A patient may employ both projection and projective identification, (but) projection is typical of a higher (neurotic) level of functioning, whereas projective identification is typical of the borderline and psychotic personality organization.
-Kernberg, O. (1992) Aggression In Personality Disorders And Perversions
It's been a couple years since the diary about envy and hatred, but I promised a follow-up.
Projection and projective identification are a fundamental concepts in understanding aggression. While projection is familiar, projective identification is a way to be aggressive while appearing to be the victim. The aggressor gets validation from others, even though all parties involved may be be unaware of what is happening. Aggression always has a chaotic and primitive aspect, and it can lead down a rabbit hole that only ends when someone "hits bottom." And with aggression, violence is possible as well.
A good starting point for any discussion of psychology is to take a look at America's Id, Homer Simpson.
Lisa: I think you have an anger problem, dad.
Homer: I'm just passionate, like all us Greeks.
Marge: No, you're angry. Look, you're punching the cat right now.
(Camera shows Homer's face, then pulls back to reveal him holding Snowball II in his hand, and punching it with his other fist)
Homer: "It's true... I'm a rageaholic! I just can't live without rageahol!"
See? Homer isn't even aware that he's punching the cat.
This works as comedy because Homers flat denial of his rage and his plea for sympathy is so transparent. It works because we know this behavior is real at some level, that this is a cartoon version of something we have seen in the real world. And for people that do this sort of thing, their behavior has a strong cartoonish and unreal quality.
But in the real world, the defense mechanisms are a little more elaborate. For another example of a defense , let's look at "projection," and we are all familiar with this.
1) The angry person accuses someone else being angry
2) A liar accuses others of lying
3) The cheater accuses others of cheating
4) The thief accuses others of stealing (Notice how the thief is not accusing others of lying? No he's obsessed with only his own sins.)
Projection is not just a Freudian defense mechanism, it a powerful tool for justifying aggression. The junkie, the borderline personality, and other people that have regressed to a primitive and chaotic level level will project accusations like a firehose, and the increasingly wild nature of the accusations will reflect the decay of their mental condition. The cognitive dissonance in the head is reflected by the increasingly contradictory and mutually exclusive accusations they hurl.
In politics, Hitler accused the Jews of being genocidal maniacs who were going to enslave everyone else. After projecting all their own defects of character on the Jews, the Nazis freed themselves to be sadists against them, shielded by rage and obviously false claims of self defense, and the group mentality. The Nazis claimed they were the real "victims." Again note the "tell" that they were accusing their victims of exactly what they were doing.
Projection is also used by abusers using the DARVO strategy to mask outright sadism. DARVO (Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender) is a blatant attack on their victim, who has often been sexually abused.
How do we know if someone is using projection to attack someone else or if they have a real complaint? Projection typically shows up in a "straw man" argument. Or the person using projection will say "You....you....you....you...." which is especially easy to spot on line. In the case of personal power struggle, things can get nasty and primitive. Projection is transparent when someone actually says
At this point, the projector is literally accusing the other person of a thought crime. The boundaries are coming undone - not just the emotional "boundaries" between the two people, but the accuser's boundaries between reality and fantasy. The accuser finds that living in a fantasy world is empowering, at least in the short run.
Just imagine some drunk in a bar slurring "You think you're better than me!" You know how that movie ends - he's probably about to try to punch you in the face. When someone is determined to be "better," watch out for that sucker punch. Because "you think you're better" is a two-fer of projection and envy, and envy is synonymous with violent hatred. Even the Bible says that's why Cain killed Able.
Other primitive forms of this behavior include ad hominems and straw man arguments. Often, everything is seized upon as proof of something. It's usually not clear what that "something" is but apparently it's pretty awful.
I'll refer to this wikipedia article quite a bit, and some DSM.....
I'm skipping citations for the most part because I don't need to have this plagiarized.
Here's another crucial point to consider - while some people are trapped in this state permanently, we've all been there. Unavoidable events like death, illness, and financial problems can put anyone into that state as they try to defend themselves from life's misfortunes. And of course a "psychological defense" sometimes really is a defense against a real aggressor, and sometimes hatred is legitimate. Whether this is life-long emotional baggage or a reaction to recent misfortune, these experiences are common enough that appropriate support groups can be found in nearly every town of any size.
