The term "hypocritical" is used when person A criticizes person B's behavior/traits, when A is known to have done the same behavior/possess the same traits.

I also see the term "projection" get used in this context. If person A accuses person B of some behavior/trait that they themselves have, this is sometimes referred to as "projection", but usually in cases where A seems "unaware".

Does the difference between "hypocritical" or "projection" lie on whether person A is aware of their own actions?

  • Consider what a movie projector does -- it takes an image from a piece of film inside the projector and displays it on a screen some feet away. "Projection", in the psychological sense, is drawing on this metaphor.
    – Hot Licks
    May 21, 2019 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


Hypocrisy is a failure to act in accordance with the standards you claim to hold.

Projection is instead attributing/accusing others of that which you yourself feel or do, usually falsely.

They are tangentially related, but hypocrisy is contained to your own behavior, while Projection is about you and your behavior towards others.

Frequently a person who is projecting is also behaving in a hypocritical manner, since the projected behavior is usually some imagined wrong, and the person making the accusation is guilty of it. But you can be a hypocrite without projecting, by simply violating the standards you claim to adhere to.

You could also project without being a hypocrite, if the projected behavior or emotional state had nothing to do with values you hold. For example, assuming someone is sad, because you are sad, is a form of projection. Assuming someone deserves more credit than they do, because your efforts carried them through the completion of a project would also be projection, without hypocrisy.

  • Hypocrisy: I, a thief, declare that stealing is wrong
  • Projection: I, a thief, assume you have stolen my missing pen
  • Projection+Hypocrisy: I, a thief, confront you over my missing pen and in that confrontation declare loudly to you that stealing is wrong.

Hypocritical (Oxford University Press, via Google's define operation)

behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.

Projection (Oxford University Press, via Google's define operation)

the unconscious transfer of one's own desires or emotions to another person.

  • 1
    I've formatted your quotes correctly. Please add citations showing which dictionary formulated those definitions.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 21, 2019 at 19:33

One can also be hypocritical without being aware of it.

A hypocrite does not adhere to a standard they claim to espouse (it's about their own behavior). In many cases, someone claiming a set of beliefs may also criticize another person, but that is not by itself what makes them a hypocrite.

On the other hand, someone is projecting when they attribute their own ideas or feelings to others (it's about the other person).

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