Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I ran out of the house this morning early so as to make the first of two speaking engagements in cities in Michigan. Because I was in a hurry, I did not get a chance to read any of my usual blogs; just glanced briefly at the topics for the RCP editorials for the morning; decided I didn't have enough time to read them; and then selected an old post of mine which I rather liked and felt appropriate for the day and posted it.

Lo and behold, I just returned home to find that the random post I selected that "felt right today" just happened to be completely in sync with a brilliant post at One Cosmos("Keep Your Thoughts Out of My Brain, Abdul"); and one at ShrinkWrapped!("Exploring the Mind of the Anti-Semite").

Clearly a case of cosmic synchronicity that we are all discussing aspects of projective identification, a psychological process that is at once essential for healthy human interaction; and yet at the same time so protentially destructive of that same interaction.

Bob's post explores some of the general characteristics of this psychological phenomenon:
“Projective identification” is one of the most important concepts in psychoanalysis. Whereas projection is a defense mechanism through which we unconsciously project something from ourselves into someone else, projective identification goes deeper. It involves first projecting into someone else, and then forcing the other person to actually take on the quality that has been projected into them. While projection is generally considered a neurotic defense mechanism, projective identification is much more primitive and troublesome (although it also has an absolutely vital adaptive function, in that it is how preverbal infants communicate with their parents; indeed, that is the reason for its existence).

It is actually not difficult to tell when one is on the receiving end of projective identification. That is, you suddenly feel is if you are unwillingly being enlisted into someone else's psychodrama, and being forced to play a part. The person acts toward you as if you have the qualities they have projected into you, and may well goad you into responding in ways that confirm to the projector that you actually have those qualities--that they aren't projections at all. If any of my readers are married, you probably don't need any further explanation. (Mrs. G--I didn't say that. That was Petey.)

Psychologists see this process all the time in more primitive "borderline" patients, who may suddenly experience the therapist as, say, an abusive or withholding parent. It also happens to be the primary mechanism of the Islamists. (I might add that this process is transparently present in my perversely devoted trolls, which is why I am leaving the comments up from yesterday. As always, they reveal nothing about me, but speak volumes about the impoverished and/or conflicted interior life of the troll. Note the anger, the projection, the bitterness, the envy, the devaluation, the attempt to “spoil” me for God knows what obsessive reason. I never ask for whom the troll bawls, because sadly, he always bawls for himself.)

ShrinkWrapped's details a specific case of virulent projective identification (sometimes referred to as paranoia) in an individual woman; and applies it to the behavior of some societies:
For too many people living in dysfunctional societies, the Jews represent the ideal objects of fearful hatred. The Jews have traditionally been peaceful and peace loving, and even when they have achieved great power, have generally acted with restraint. They are also quite small in numbers while at the same time often successful and visible. Yet blaming the Jews for one's problems only works in the very short term.

The young woman I described used the Jews as her explanation for her emerging severe psychiatric disturbance. While it helped her preserve some false self-esteem for a time, it also made it impossible for her to accept the help that she so desperately needed. She identified all Doctors as part of the Jewish conspiracy and as a result could not accept their medication. She would even attack those who could help her (as with the policeman who brought her into the hospital for her second admission.) Without her needed medications, she suffered frequent and worsening psychotic episodes; her life deteriorated apace until she was finally left homeless, friendless, and estranged from those who loved her.

Contrast that with the behavior of the Arab legions who so hate Israel and the Jews. Rather than spend their energies trying to build their own societies, they devote their lives to destroying their imagined enemies. One of the great ironies has been that when the Israelis finally gave in to despair and began to build the fence to separate themselves from those who hate them so much, the Palestinians complained that the Israelis were preventing them from earning a living

My own contribution to this cosmic trilogy is the post below this one, which analyzes how I use my own feelings to understand others' (or as Bob elegantly describes the process: "[she] monitors the intersubjective space between her and Steve in order to deduce what is going on inside of Steve." ).

Coicidence? Or are we all somehow attuned to the pulsating aura of a certain violent, antisocial psychopathology that positively permeates the air these days?

[Cue Twilight Zone music...]

No comments: