they apply to people who don't admit to the problem in themselves.


... a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude.

Someone with a time management problem may constantly focus on and accuse others of being late, while someone with a drinking problem may imply that others around them have this problem rather than themselves.

Reaction formation:

... a defensive process (defense mechanism) in which emotions and impulses which are anxiety-producing or perceived to be unacceptable are mastered by exaggeration (hypertrophy) of the directly opposing tendency.

Someone with a time management problem may actively promote the importance of punctuality and time tracking, while someone with a drinking problem may act as a spokesperson for the virtues of abstinence.

Note that the construct of defence mechanisms in general is outdated and has largely been superseded by cognitive dissonance theory.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the Psychological projection theory points in a valid direction. The abstract definition on wikipedia could be applied to my question. However, the examples mentioned on the english and german article do not fit very well. $\endgroup$
    – lneb
    Aug 25, 2015 at 6:57

You might be looking at cases of psychological projection, which is a method of denial in which people defend themselves from their own negative impulses by attributing them to others. In accordance with the theory, it is less a problem of 'defending' others from getting anywhere near the problem, and more an act of projecting the problem onto others, or assuming that they have the problem, too.

There is also the false-consensus effect, in which people overestimate the degree to which others share their beliefs. This is usually accompanied by the "projection" of personality traits (including negative traits) onto others. Adding on to this theory is the idea that thought suppression leads to an increased saliency of the particular thought, thus making it more readily accessible when viewing others. In other words, one who tries to suppress a perceived negative trait or impulse might unconsciously seek it in others, considering that thoughts of the impulse are made more accessible by repeated attempts to repress them. (see Newman, Duff, and Baumeister (1997)).


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