But anger is also a drug, and we even acknowledge that with the expression "rageaholic." And the rageaholic is likely to be in deep denial, like Homer unknowingly punching the cat. A rageaholic must see themselves as the victim or an avenging agent of good. If they are angry for a reason, they are innocent of wrongdoing and guilt. Anger is purity, anger is a sublime state of grace, being angry never means having to say you're sorry, it just means you weren't angry enough.
Projection is essential for chronic anger so anger always be rationalized and excused as self defense. Guilt often accompanies anger, and if someone feels guilty all the time (and I am told this is quite common), guilt is projected onto other people. Since the person who suffers from chronic guilt believes that other people also feel guilty, then it is clear that other people must have done something wrong. In other words, if someone feels guilt, through projection they believe that it's other people who need to be punished. It's almost like a mathematical Transitive Property Of Guilt.
And for wingnuts, notice that they always claim we are terrified of Bachmann, or Palin, or Cruz, or Cain? What does it say about them that the default emotion they project on others is "terror." I always just reply:
Oh I'm sorry I'm still busy being terrified of Fred Thompson.
For all the effort people put into denial and anger and projection of anger, few people really embrace healthy anger. And yet anger is a legitimate and essential emotion - most tough decisions are catalyzed by anger at some level. And in the bad relationships discussed below, huge amounts of pain would have been avoiding if someone had simply said "This person keeps pissing me off, and I'll never speak to them again."
For an ordinary person, anger is risky, because it very likely just walking into the trap set by someone who uses that anger to validate their ad hominem attacks. We'll discuss that under projective identification.
Chronic anger plays out several ways in relationships:
1) It ends. It might be messy, but at least one party never looks back and it's over (the healthy use of anger I just mentioned).
2) A long descent into grinding mutual hatred
3) One party goes literally psycho and seeks the destruction of the other party, physically, financially, socially, or maybe with ax - See the tip jar for an example
#2 is the most complicated, because both parties are likely to take turns playing the sadist and masochist. Remember, even when someone is a terrible sadist, the sadist still desires an ongoing relationship (however sick) with the victim. Anger is a hell of drug, but they need to get their fix several times a day. They need to be angry at someone, they need someone to be angry at them, and they need an audience of people to be angry along with them. If they can find someone that has all those qualities, then they have found their soul mate (for this week, anyway).
And if the couple takes turns as the sadist and masochist, that is codependency. Look at Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (the movie, and probably real life, but let's just watch the movie). She is quite abusive to him, and notice the devaluing and dehumanizing language "Him....it....that"
But Burton pushes right back, and the role of masochist and sadist change second by second. Much of the suspense of the drama for viewers is trying to decide who is the "good" guy in this mess. They're pretty certain someone is going to take a butcher knife to the aorta, but they aren't sure, and whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing (spoiler alert - the only violence is emotional). But notice that this awful couple is doing this for the benefit of a literal audience, a young couple who is visiting and watching the endless train wreck of their marriage. (More about the need for an audience below.)
Initially someone can be happy to find themselves courted aggressively by a sadist, until they find out they've hooked up with Jekyll and Hyde, but of course, three is a crowd, especially when the third is abusive. For many people, their relationships are a little more benign, but it still features a lot of tension and maybe some make-up sex (conflict is foreplay).
In the "Virginia Wolfe" example, the aggression is overt, right out there in the open, skinned alive and bleeding on the living room floor. But aggression and projection are often much more covert, taking the form of sabotage. "You should be angry at her! (let's both be angry at her!)." The motives are the same except the person being dragged down is supposedly a "friend." That's called being an enabler.
Oh my Uncle Bob is such terrible drunk. When he was too drunk to walk two blocks for beer, I had to go get for him! What a sloppy drunk he was! Disgraceful. My sister tried to make him get help but I stood up to her and told her to mind her own business! But yeah, he sure was a drunk. That's probably how I started drinking, he got me started.
You might be saying "Where's the projection in that?" but in real life the enabler will also often develop a drinking problem.
Upbringing plays a role of course....
