Troublesome Defenses: Projection
Troublesome Defenses: Projection
I want to make an important distinction between the neurotic mechanisms (rationalization, denial, etc.) that achieve there magic with feelings and ideas, whereas the primitive or immature defenses (fantasy, projection, sadism, passive/aggression, hypochondriasis, and acting out) maneuver feelings and their objects (the person).
I have always been fascinated by the question of how the “misbehavior” of a con man or sociopath grabs on to people. (My sister had some aspects of personality disorders as well as being manic/depressive).
The question is how are we like Br’er Rabbit who slapped the Tar Baby for discourtesy and found his paw stuck fast. He then kicked the Tar Baby and found his paw stuck too. He kicked the Tar Baby again for this new affront and found himself even more entangled. We are no different for we too take immature defenses so personally. Maybe that is why we find these mechanisms so perverse. We fear that like tar, perversions once touched, will attract us forever. In the presence of a drug addict most liberals become prejudiced. The masochist brings out our sadism…the malingerer our passive/aggression and on and on.
The process by which this all happens is to me, and I think to others, still very obscure. I have begun to pay attention to genetics research since I think that there are yet to be delineated substructures that make for these phenomena.
This is all to say… one is wise to get some psychological distance from the projectionist at times, and he you. You will reclaim yourself over time… but I would say keep asking: “what parts of him/her have I absorbed”?
Projection is the best-known defense: it allows us to refuse responsibility for our own feelings and assign them to someone else.
Most of life’s obnoxious character traits; the prejudiced, the pathologically jealous, the professional rebel, the narcissist, all project blame. No one is harder to reason with than the person who projects blame. No one is more eager to dispense hate and to reject love than the narcissist in the throes of projection.
People who use projection are terrified of intimacy. Just as they assign their feelings to others, they also are frightened by what feelings others may offer them. Since projection produces a fear that those close to you may harm you, it also promises a special kind of intimacy with strangers. It is comforting in a safe way to be close to an unknown.
There is something curious, even eerie, about projection. Jealousy, paranoia, narcissism, demonic possession all result in an over involvement with the enemy. It is gratifying to be on somebody’s Most Wanted list. It is better to receive undeserved criticism than to be utterly ignored. In short, projection is neither a defect nor a sign of insanity; it is merely one of the more extraordinary ways in which humans comfort themselves.
Yet, projection, like dissociation (neurotic denial) makes it impossible for the person to see the truth, and if we distort our outer worlds too much we become difficult to love. We make it difficult to succeed at work and be happy in that success, just as we do our marriages.
There are other paradoxical facts about projection.
We think of the paranoid as aggressive, but in fact, there is no defense more highly correlated with the traits of self-doubt, and passivity. As the contrast between the Lamb and the Lion suggest, consistent assertiveness requires the capacity to love and to trust.
The kinship between projection and altruism is a truism. Both empathy and projection result in a merging of individual boundaries. But to empathize is to perceive clearly put you in the others shoes, not him in yours. The narcissist makes others mad but comforts himself by incorrectly treating them as if they owned his feelings. In contrast, the altruist, using empathy, also feels his way into other people. However, he accurately perceives his own feelings with them and tries to help them. The proof is that he wins their gratitude and not their enmity. In public life, empathy and projection merge. How many great leaders have been seen as saviors by some, and by others as selfish, suspicious despots?
Don Crowe, PhD