Is it time for a new paradigm?

xxx

This was on Facebook this morning. It’s one of my favourite quotes. It’s opportune because the phrase I now have in mind (having divested myself of yesterday’s Watch your head come undone phrase) is one from Eckhart Tolle that popped into my email a few days ago, which is:

‘The more shared past there is in a relationship, the more present you need to be, otherwise you will be forced to relive the past again and again.’

I think this is useful advise for all relationships that need repair, and I include in that the relationship we have with ourselves.

In relationships with others there is often a history of great hurt between people who love each. It’s very difficult for most of us to forget our grievances. It seems to me that many hurts occur because of misunderstandings about intent and misunderstandings about others’ perspectives; in other words, we perceive that the other intends to hurt us when they meant no such thing at all. Of course, sometimes people do intend to hurt us. Or, sometimes it’s not their intent but they are unconcerned that that is the result of their behaviour. It’s not easy to tell the difference.

In relationships with ourselves, just think how we build a history of hurt: years upon years of self-inflicted emotional abuse, telling ourselves we’re ugly, worthless, incompetent, undeserving of happiness (whatever our personal thought poison is). This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but it seems to me to be endemic in Western culture and anyone it doesn’t apply to is unlikely to be reading this blog.

Very often, we bring hurts from previous relationships into current relationships. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as ‘transference’. ‘Projection’ and ‘projective identification’ are involved, too (as I see it – no doubt a psychology expert would say there’s a difference, but it seems to me they go hand-in-hand and are therefore inseparable in a Siamese twins/triplets kind of way).

If you’re not familiar with these concepts, here are Wikimedia links to transference, projection and projective identification.

I think it’s really important to employ the philosophy implied by these quotes of Fuller and Tolle (ie, forget the past) in relationships because when we bring emotionally-charged memories of past relationships (or even from the history of the present relationship) into present relationships we act as if  we are in that old situation, perceiving and judging the present according to our perceptions and judgements about the past situation.

I think the transference and/or projected identity applies to ourselves  as much as to the other with whom we are relating, in that we perceive ourselves as we did in that old relationship; we will act accordingly and bring about behaviour in ourselves, as much as in the other, that reinforces our belief. For example, if we felt unwanted in the old relationship (because of a belief that we are unlovable) we will feel unwanted/unlovable in the current relationship and act in such a manner that  a) causes us to dislike ourselves and therefore believe it’s reasonable to be unwanted by the other and  b) causes the other to reject us. In both ways, through internal and external interaction, we reinforce our beliefs about ourselves.

I think that people are often, if not always (at least when there’s an empathetic connection), experiencing the same feelings as each other even though it often seems they’re not. On the whole, people are happy together and unhappy together, even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface. Sometimes a person doesn’t want to acknowledge their feelings, whether to themselves or to the world at large. We’re often (if not always – again, at least with those we have empathetic connections with) looking in a mirror in interaction with others, and therefore I think a way of understanding another’s perspective is to understand our own, at least from a feeling perspective rather than the nitty gritty of thought detail.

Most people operate from the perspective of the nitty gritty of thought detail. They may perceive themselves to be in different psychic places because their thinking-based landscapes look different (which they are if they are thinking about them differently), while they are unaware that they are together in the same emotional landscape. If they focused on the feelings instead of the thoughts they might realise their common ground.

While such situations can be painful for us, I do think we can learn from them. Yes, they can be perceived as opportunities!

If we recognise what’s described by those transference and projected identification links, we can ask ourselves: what am I transferring? What am I projecting? What am I seeing in the other person? What is the mirror reflecting back at me? What will be brought to my attention if I look directly at it?

Writing that has reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago, which could be perceived to be about projection and denial. It’s called The Mirror. Here it is.

