Monday, July 21, 2008

July/ Chapter 9: Psychological Projection

Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which one attributes one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and emotions to others. The theory was first developed by Sigmund Freud.

Projection is related to denial, where by the person involved is effectively denying a part of themselves that might otherwise cause tremendous anxiety. Take for example a person in a couple that has thoughts of infidelity. If the person’s own value system feels that infidelity is wrong then to consciously deal with these thoughts would create anxiety. In order for the mind to avoid this anxiety the person will keep the thoughts in the subconscious and project the feelings onto their partner.

So the person with thoughts of infidelity will then assume his or her partner has thoughts of infidelity and might be having an affair. In a way it’s a denial and pushing the blame game, but it’s totally subconscious and the person doesn’t even know they’re doing it.

The original theory focused on feelings that was shameful, obscene or dangerous, but to a certain degree we all project on to others thoughts that might create anxiety if we were consciously aware of them.

When it comes to relationships it generally happens when there’s a problem with the relationship. The most common example is at the beginning or at the end. At the beginning girls generally do it more than guys, but which ever party has stronger feelings will often use projected feelings. Lets say there’s a critical flaw in your partner, for example he specifically does not want to settle down, or she’s a manipulative user, a quality that makes a future together either a very bad idea or impossible. A person that likes the other party very much will project their feelings and won’t see the other person objectively, in fact in most cases will only chose to see the good points in what would otherwise be a flawed partner.

The reason this type of projection occurs is because there is conflict between the reality "my partner is not nice" vs the internal expectation "I like someone who will be nice to me, and I like this person hence this person must be nice". To remove the conflict you'll have to either stop liking the person or live in a state of denial, for both statements to remain in the conscious will create anxiety.

Now no one’s perfect but if the other person has some major flaw then it’s best to communicate this with them and see if they can change. If not then it’s just a waste of time and you will get hurt more falsely projecting your feelings on to them.

Usually prior to the end of relationship people do the same, but in the reverse manner. People will project negative feelings onto the partner, usually because the relationship has become boring, or the person is not happy about some aspect of life in general. The partner will then suddenly acquire qualities that are unfairly negative, such as overweight and not as attractive as before, has annoying habits, or plain annoying.

So whether at the beginning or after a long period in a relationship, it’s important to be objective with what your partner is really like, and not to let emotions cloud you see your own relationship. If they indeed do have a flaw then communicate this with them, and if they can’t change then leave them. But if they don’t have a flaw and you’re just projecting it on to them, then it might just be because you’re not happy about something in your own life and things need to change there

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