This definition of projection is from the APA
Negative projection is a powerful dynamic in families affected by alienation. It is a powerful dynamic surrounding those families too and anyone who ventures in to this space must understand what it is and how it manifests itself. Negative projection is the mechanism by which someone splits off parts of their awareness of self and projects those parts, seeing in others what they are unable to see in their own self.
Negative projection in cases of alienation are often seen in the professional team around a family. It has a dynamic which is recognisable in that the team will often have a split opinion about the family it is working with, seeing others in the team as being wrong.
Negative projection is seen in campaign groups, where the people campaigning see others as the enemy and themselves as victims of another group or a system.
Negative projection is a dangerous dynamic and so as a parent or professional working in this field it is important to understand it, recognise it and learn how to cope and work with it. Not all instances of negative projection will need to be worked with, some can simply be left to get on with itself (where for example, someone has decided that you are the cause of all of their problems and that someone doesn’t have the power to damage you in any way), others will require you to deal with it directly (where someone is using their negative projections to try and drive damaging outcomes in your life).
The child who is suffering from induced psychological splitting receives the projections of the influencing parent as well as the projections of the parent who is being rejected. This is an appalling place for a child to be and if you are the rejected parent, it is imperative that you understand that your projections, onto your child or their other parent, will heighten the child’s defence of splitting. Avoiding projection is therefore important because it is one of the key defences used by influencing parents either consciously or unconsciously and by definition this parent is highly unlikely to be able to withdraw their projections.
Projections are those feelings that we are unable to experience in ourselves and so we split them off, deny that we have them and then project them at other people or groups of people. Projections are seen to be strongly at play in rights based groups, the argument that you have taken away my rights is projected at another person or group of people. It comes from a place where the blame for feelings of helplessness and powerlessness has to be hung upon someone else because the feelings are too strong to bear. That the person projecting blame feels powerful in this action, is the outcome of the defence. Anyone who spends their time telling others that they are wrong and to blame for harm, whilst being unable to recognise that they are using controlling and power based tactics designed to harm the recipient of a projection, is using the defence of projection and as such, is not able to fully understand that they are causing others harm in doing so.
The world is not divided into good and bad, black and white, positive and negative. As easy as it is to think and feel that way, it is not thus divided. In a post separation world, where emotional and psychological decompensation brings with it huge amounts of fear, splitting into good and bad and denying the bad in oneself and seeing it only in others, is a common outcome. It replicates well, what happens to children in situations where they suffer alienation. When these dynamics are at play in families, it is little wonder children are driven into using this defence.
The most startling examples of splitting are in parental rights campaign groups and it is here where the mirror image of each other’s projections are seen. This is such a stark example of projection that the same subject matter is seen in each group only in reverse.
For example, campaign groups around the family courts are full of armchair psychologists determining that anyone who is not a feminist is a men’s rights activist with mummy issues, or conversely, arm chair psychologists who believe that all feminists have daddy issues. These groups analyse their enemies and chatter amongst themselves about how the other side is the real baddy. Victim blaming and shaming, victim championing and idealisation are rife in this arena, which leaves me wondering what the children of these families experience. Whatever it is, it isn’t balanced and that is why projection as a defence mechanism has to be avoided in situations where a child is alienated.
Because if all you do as a rejected parent is mirror the behaviours of the alienator, if all that you do is keep company with people who are busy blaming others, then all your children will ever get, is more of the same of what caused the problem in the first place. If you want a chance to help your child, stay out of the way of negative projection and learn how to spot it and work with it or step aside from it when you need to.
You will know when someone is negatively projecting because they will see you as the whole of the problem. Negative projection causes people to do things that ordinary well balanced people do not do. Projection can drive people into obsessive, angry behaviours which overstep the mark of normality. It can produce convictions of having discovered the truth about you and a drive to get others to believe the same thing.
Negative projections have a huge amount of obsessive energy, this is because the need to defend the self, in the person projecting, is enormous. People who spend their time blaming and shaming others, are in fact deeply ashamed in their own selves. The stronger the projection, the deeper the shame. Remember that next time you experience someone telling lies about you or creating campaigns of denigration or driving your children and others to behave as if you are a monster. The trauma story in blame projection is that the person doing it has something so monstrous to hide from themselves, they are forced to make others believe monstrous things about you.
Healthy people do not need to deny, split and project. Healthy people are aware of the parts of the self which are less healthy and work to understand them and how they can bring those parts to greater integrated health. Working from a balanced place as a rejected parent, you will not feel the need to gather in groups and join in with the mob, you will find a greater peace in working on your own understanding of yourself and building a firm platform for your children to come home to.
Out there in the Wild West of the internet right now there are negative projections aplenty, which rise and fall with the collective waves of rage from unwell people. There are lone rangers riding the wifi waves with missions in mind and groups which roll out shocking memes. There are people who claim that with their thousands of followers they have the power to change your world forever and people who will tell you that everyone else is selling snake oil (whatever that is). At the same time these people will tell you that the others will harm you, are wicked and evil and will whisper of conspiracy theories and connections with the devil. This is the world of borderline behaviours, it is harmful to spend too long out there.
Being safe requires a strong sense of self and a capacity to recognise negative projection. Two things that rejected parents rarely possess on the outset of their journey but which they must learn quickly.
The first rule of coping with rejection by your child, is that you won’t learn anything by shouting with a mob into the wind. All that will happen is that you will hear the echoes of your own desperation and the negative projections coming back at you from the other side. This is a game of negative projection tennis, it is a pointless waste of time. Those with a healthier mindset will recognise that quickly. The others will spend their time trying to win a game which cannot ever be won because the players are engaged in defending their own inability to accept the good and bad in their own selves.
Things to live by when you find yourself the designated rejected parent in a situation where an unwell parent is causing hyper alignment with your child –
- Life is not divided into good and bad.
- Good people sometimes do bad things.
- You do not bring health to the world via blame and shame.
- We are all responsible for our own wellbeing.
- We all have our own internalised child to look after.
Give your inner child a break and stay away from the crowds. Listen, learn and love your inner child, when you do he/she will give you back those things you need to build a life which is rich with honesty and health.
As you do so you will build for your outer child, the path for them to walk home on. A path which is no longer shadowed by negative projections.
A path which walks right up to your door.
Building the Path Back Home – A Workshop For Parents
A workshop for parents will be held as part of the EAPAP Conference 2020. Focused on healthy strategies for recovering alienated children, this workshop will be run by Karen Woodall and Nick Woodall and will be based upon the work which is done at the Family Separation Clinic where treatment of children suffering from induced psychological splitting is the core focus.
Based upon the successful services of the Clinic, which are delivered using a psychoanalytic model of understanding and trauma informed interventions, this workshop is for all rejected parents who want to build a healthy future for their children.