"Without much accuracy, with strangely little love at all, your family will decide for you exactly who you are, and they'll keep nudging, coaxing, poking until you've changed into that very simple thing" - Allan Gurganus, White People
Many people will date or marry someone who is a virtual carbon copy of their negligent parent, right down to their job and hobbies. And so often, this person is a copy of the parent that withheld their love, so the grown child is on a treadmill trying to earn the approval of an indifferent person. Then the parents may embrace the deadbeat fiance and practically reject their own child. I've mentioned this subject a few times in the past and surprisingly have never gotten any push back. Usually the reaction is "OMG, that's my family/my best friend's family." Sure we all know that addiction can play itself out generation after generation, but few of us realize so does enabling (Reminder - call your Mom and wish her Happy Mother's Day!)
OK, now that was just warming up - let's look at projective identification as a mechanism of aggression.
Projective identification a way of getting the proof of that horrible but elusive something about the other person, a way to get group validation, praise, and attention.
This quote from Wikipedia is way too technical:
Projective identification is a term first used by Melanie Klein (1946) to describe a process whereby parts of the ego are thought of as forced into another person who is then expected to become identified with whatever has been projected.
Got that? Noooo, that was way too obscure, let's try that again.
The projector strives to find in the other, or to induce the other to become, the very embodiment of projection..... their behavior towards the object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviors projected.
Now it is clearer - instead of just making foolish ad hominem attacks, the aggressor tries to bait a victim into giving them the proof
they need so desperately to validate their own anger. Then they can rally their friends or family for an attack. Bonus points are awarded for gaining sympathy and being the center of attention. The manipulator poses as a hapless victim, but orchestrates the whole performance for an audience. I guess it could be used for good, but it seems like it's always a form of aggression, specifically covert aggression.
Probably the easiest way to understand this is to review "projection" and see the difference.
1) A liar accuses others of lying.
2) The cheater accuses others of cheating.
3) The thief accuses others of stealing.
And here's projective identification:
1) An angry person accuses their victim of being angry, until the victim becomes angry.
2) An depressed person accuses their victim of being depressed, until the victim becomes depressed.
3) The parent constantly accuses their child of being defiant until the child becomes defiant.
4) The person who feels crazy accuses the other of being crazy (projection of bad thoughts) with the intention of making them believe they are crazy ("gaslighting").
Or as wikipedia puts it:
Projective identification differs from simple projection in that projective identification can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby a person, believing something false about another, relates to that other person in such a way that the other person alters their behavior to make the belief true. The second person is influenced by the projection and begins to behave as though he or she is in fact actually characterized by the projected thoughts or beliefs, a process that may happen outside the awareness of both parties involved.
Here's the part that is strange and hard to grasp: the manipulator usually does not know what they are doing.
Projection itself is a defense, but there are layers and layers of defenses, mostly what we would call "denial." Often these beliefs are paranoid, such as the person who believes the police are after him, and he acts in a suspicious way that attracts their attention.
Healthy anger comes and goes quickly, but many people are enraged more or less all the time. It's a hell of drug, but they need to get their fix several times a day. As I said above, they need three forms of anger in a more or less continuous rotation:
1) They need to be angry at someone
2) They need someone to be angry at them
3) They need an audience of people to be angry with them.
Not everyone will be their codependent soul-mate, but they can manipulate family members, coworkers, and even complete strangers into playing these roles by using projective identification.
For an ordinary person, anger is risky, because it very likely just walking into the trap set by someone who uses projective identification to snare others.
This projection may be more subtle than accusations. Many seemingly upstanding parents will relentlessly sabotage their children. Think Mary Tyler Moore as the tyrannical super mom in "Ordinary People" who is going to drive both her sons to suicide - she's so angry and overwound that she has to mold her sons into suicidal failures. She wore her son's suicide like a badge of honor.
And we've all seen school age children who are in a constant state of collapse around their parents while behaving perfectly well for strangers. I was thinking about that and....yech, just too primitive and disturbing.
Of course, kids do this as well. Even though projective identification is a slippery concept, it is such a primitive tactic that kids can do instinctively. The adolescent needs to establish separation from the parent, and seeing themselves as being treated unfairly facilitates the process. Defiant underachieving is a particularly effective way of forcing the parent into the role of the bad guy.
