Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay
“You teach people how to treat you.” ~Oprah Winfrey
Many of us are living our lives repeating the same heartbreaking and unhealthy patterns. We appear to be stuck on replay unable to move forward while continually duplicating the chaos that caused us to leave our last relationship. Perhaps there is a belief that we have a “type” that we attract. We seem to get involved emotionally with the same type of person that inevitably turns out to be Mr. or Mrs. Wrong.
Looking at our past, we may realize that we are often at the center of a chaotic or unhealthy situation. Our belief may be that these situations keep happening to us. But, perhaps the real truth is that we are helping to create these situations by planting the seed of the behavior and nourishing its growth. Our subconscious beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in may have a profound impact on what we expect and accept from others.
We all have subconscious beliefs that affect our interactions with others. The term projective identification was first introduced by Melanie Klein and is a form of transference that describes the subconscious dynamics that occur in close relationships. These relationships may be romantic, professional, or familial and may occur between a therapist and patient. When projective identification occurs, one of the parties in the relationship will force their subconscious beliefs onto the other person. Essentially, what should be self-identified is instead identified in another person who begins to feel the effect of the projection. This may be done by actions or words which will subconsciously influence the other person to become the projection.
It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy molded by the psyche that allows us to manifest our subconscious beliefs into reality. Over time, the projection, which may be positive or negative, will begin to influence and affect the behavior of the other person without them becoming aware of what is happening. Ultimately, introjection will take place when the other person takes on the projection as their own belief and begins to respond accordingly.
For example, a person who has had unfaithful past romantic partners may subconsciously believe that they will never find a faithful partner because they are not worthy of love. Their subconscious negative belief that no one will ever love them will lead them to believe that their current partner is just another cheater who has yet to reveal their true nature. They will then begin to project behavior onto their partner to instigate the subconscious scenario. They may begin to distance themselves from the relationship as if their partner has already been unfaithful. They may cease all intimacy and encourage the other person to go out to bars alone. Unknowingly, the other person will begin to lose their sense of self and take on the projection becoming a version of what is expected. After a while, the person who has never thought of being unfaithful will begin to have thoughts of being unfaithful. Once introjection takes place the person will be unfaithful, fall out of love and thus become the physical embodiment of the projection. In a sense, the projector has controlled the behavior of the other person and has reaffirmed their negative core belief that they are not worthy of love.
Of course, this does not apply in all situations where one person in a relationship has been unfaithful. This is merely an example that helps explain the somewhat complex concept of projective identification.
It is important to have the self-awareness that how we subconsciously feel about ourselves or a situation will have an impact on our relationships. Many times, looking inward is the only way to make sense of what is going on in our world. You may not be aware that you are creating and reinforcing your relationships. Good or bad, you teach others how to treat you by the behaviors that you accept.
Please note that projection identification is different from psychological projection (click here to read my article about psychological projection) where we are projecting onto others our subconscious views and beliefs as belonging to them. Further, I have simplified the concept of projection identification and have discussed only one facet of this fascinating concept.
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Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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