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Projective identification stands up/ recognized

Posted by gardenergirl on July 2, 2006, at 5:47:35

Aha! It's always a lightbulb/epiphany moment when I recognize projective identification flung my way in all it's primitive yet powerful "glory".

There's this person I'll call Doe with whom I'm in semi-regular contact with. I often get really annoyed or angry when interacting with Doe, and my husband will ask, "Why do you let Doe get to you like that?"

It's a good question. There are times when I can see things logically and more objectively about the interactions, and at these times, I do not have any strong emotional reaction. But at other times, I find myself resorting to almost ad hominem attacks when responding to Doe, because I am so angry or frustrated or something. This always leads me to wonder what the heck is going on. Why am I feeling so riled up, beat up, and crappy about what one person says?

Hmmmm. Then today the concept of projective identification occurred to me. How does this apply in Doe's case? Well, with projective identification the person (in this case, Doe)has some feeling or sense of self inside which is so intolerable to them, that they must "project" or transfer it metaphorically "into" the identified object (me). This gets the "bad me" out of them. In addition, it injects it into the other, who then starts acting in a way that confirms the "bad me" concept. (I had to have a picture to "get" this at first, and I still get a bit tangled up trying to 'splain.)

So if the feeling or sense of self that feels so intolerable is oh, say feelings of being done wrong, being abused, or being attacked, and the person needs to get those feelings ("bad me") out of them, then they get flung at (or introjected) into the one being identified with (me, unfortunately).

So then when I find myself "attacking" Doe instead of responding with neutral courtesy, I wonder what's "come over me". In projective identification, for the ones who "get the prize" or maybe the hot potato, :) there is often a sense of "Where does this feeling come from? It's not normal for me. Why is it so much more intense than it ought to be? What's going on here, anyway?"

So once I noticed this thinking, mainly by feeling bad about attacking again, the light bulb went off. Aha! I just got spanked by the projective identification monkey! It's not MY feeling of wanting to attack Doe, thus leading Doe to feel abused. It's Doe's feeling! And I've been feeling like I've been treated lousy, which matches to some extent, Doe's feeling. So my actions have just reinforced Doe's sense of self (related to feeling abused, attacked, etc.) since I'm the lucky hot potato holder.

It's very clever, this projective identification. Not only is it projection, where you fling your mud at me to see if it sticks, and then call it my mud. (metaphorical "you" and "I"). But the identification part adds an interesting twist. Because when you fling mud at someone you identify with in some way, it's like flinging it at yourself. The identified other, now with the mud and perhaps feeling a bit shocked to discover themselves covered with mud (or with mud inside, more accurately) must now decide what to do with it. A common reaction is to scrape it off and fling it back. This just reinforces the person's poor sense of self and beliefs about themselves. (Bad me). But if the identified with one can hang onto the mud, and effectively contain it somehow, this can eventually show the other that, "Hey. Mud's not so bad. See, it's all in this place now. It's managed. It's okay. I didn't smother." And then eventually, the person can take their mud back and contain it as well. That's the ideal and therapeutic way it should go.

But apparenlty I'm in the flinging back stage. And I'm not sure I have any need to hold it. I suppose I could compost it. :) Make mud pies?

Anyway, thanks for listening to my ramblings. It's helped me to figure this out a bit more, which is good.





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poster:gardenergirl thread:663469