However, once people get into this wrangling about who is the Bad Guy, the he-said-she-said accusations fly thick and furious. The child may have only become an underachiever after relentless verbal abuse from the parent.
Projective identification (DSM-IV, pg. 756). The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses, or thoughts. Unlike simple projection, the individual does not fully disavow what is projected. Instead, the individual remains aware of his or her own affects or impulses but misattributes them as justifiable reactions to the other person. Not infrequently, the individual induces the very feelings in others that were first mistakenly believed to be there, making it difficult to clarify who did what to whom first.
And recall the earlier statement:
a process that may happen outside the awareness of both parties involved.
While they might never figure out their own conflict, they are probably likely to unite against a third party. If you've ever known a couple or family like this, both parents are eager to pull in bystanders and try to make them change sides.
The group or family provides the rationalization and validation. Think of cyberbullying, mob bullying, social bullying, or just a flat out lynch mob. One person with a wooden spear chasing a 7 year old down the beach is madness, but for 20 people it's a party, like in "Lord Of The Flies."
Most of these behaviors require an audience and audience participation. Would Ralph and Roger in "Lord Of The Flies" been at each others throats without an audience? No, they probably would have just gone fishing.
Notice that "Lord of the Flies" was projection, but the boys who tried to be civilized weren't subject to projective identification. They were bullied and even killed. But even there, the naked quest for power had to be projected onto the mythical Beast. The running argument and power struggle was over who could save the children from the imaginary Beast.
That's the other thing about projective identification - don't be afraid to gin up an existential threat. If you are planning a takeover, you need a Beast, you need to be the hero fighting a conspiracy. Notice that dangerous lunatics are often conspiracy theorists? A sociopath is always accusing others of being the "real" threat to the group while the sociopath plays the savior.
Of course, claiming there is an existential threat is tricky unless the accuser has allies who back up their paranoid stories about conspiracies and existential threats. This is easier than you would think.
That's why someone who uses projective identification needs the audience for validation. The lone conspiracy theorist is a lone crackpot, but give him some companions and they can convince themselves they are a force for good.
The line between audience and participant is blurry.
This is how they see themselves
While this is how they are likely to appear to others
Or it's this guy - completely alienated from life and family and reluctant to leave his dehumanizing job. He thinks he's "enlightened" but he knocks the papers from someones hands like a gradeschool bully. And as the story unfolds, we find out he is totally delusional.
Let's go back to Mary Tyler Moore as the monster mother in "Ordinary People" and see that she is nothing without a audience. When they fail to clap as hard as they can, like kids trying to save Tinkerbell, she pivots and attacks them.
Usually the key is to get someone to "punch down," while the "victim" does their best to look innocent or hapless to the applause of their audience. Underachieving and generally 'acting dumb" is certainly common on the right, which is known for its "defiant ignorance" and "pseudostupidity" on so many "controversial" issues. I always say that you know a wingnut is cornered when it gets the fuck-wit response "Me pretending to not understand, you funny, ha ha" But that's a whole different diary.
But being the phony "good guy" takes more than he-said-she-said to conceal covert aggression. It also requires a public mask, and private denial. It requires an audience that supports and applauds the performance.
The three favorite masks are:
1) Fake morality (pretending to care about things they don't)
2) Fake emotion (aren't we all familiar with fake outrage?)
3) Fake friendliness (scroll back to Jekyll and Hyde)
At the level of personal denial, these "as if" emotions provide an excuse for a range of behaviors. They behave "as if" these emotions are based on something other than a raw desire for control over others, as if their only motive is altruism. In a relationship power struggle, someone may drive 1,000 miles and criss-cross four counties looking for sympathy. Sometimes, a person latches onto a passive therapist, and they are able to interpret every word from the therapist as an endorsement. This is called "secondary gain."
I think this is what people mean in the family when they talk about "respect," especially when someone's demand for "respect" is the theme of a tirade. Clearly it is a code word. Respect my illusions that my emotions are real and my heart is pure.
“What do we any of us have but our illusions? And what do we ask of others but that we be allowed to keep them?”
― W. Somerset Maugham
And that comes down to the social contract of enabling
- the "as if" emotions must be treated by onlookers or family as real and virtuous.