Much psychological thought revolves around the belief that we need to analyse and understand the past in order to exorcise its ghosts. I’ve been a fan of psychoanalysis and Jung for years, but I have two problems with this thinking:

1) What if we made a mistake in our interpretation at any time in the past through failure to understand others’ perspectives? The transferred/projected experience is likely to be our infantile relationship with our parents and, at that age, we didn’t have enough understanding of the world to accurately assess our experience or our parents’ perspectives.

2) We are looking back at it, and trying to understand it, from the perspective of an adult who is more knowledgeable than a toddler, but consider this: since belief formation (ie, assessment and assimilation of sensory (physical) and intellectual (metaphysical) data input) is calculated according to existing beliefs, then error upon error may have been heaped on an original error. Under such circumstances we can’t trust ourselves to accurately assess the infantile situation we are hoping to understand with the aim of improving our adult situation. Remember Fuller’s quote here.

I refer back to the quote I just gave about the self-fulfilling prophecy of projective identification – a mistaken belief can have grave consequences (if contentedness with ourselves and satisfying relationships are our goals).

For example, what if our parents didn’t  hate us? If we’ve built our lives based on that belief, what then?

I know this belief about being hated by our parents doesn’t apply to everyone, but I believe (maybe mistakenly?) it applies to a large number of people, and even though most parents would say – and believe wholeheartedly – that they love their children, they frequently act as if they hate them through and through. Children often focus on those hateful moments, conclude that their parents hate them and perceive any acts of love as rare moments of respite from the hate. That’s because we’re conditioned to think negatively. Negative thinking leads to self-deprecation and therefore children develop the belief that it’s their  fault (an error of judgement) that their parents hate them (a potential error of judgement). Isn’t that the condition of most of us in the Western world?

Instead of trying to figure out whether our parents really did love us or hate us and/or if we were right or wrong about forming such a belief, why not… let it go, accept we can’t understand it, accept it as a mystery. This doesn’t mean we need to abandon trying to understand the effect  of our accumulated beliefs, ie: understanding who we have become as a result of our thought processes.

If we find ourselves in a situation that sounds like transference and/or projective identification, I think we  need to do several things…

One: recognise that we are erroneously bringing past perceptions into the present and co-creating a re-animation of that experience.

Two: separate these out-dated and irrelevant perceptions from the present situation (easier said than done, I know!). We can use them to understand our personal issues that have been brought forth in the current situation, but (hopefully) without them interfering in our current situation.

Three: understand that the other person is possibly experiencing their own transference/projective identification ordeal through interaction with us; this will help us to not  judge their behaviour erroneously from the perspective of our own transference/projective (there’s no guarantee, though!).  Also, consider that their experience may (or may not – try and remain open-minded) match ours in nature; this will help us to understand them better during the process of understanding ourself better.

Consider the possibility that everyone‘s agony is the same: the struggle to enjoy intimate connections with fellow humans, and with self. We may act out different dramas, but I think the story’s the same.

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4 thoughts on “Is it time for a new paradigm?

  1. Great entry. I agree with you entirely about the confusion and problems that come with projecting…. you begin to realize that you can’t really take for granted that the person you are seeing and dealing with is really what you think at all. So many times, we get so upset at another person only to realize later (or as someone on the outside of it, you see it immediately) that you’re talking past each other, getting so worked up in love or hate over things that are actually internal. It very much comes down to perception of the other. It takes, I think, a great deal of self knowledge to figure out what you should be owning and what you shouldn’t (because of course the other person is also posting projections onto you that may not be fair for you to consider as part of yourself at all).

    I was in psychotherapy for a couple years around five or six years ago and learned a lot through that that sort of applies to a lot of what you write. It was an interesting process of first validating how I ‘felt’ about my childhood, the hurts and the perceived slights, feelings of abandonment etc (recall that I have the moon in the 12th). But then, once I acknowledged them, I was able to forgive my parents and then see how much of it had to do with the stories/interpretation of it that came way after. I finally realized that – yes, if I was the parent, I would have done differently. But they did the best they could and – really, they never meant any harm. I had to take responsibility for the way I let that narrative, if you will, shape who I became. It was me who was scripting it over and over again. So, once I explored it, I forgave and let it go. And now I just see it as something that I had to experience in that way in order to make me into the person I’ve become… my own personal challenge that served a critical role in creating my identity in this life.

