Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Projection and Projective Identification

Projection is a psychological defence or coping strategy. We all use it to varying degrees. The truly mentally ill use it more often than not.  In the case of projection I attribute my inner world to the external world or interpersonally, you.  In the classic example a paranoid is afraid of nazis so attributes anti semetic intent to everyone.  A woman afraid of rape accuses you of wanting to rape her.  A republican afraid of democrats accuses you of being a democrat when you question his or her authority.  An overly sexualized pervert accuses you of sexually wanting them when you're really not at all interested.
In all these cases there is 'false accusation'.  It's also commonly coupled with a generalization that is made specific.  Philosophically illogically, "all men are rapists, You are a man. Therefore you are a rapist."
As for projective identification, there was a meeting of psychoanalysts once, asked to give a meaning and the multitude of meanings was so diverse that rarely thereafter was the term formally used.  My own take on it was that if you acted afraid of me I might act differently in a way to increase your fear, identifying with the projection.  The idea is that you somehow get caught up in the the stronger projections. This is especially seen in 'folie et dieu'.  In folie a diew, the more insane person convinces the weaker person of their projections and the two live in a shared paranoid reality.  In one home visit I made to the proverbial old ladies with cats, they were eating the cat food with the cat food because human food was poisoned. They were also spying on their neighbours because they were anti semetics, perverts and communists. They'd never met any of their neighbours but the severely disturbed one had intuited this from the way they carried their groceries in and out of the house.  As a result they had to keep their blinds drawn and couldn't go out in the day because the neighbours were spying on them.
Hospitalized together on the psych ward they remained certifiably insane. However once we separated them the lesser disturbed one came to her senses and told the story of the increasing insaniety and her getting caught up in it.  Despite medications the other lady never did return to normal. She remained high suspicious and quick to incorporate some innocent activity you might do into her 'scheme' of things.  She never acknowledged her neighbours were innocent. It's very hard for many people  to admit they were wrong, something ironically is true of both the most ignorant and the most insane.  Admittedly I never did poll the neighbours to see if they were individually anti semetic, perverts or communists.  Perhaps they were all spies and personally out to get this one little old lady whose life without her delusions was rather barren and deeply sad.The other lady returned to normal life in the community and remembered these years much as a bad dream.
Projection is part of the 'group hysteria' that results in places like the Jones town massacres.  On a smaller scale it's seen in petty jealousies, body insecurities, and issues of self esteem.  "They don't like me because I'm not loud like they are," incorporates projection in a particularly twisted and sublte way.
As infants our mothers are part of us and we don't know where we begin and leave off.  Slowly but surely over time we appreciate how we are individual and interconnected.  Drugs cause a break down and regression to infancy with loss of separation of self and others.  Smoking pot or crack one or heroin one can believe all those smoking together are like a 'family' or 'friends' when in fact the group together only has in common the addiction.  As the brain is altered by the substance it is open to all manner of insaniety with projection and projective identification being common.
Patients who have had traumatic pasts often project under stress.  A woman sexually abused as a child might suddenly hit a man on a date claiming he tried to rape her when he was just helping her on with her coat. An ex military man may believe for a second a waiter is the enemy when he comes up behind him and startles him bringing the menu.
When the Nazi wanted to kill Freud and friends helped him escape to England he said, "Maybe the paranoids were right".  It's only paranoia if they aren't out to get you.  The joke also goes, 'what's the opposite of paranoia? Thinking you're following someone."  Projection is part of our mental make up and certainly a significant part of our community and a major part of regressive politics.  It's a useful term and worthwhile to be aware of.  Good friends are often helpful to tell a person when their past is being played out in their present and they're making their future a replay of their past just to prove they were right.  It's been said that the mind is a dangerous place and not somewhere to go alone. Certainly it can be such some nights.

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