Archive for the ‘Transference and Countertransference’ category

Projective Identification: Informing the Experiential State

July 9, 2017

In the Bollas quote posted below, we are invited to picture an interaction between a father and child complicated by the father’s not conscious enough awareness of his personal issue with feeling guilty over impulse buying or the pressure created internally by the urge to be impulsive.

The concise pattern language based example does not comment on a possible continuum of alternatives to this father’s reliance on employing this defense, only that for him the stage is set to rid himself of this discomforting conflict by simply putting it into someone else. This works, allowing him to break psychological contact with this impulse and its inspired guilt… Unfortunately, the cost of this ridding is to find/experience cause for alarm in what is described as, in reality, his child’s ordinary impulsiveness. Through his overly censorious criticism of the child, the father off-loads his burdensome urge-to-impulse-and-inspired-guilt (complex). This is a blur moment. Most people looking in on this exchange would recognize a deeper dynamic at play, something a bit or more off in some way, but not so with the father. By design, one’s consciousness is protected entirely from experiencing the dynamics responsible for the impulse/guilt conflict in need of discharge, as well as it’s origins.

Representing this image/affect graphically as an experiential state scene, we can try picturing ExpStateSelfOtherAffectthe father in the act of criticizing the child. Imagine the depth of expression for both, surrounding the giving and receiving of the wound. I am suggesting wound here, because of its identified unconscious dynamic. The father is, through this mechanism, transferring his personal conflict with impulses and guilt into the child.

How might we think about the whys? Why this mechanism? Why now? What is adaptive about its deployment? How is it likely to effect the child, over time? In the instance of this example, we see a parent has misinterpreted or miss-apprised what is identified as in reality the child’s ordinary impulse. The father is reacting to his child’s identification with the father’s projection, not his child.

From the perspective of the child being criticized with an unconscious-to-the-father overly censorious driver, we can picture this scene as one which will inform the child’s developing experiential state on the theme of something in me is not OK.

The experiential state image is a useful tool to think about what psyche does with encapsulated episodic memories. Recall, humans as early as several weeks of age demonstrate the capacity for episodic memory: in this memory storage system emotionally charged episodes get swallowed whole, encapsulated and stored, without being fully inventoried. It seems as long as unconscious contents remain unconscious, their intensities are not diminished by time and space.

When we get emotionally triggered, it is likely one of these highly charged capsules of traumatic experience has activated, contributing it’s resonant emotional tone to the scene. Typically, the encapsulated trauma memory does not announce it’s role in providing the emotion. Again, this is the blur.

If we were to orient the father to his vulnerability to employing such a defense, with increasing awareness, he might choose to experiment with checking his impulse to censor his child. If he is able to do so, what might he notice? The increasing internal pressure may well lead to a spontaneous memory or feeling. From a psychodynamic perspective, it is possible an unthought known can begin to be thought about.

The action disorder formulation gets at this starting with the observation: “Any affect or emotion which in its raw and unaltered form is too intense to be controlled by will alone may need its ritual. Without ritual, such energies may inundate the ego and force it into acting out or into obsessive behavior. Ritual brings about containment and acceptance, control of intensity, and ‘dosage’.” (Whitmont, E., Return of the Goddess, p.235.)

At a personal level, we may or may not have much of an idea about how much of a charge we are carrying related to still split off trauma.

At the level of at least doing no harm, the father in his unconsciousness is likely to be initiating a reenactment of his original wound.  From this perspective, what he puts on the child and what the child experiences, will quite likely be an out-picturing of the father’s core experiential state scene. Almost from the beginning, any two who would love will be generating a core internal image or representation of what it means to be in relationship. See Developmental Considerations)


The father, suffering at some level with feelings of guilt about impulses, rids himself of the conflict by putting it into the child. His psyche sets the child up to become identified with the unacceptable impulsiveness projected onto him, setting up the father’s feeling justified in using a critical tone to find the child guilty as charged. This is the blur dynamic.

In truth, while the father is in the stage of life where in he can choose to embrace corrective experiences leading to the dissolving of the irrationality contributing to his experiential state scenes, the child is in the phase of coalescing of his/her experiential state. Recall, my first orientation to the concept of the experiential state was the fact that it was the single composite picture informed by every important interaction concerning wounds to loving. I find it helpful to think about multiple emotional challenges, on themes, which can still then be collapsed into one.

I’m going to post this now and try to approach it by reworking the graphics in the Representation of Persona Submitting to Emotion plate.






Projective Identification and Extractive Introjection

June 19, 2017

Seeking to re-familiarize myself with the concept of extractive introjection I found this chapter link by Christopher Bollas.  (see The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known)

Beginning with a description of projective identification, Bollas then proposes what he identifies as ‘almost exactly it’s reverse’, extractive introjection. For my purposes, I want to try visualizing the pair through the lenses of experiential state imagery and complexes. First, the Bollas quotes:

”Kleinian psychoanalysts, in particular, have focused on one way in which a person may rid himself of a particular element of psychic life. He does so by putting it into someone else. If a father feels guilty over impulse buying or the pressure created internally by the urge to be impulsive, he may break psychological contact with this impulse and its inspired guilt by criticizing his child’s ordinary impulsiveness. As the parent unconsciously rids himself of this unwanted part of himself, his overly censorious relation to the child’s impulsiveness creates the ‘desired’ effect. Unable to bear the father’s censorious approach, the child becomes even more impulsive. In studying human relations, whenever we note that one person compels another to ‘carry’ an unwanted portion of himself, then we speak of ‘projective identification’.

I believe there is a process that can be as destructive as projective identification in its violation of the spirit of mutual relating. Indeed, I am thinking of an intersubjective procedure that is almost exactly it’s reverse, a process that I propose to call extractive introjection. Extractive introjection occurs when one person steals for a certain period time (from a few seconds or minutes, to a lifetime) an element of another individual’s psychic life. Such an intersubjective violence takes place when the violator (henceforth A) automatically assumes that the violated (henceforth B) has no internal experience of the psychic element that A represents. At the moment of this assumption, an act of theft takes place, and B may be temporarily anesthetized and unable to ‘gain back’ the stolen part of the self. If such extraction is conducted by parent upon a child it may take many years of an analysis before B will ever recover the stolen part of the self.” (pp 157-158)

Bollas goes on to provide a number of vivid clinical examples illuminating the not so subtle but exceedingly challenging difficulties associated with this mechanism.