    • Thanks, Valerie, your comments are insightful. It DOES require a great deal of self-knowledge to understand such stuff. I get mad at myself for not being able to get past thoughts I know are irrelevant to a current situation, but are part of the past, and responding to someone in a way I’d rather not, but maybe I should be kinder to myself and appreciate that because I have some knowledge of such things that maybe my behaviour is tempered and I’m hopefully not causing as much damage as: a) I fear I am, and b) I might do without such knowledge. I do feel sad and helpless that the relevant person is projecting ‘unfairly’ onto me too (and behaving accordingly), but since I’m doing it to him I have no right to complain! Perhaps a solution will be revealed if I move out of victim mentality about it. Both of us are reacting to internalised imaginings of who we think the other is… and that is someone with who we each experienced immense distress in the past. I don’t know whether understanding that will resolve the issues, though.

      I went to psychotherapy about 20 years ago. For me, it didn’t work out – I felt I got more help and insight form my own investigations. I found the therapist too cold. I didn’t warm to him at all, let alone transfer! I ended up lying to avoid silence – I didn’t want to tell him any truths about myself because I thought he would be unsympathetic (maybe that was me transferring?!). The most interesting thing about the experience was walking past Abbey Road Studios and crossing that famous crossing to get to the sessions! On one occasion I saw Paul McCartney but he blanked me – fair enough, I thought. The therapist told me I felt rage and grief at being abandoned by my mother as a toddler. I wasn’t aware of feeling any feelings like that and thought he was just giving me textbook twaddle. But, boy, have I seen it in the past few years! So, I guess the psychotherapy was useful after all, albeit belatedly.

      You’ve equated feelings of abandonment with 12th House Moon. My 4th House Moon is opposite Neptune, so that’s a similar dynamic; it’s also square Uranus (there are no other aspects to my Moon.)

      I agree about how we make up stories about ourselves then judge historic events using those stories (post-rationalization from a particular perspective that may not bear any relation to the actuality of the event we are defining afresh). That probably isn’t a very sensible use of our mind power. I read Eckhart Tolle to try and redirect my mind energy. It’s hard work though (the redirection of the energy, I mean, not the reading!).

  2. Sounds like you are in a stressful/confusing situation :/ RE: your last paragraph – I think you are quite right, but I’m also convinced that these stories we tell ourselves and this sense of pain or anguish, even if it is disconnected and/or problematic, stems from something real happening in the psyche. It might be attaching itself to a fiction of sorts, but I still think it is doing that for a reason. Reason being that there is a wound or problem that needs tending. The psychological mess is just a warning sign that there’s something going on beneath the surface that needs attention.

    If you are interested – I know you can read astrology yourself – but if you’d like to share your birth data (privately), I’d be happy to take a look at your chart (pro bono, of course). From the sounds of it, I’d expect to see some interesting things going on. I used to have my astrology email posted on my blog, but took it down because I’ve been remiss in checking it regularly. If you’d like to send me a private message, email me at rationalastrologer@gmail.com (and let me know if it doesn’t work… it’s a new account.)

    Valerie

    • Hi Valerie,

      I’ve had loads of Pluto stuff going on. In the past few years it’s: squared my Sun (from the 12th to a Pisces Sun), crossed into my 1st House and opposed my Mars (at the same time as Uranus was squaring my Mars), but it’s also sextiled my Mercury and Chiron and trined my Venus, so not all bad. Its next aspect will be trine Moon (4th House), so hopefully that’ll be an easy-to-handle psychic clear-up of whatever’s left to sort out! I’ve got a trine of Neptune to Mars coming, too.

      Thanks for offering to look at my chart – I’ll send you my details anon.

      J x

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