In "Mommy Dearest," the Joan Crawford character only cares about a literal audience of movie fans and press, and when she finally snaps she is shrieking about "respect," and she has a complete psychotic break. And while she is not playing to an audience of friends, she is playing to the literal audience of her fans.
As near as I can tell, "respect" means this:
Never tell me I am not the kindest, most loving, most selfless, most generous person around.
If a family member violates this requirement, they will be cast out of the dysfunctional family. or the bad office environment, or maybe Fay Dunnaway will kick your ass.
In real life, this person is sometimes joined at the hip to actual addict, and their sense of identity and self esteem depends on being better than the addict. Kids? Well they don't thrive on chaos, in fact "failure to thrive" is not unusual.
And in a family, there are often complex alliances between the children and adults, and family members unite in casting one person as the black sheep. Often the children are encouraged to unite against the addicted parent. But the "good" parent's anger builds like a capacitor that periodically discharges, and in that brief interval afterwards they are intimate with the addict (seemingly just long enough to pop out another kid). And the "good" parent will ally with the addict against the children, or more specifically against one child, the black sheep.
Often the "bad child" goes to college and becomes relatively successful, but the parents withhold approval and support the unemployable slacker child. Because the successful child has committed the unpardonable sin - the child walked away, they were "better" than the parents trapped in their cage. Many never really understand why and they may feel guilt:
However, such resistance can produce a peculiar form of guilt...guilt for not being or not becoming the embodiment of the complement demanded by the other;while conversely for the projector, when an outer figure resists this powerful projective pressure, the individual bursts out in rage.
Got that? If someone resists the demand to be the bad guy, the projector responds with rage.
And while parents can be quite ruthless in forcing bright kids into being underachievers via projective identification, they can also generously reward the slacker child who gives in without a fight.
Notice that in all these examples, this behavior is not incidental to their life or just a fraction of their relationships. This IS their life, this is what gives it meaning, this is what defines their relationships.
It's no surprise these same problems are carried over into in office situations, where the manager plays surrogate parent, and this has been discussed in employment diaries. The slackers seem to be untouchable, while the most motivated and skilled people are undermined If the main topic of discussion is some variation on who is "nicer" (or words to that effect,) it's not very likely that the business unit will exist in two years.
If the "nice" people have taken over, there will certainly be a privileged "in group." Often junior members of the in-group get to supervise or evaluate more senior members of the "out-group." The in-group are paid to complain and their complaints are an Appeal To Authority. It's the out-group that is accused of being underachievers, at least when the in-group bothers to show up for work. Often this projection will actually demotivate some people enough to make them underachieve, and that is successful projective identification. For people that won't "get with the program," literal workplace sabotage may be winked at by management. This business unit will close, and it also likely to generate a string of lawsuits from customers who were shipped the sabotaged products.
And at this point, we have come full circle back to theme of envious underachievers literally sabotaging the worker bees, which was the subject of Part I.
I wish we had time to see more classic movie villains, because believable bad guys usually see themselves as the real victims. Al Pacino in Scarface was a really bad guy, but he also saw felt that someone would be forced to play that role, so he might as well be the one who does it.
Now say good night to the Bad Guy.
+++++++++++++ UPDATE +++++++++++
SPORTS UPDATE from the Department Of You Can't Make This Shit Up
Tiger makes a fool out of Sergio
Garcia finished as the victim.
Woods, as usual, was the winner.
Protagonists need antagonists and like Tweety needed Sylvester and Bugs Bunny needed Yosemite Sam, on his weekend at The Players, the cartoonish Garcia was a tailor-made villain for Woods.
The kind that comes so close to winning only to end up as roadkill.
And though Woods wasn’t going there, Garcia’s petulant assaults on his character – calling him “not the nicest guy on Tour” - may have even given the World No. 1 the boost he needed to win on a course he doesn’t particularly enjoy for the first time in 12 years.
“I thought I handled the situation well and really played well today,” Woods deflected when asked about Garcia.
Winners, of course, can afford to take the high road.
Garcia, on the other hand, was unrepentant when asked if there was anything he’d do differently after accusing Woods of gamesmanship in Saturday’s third round.
“No, no,” he said.
“It sounds like I’m the bad guy here.
“I was the victim.
“I don’t have any regrets of anything.”
Well, that may not strictly be true.