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Dr. Wendy Walsh
There was a man who wrote something startling on my Facebook page. It was a comment in response to a blog about anger and domestic violence, I think.
He seemed to imply male anger was often women’s fault. That his girlfriends had “made him mad.”
After an unfair comment stream attack by some of my other zero-tolerance followers, I thought more about this man’s statement.
Sometimes it does feel like an intimate partner can trigger things in us that no one else can.
We can be having a lovely day, operating from a calm, public personality, and the minute we come home, our lover says or does something that “makes us crazy.”
We love to throw pop-psyche terms around like, “He’s being passive aggressive,” “He deliberately triggers me” or “He injects me with his own anger.”
The answer is yes. In 1946, psychoanalyst Melanie Klein coined a term called “projective identification.”
In layman’s terms, projective identification goes like this: One person falsely believes their partner is bad, flawed or weak in some way.
If it goes on for long enough and the partners are enmeshed (read: no one can remember whose problem is whose), the misjudged partner begins to behave in ways that reflect the false assessment.
People with weak senses of themselves and low self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to this.
“Knowing our own piece in
every conflict can help us grow.”
The biggest problem with projective identification is the whole mess happens out of the awareness of either partner.
Even worse, people who like to project and people who take in their projections often attract each other.
When they meet, they do an unconscious handshake and promise to put each other in such an emotional tangle.
Obviously if you suspect you are in such a relationship, the first place you need to be is in professional therapy.
If the projections are not too extreme and both partners want to work on the relationship, then couples therapy may work.
But if the relationship has digressed into emotional abuse or even violence, sadly the only route is to separate and spend the time in therapy working on your own piece in the traumatic bond.
It’s important to remember no one can actually make you crazy, but they can ignite the crazy that already lives in you.
And that’s the piece that needs some tender loving care in a therapist’s office.
Knowing our own piece in every relationship conflict can help us grow into compassionate, thoughtful people.
Have you ever experienced an “emotionally transmitted disease”? How did you overcome it?
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