Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Projection Reflection: The Big Mirror

"Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough." --George Bernard Shaw

As a (temporarily stunted) student of psychology, I have learned and am still learning a lot about a particular psychological theory, that of PROJECTION.

It's a Freudianism. While I'm not a Freudian thinker (Please. Penis envy?), the projection theory and its counterpart, the projection bias, are more popular in my life than is a virgin at a prison rodeo.

Projection is a form of a defense mechanism in which someone attributes thoughts, feelings and ideas that are undesirable to someone else. Dr. Freud believed that people used psychological projection to reduce their own feelings of stress or guilt, thus protecting themselves psychologically. In projection, one can assume erroneously that another person shares his/her thoughts or beliefs. Individuals accuse other people of having the feelings they themselves are demonstrating.

In projection bias, one assumes their current mental state will remain constant in their future.

My mom's been suffering from projection bias ever since my father passed away in 1984. Once I became an alcoholic like my late father, she has projected her experiences with him and his ultimate death upon me. Despite the fact I maintained 4 years of sobriety with a week-and-a-half slip up with the NyQuil several weeks ago, and the fact that I'm still alive and recovering, getting the help I need, I believe my mom believes I will suffer the same fate as my dad; while meanwhile, my mom's anxiety level continues to build and will eventually spiral out of control if she doesn't learn to separate me from Dad.

In fact, she's said on multiple occasions that she's "already gone through this" with my father, when my dad and I are completely separate individuals, with different situations, different outcomes--linked only by genes, personality traits and a commonality in an illness. Her projection bias is so strong, I believe she honestly feels that my fate is exactly that of my father, which it isn't. Alcoholics can and do recover. Despite one minor slip up that scared the family, I'm proud of the length of sobriety I maintained and continue to maintain day by day.

The morning she couldn't rouse me, when I'd had my seizure (with a fever of 102, blood sugar in the 300's and a severely elevated white count), she was so distraught that she nearly couldn't make it herself to the hospital, similar to the night my father suffered from his fatal heart attack and she had to be driven to the hospital by, I believe, my uncle. With the NyQuil episode, when I'd had an accident in the bed, and was too incoherent from the cough medicine mixed with my medicine to process ideas clearly, she was so irate and frightened that she threatened to take me to the ER if I went outside for a smoke to calm ME down before she changed my sheets and literally demanded I go to bed or else she'd call 911 on me and send me back to rehab, which was unnecessary, as I wasn't using to the point of requiring detox, considering my toxicology screening in the ER the last time I was hospitalized was clean, as it always is, despite the benzodiazepines I take for my anxiety disorder, which I don't take in excess, nor do they overly sedate me. They simply calm me down and the 2mg I take at bedtime helps me sleep.

It's not her fault, like I said, it's a defense mechanism. As humans, craving for self-protection, we all employ them from time to time, though some of us employ them on a concentric circular basis. Though I tell her with some frequency, "I'm not Dad. I'm ALIVE," she continues to project what happened to her psychologically in the past upon me. She's working through that with her own counselor and attending Al-Anon now every week, of which I'm proud, but it's still a touchy subject and yesterday, she chastised the fact that Tatus and I were making light of the fact that she didn't bring me my laptop to do my homework and have something to do while cooped up in the hospital after the seizure, and told me to just "sit there" as if I was being punished for MY bad behavior. It was to the point, like I mentioned in a previous blog, that Tatus was ready to go to my house and retrieve my computer so that I could occupy my mind with something other than the cardinal sins I'd apparently committed.

I try to impress upon her that I'm doing MUCH better, I'm working my program with my sponsor, whom I called early in the morning after the NyQuil overnight disaster for help after resisting her help for a long, long time. My mom's working her program, too, but needs to stick to her own inventory and agenda. It's not a competition of who can out-meeting one another, or who's working their program the most diligently. If I miss a meeting, I try to make it up within the next week. I told my mom last night that because my son was suffering terribly from a severe allergy attack that I wanted to manage, and was drowsy at 7pm from his allergy medication, I wanted to skip last night's regular meeting and go to one this morning at 10am, before running the rest of my errands for the day. Her response? "Whatever." As if I wasn't working my AA program.

See, when my father would "promise" to go to AA, he'd instead slip into the local tavern for an hour and drink instead. He deceived my mom. Shame on him for doing that, but that's not what I am doing. My mom has trouble, terrible trouble, separating our situations.

Defense mechanisms are tricky, because they falsely allow you to avoid the precise emotions you're having trouble coming to terms with and/or getting over. It's closely linked to disassociation, in which case the individual changes his/her personality to avoid feeling emotions. That's where example #2 comes into play. Projection plus disassociation is even trickier to decipher in another person, unless you're a master of reading personalities.

I have a male friend to whom I'm close and we like to be affectionate with one another, though we're not dating or in a romantic relationship. We're just friends. One evening, upon parting, he kissed me on the lips, albeit very briefly. When we met one night a couple of weeks later, I asked him "We like to be affectionate with one another. What should we do about that?" and he accused ME of being the one who wants and initiates all the affection in our relationship, when nothing could be further from the truth. When he holds me, he coos. When we go out, he engages in petting. Regularly. He's the one who comes out and says "Hug me" over and over again. I happily oblige, because hell, I love the guy to pieces. My impression is that he's severely affection-starved, though he said he's not an affectionate person and that I am, implying that he goes along with the behavior purely out of a desire to appease me. Bologna.

I didn't have the courage to say this to him in person, but I sent him an email that included a statement to the effect of "Just bloody kiss me the way you tried to once and I know you want to, and get it over with. Nothing's going to change." Because I honestly don't think anything's going to change in the state of our relationship. I have an insane curiosity to kiss him, just to see what it'd feel like, but we engage in awkward cheek-turning when we kiss on the cheek hello or goodbye and part company and our lips never seem to lock. I think he feels there's a line that cannot be crossed or it'd be deemed an inappropriate act. Claiming not to have finished reading said email, the issue is still up in the air, which is driving me bananas.

Carl Jung had a different spin on projection in his psychological theories, that I'm more inclined to follow than the theories of Freud. I found a site that explains it very clearly, so I'll share that: From

"Projection, according to Carl Jung, occurs when a person sees in another qualities they themselves possess. This phenomenon goes on daily in most relationships and encounters.

In relationships, both intimate and otherwise, these same principles apply. A person projects onto another whatever it is they need them to be. Regarding intimate relationship, the inner feminine the inner feminine/anima or inner masculine /animus is seen expressed in the other. That person to whom one is fervently attracted, therefore, is none other than the outer mirror for that person's inner self. The Beloved holds the space, so to speak, for what that person seeks inside themselves.

Understanding the difference between what is true and what is only projection can be a challenge. If a person or group of people has really “gotten under our skin” or the person or situation or thing really “gets to us,” that person is most likely caught up in a projection or spell of some kind. Likewise, that feeling of falling in love, albeit glorious, may be mere projection.

Whenever the emotions seem highly charged, more than what the situation might call for, this is most likely a projection. When family and friends ask “what’s up with so-and so?” and the person doesn’t seem to be thinking or acting at all clearly, their “head is in the clouds”, so to speak, these are good signs that a projection is lurking."

So that's my personal experience (thus far in life, which will continue for decades to come, hello!) with the phenomenon of psychological projection and projection bias. I can only hope that my mom and my friend learn to manage their projections and 1) learn to see me as an individual and not The Alcoholic Death Collective and 2) that my friend comes to terms with his own feelings and desires and just damn well already plants that smooch on me, in his time.

No comments: