Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Projection Reflection

In yet another discussion about my recent "Projection" entries -- my Adventures in Projection and Projection Flashback -- a friend suggested that Alice (of the latter entry) was jumping to conclusions rather than projecting.

Which made me ponder: What is the difference between jumping to conclusions and psychological projection?

They are both related, as both create a full, defined image of a person or situation based on very little actual data. And in Alice's case, I would say she certainly engaged in "Mind Reading" (per the Wikipedia entry) as she decided she knew my intentions, when of course she didn't and couldn't have.

So, yes, her conclusions were jumpily unwarranted.

But the intensity of her anger towards me and the ridiculous scope of her accusation indicated something more at work than merely a conclusion, which is more a mental process: You take a small amount of data and fill in the rest with data from your bank of personal belief and experience.

Now, yes, emotion may play a role here, but it's secondary to thought. And if given convincing contrary data, that thought process can be adjusted to a more accurate conclusion. (One hopes).

But I've found that two key elements of psychological projection are (1) strong emotion; and (2) a vigorous refusal to see anything other than the projection. Indeed, any contrary data is either ignored altogether, or mindbendingly woven into the projection. (In other words, if you are someone's screen o'projection, you will be damned if you do and damned if you don't -- everything will be used against you in their court of craziness to shore up their image of you).

According to Jung, the refusal to let the projection fall is tied to the projector's need to deny in him/herself the very qualities he/she is projecting.

So denial of one's own qualities is the third key element to projection.

The projector NEEDS to project the qualities away from him/herself, to create a scapegoat to be sent off into the desert. This has a dual purpose: (1) it deflects attention of the projector's unwanted qualities onto another (as though others aren't smart enough to realize "whoever smelt it dealt it"), and (2) it creates the illusion that the projector can rid him/herself of those qualities simply by destroying the object of projection -- which is exactly what Alice did. Great for everything from teen cliques to genocide. Yay humanity.

In Alice's case, it turned out that she, in fact, was very destructive to the relationships of the people around her. Most likely, her sister's fight with her financé was caused by something she herself had said or done. But of course, she was not able to consider that possibility, especially when it was so much fun to verbally beat the crap out of a naïve teenager.

Of course, I can look back now and say, "Oh yes... of course I was completely innocent. How could I have thought otherwise?"


Because when one is the object of projection -- especially in the midst of it, without the perspective of years and self-knowledge -- it is very difficult to tease out the real self from the projected image precisely because the projection often contains a hint of truth about the object.

As another friend noted, when he read the story about Alice:

"The same thing has happened to me more than once. Nothing I really care to share with the public but... yeah. I can relate!"

In the case of Alice, and from the vantage point of many years' growth and introspection, it is very clear that I was innocent. Although I didn't feel that way at the time... for weeks I believed I was exactly what she told me I was. Or worse, I didn't know what I was...

Usually in these situations, there is always the specter of: "Are they RIGHT?" Because a lot of the time the other person will be a tiny fraction right ... but they make it their entire vision of us.

As Jung observed: "Something that strikes [the projector] about [an] object [of projection] may very well be a real property of that object. …it frequently happens that the object offers a hook to the projection, and even lures it out. This is generally the case when the object himself (or herself) is not conscious of the quality in question."

And this is a curious thing...

If Jung is to be believed, Alice had in fact seen a part of me of which I was unaware, and which was calling both my and her attention to bring it into consciousness.

So what was this part of me? I believe it was related to sexuality -- or at least what sexuality represented to me at that time, in terms of being "grown up."

Although I was a "precocious" teen (as the Older Men who hit on me liked to say), I was extremely young psychologically and emotionally. Ironically, I had spent the bulk of my childhood intently focused on Being Mature -- to join the utopic World of Adults as soon as possible -- so in many ways I prevented myself from growing up.

I was very unpopular with boys my age (well, with just about everyone my age), but as I got tall and womanly, I seemed at least 10 years older than I was. And there is no shortage of Older Male fish looking for a taste of jailbait...

I think part of me must have sensed the negative aspects of sexuality -- that it is used destructively, to control, manipulate, even injure -- but I did not want to deal with that part at all.

I wanted the good part:  affection and attention. Because affection feels so good, and attention looks an awful lot like love, because when we love a thing, we give it our full, adoring, undivided attention. Unfortunately, the reverse is rarely the case....

And this is the truth that was burrowing its way into my awareness, and which I was desperately suppressing: Sexuality is attractive, and it seems to bring love and connection, but it can also very often do the opposite, injuring and exploiting both parties.

So perhaps many women are completely unaware of these negative aspects, and so they don't form a compelling shadow that attracts the kind of projection that I was receiving; or they have no problem embracing the negative side and gleefully cock-tease their way towards ego fulfillment.

And maybe it works for them... I have seen many romantically successful women get away with all kinds of crap that would make me want to crawl into a sewer. And their men put up with it... dare I say, even want it. (Hence books like Why Men Marry Bitches).

Hell, my own grandmother's "feminist" advice was to marry a rich man, then divorce him and take all his money.


But that's not what I'm about.

And even at that age, as I was becoming aware of these negative aspects, I was also at deeper levels realizing that I did NOT want to be a part of that dynamic. Yes, I wanted attention and affection, but I wanted it to be real, to be personal -- not the result of a biological response, and not to be exploited for material gain.

And I suppose it took Alice's telephonic witch-burning to cast the first light on what I truly did want.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Projection Flashback

Discussing yesterday's Adventure in Projection with a friend, he remarked: "I would argue that projecting of a view onto others is not a male trait but a human one."

And I would agree.

In fact, my very first traumatic experience of being slammed with another's projection came at the hands of a woman.

The summer before I entered college, I met a graduate student of my new university whom I will call Alice, because that was her name.

Big-eyed, frizzy-haired and barely five feet tall, Alice was a good friend of a DJ at the radio station where I was an intern and took an immediate shine to me. I had not yet learned to be wary of immediate shines and, as a socially awkward and less-than-popular teen who craved any kind of friendly attention, I shined right back.

She asked if I wanted to go clubbing that weekend and, even though I was four years under age, I was six feet tall and looked 25, so I eagerly accepted her invitation. We traipsed through the then-hot spots like Limelight and The Tunnel and finished off at some gay bar in the West Village where I was mistaken for a transvestite. (I cleared the matter by putting my suitor's hand on my crotch; he recoiled in horror.)

Alice squealed with delight at my ballsy ball-lessness and asked if I wanted to go for a nightcap in her neighborhood. We got in a cab and emerged somewhere in Sunnyside. After a few more beers, we decided it was too late and too far for me to make it home to Brooklyn so she invited me to crash at her spacious one-bedroom.

"So the bathroom's there, and here's the sofa bed," she smiled warmly, "It's pulled out because the leg of my bed is busted so I've been sleeping out here. We can just crash together.... if that's OK...?"

"Um... sure..."

I bathed quickly, put on a long T shirt and passed out the moment my body hit the bed. I woke up only a few hours later to find her staring down at me.

"I was watching your eyes as you slept," she cooed, "I was wondering what you were dreaming about."

"I... I don't remember."

Now, to you, dear readers, I'm sure it's very clear what was happening here.

And even I, at that time, was dimly aware at an intuitive level. But my "rational" (or "rationalizing") side had Olympic-strength powers of denial. I vigorously argued down nearly every soul-saving impulse I had: "How can you judge her? She hasn't touched you or made any suggestive remarks. She just wants to be your friend!"

So we went to breakfast; she asked me to call her when I got home. I did.

She called me nearly every day for the next week or so. When was I available? Would I like to get together for this or that?

She belonged to a little poetry group in Park Slope and asked if I'd like to share some of my work. I agreed, and arrived the next Saturday at a prim Brownstone near Sixth Avenue. It belonged to a young sober but artsy couple, both decidedly diminutive.

There were a few others in that mould ... formless cotton dresses, colored khakis and polo shirts, but also tasteful, unique silver jewelry on both the men and women. (Can you say "Trust Fund"??)

We went around the circle reading our various poetical offerings. I was the only one who wrote in rhyme.

At the end of the session, I ran to the bathroom to evacuate the considerable amount of jasmine green tea I'd consumed. When I opened the door, the apartment was dark and the male half of the apartment's native couple stood in front of me.

"Are you OK?" he asked

"Sure ... uh ... sorry. Did I take too long?"

"Well, everyone's already gone."

"Oh. OK. Well, I guess I'll see you later."

I grabbed my bag and skipped down the long stoop.

Alice called the next day and asked if I wanted to come to her birthday party. "Sure!" I said, now fully enjoying the social life her friendship was bringing me.

The party was a lively chatterbox of even cooler artsy types. And Alice, apparently, had a new boyfriend -- a tall Bill Murray handsome-ish guy in a silky button-down that looked faintly creepy to me.  Whew, I thought; she was straight after all.

More radio people showed -- including her friend the DJ whom I'd secretly been crushing on. There were actors and graphic artists, writers and sculptors, all seemed charmingly humble and even geeky.

My favorite conversation compared the original Star Trek with the then-new Next Generation. This playful argument dwindled to include only me and a young man who insisted that no bald, stiff-backed Bard-head could hold a candle to his James Tiberius.

Finally the man was pulled away by a woman whom I later heard crying and yelling in the hallway. I shrugged and went back to the beer table.

In retrospect, there was something very wrong with the party from around that moment on (and probably before). But my denial-side rationalized: People get silly and crazy at parties, so some emotion is floating around. So what. And it has nothing to do with me, anyway....

I and the other stragglers crashed on the couch, chairs or floor. As we groggily pulled ourselves up in the morning, it seemed there was a move towards a group breakfast.

"No," Alice said, "There isn't."

I got my stuff and left.

I didn't hear from Alice for a while after that.

On a Saturday morning, over an hour before I was supposed to be up for a Shakespeare class, the phone rang. My mother woke me urgently -- something she would never have done unless she had been told it was an absolute emergency.

It was Alice.

"I just wanted to tell you that you're a horrible person and I never want to see or speak to you again."

"Uh.. huh...  Whaaa??"

"I invited you into my circle of friends because I thought you were nice and pretty and smart and I liked you. And all you have done is try to destroy my friendships and hurt the people who are important to me."

"What..??? What are you talking about...?" (I'm actually not sure I was articulate enough to say even this ... but the dumbfounded question repeated endlessly through my mind.)

"At the poetry circle you KNEW my friend and her husband were having troubles, and you stayed behind after everyone had left so you could hit on him, and they almost divorced! And at the party, my sister got in a HUGE FIGHT with her fiancé because of something you said!! And then you kept coming on to MY BOYFRIEND?"

Whaa..?? The creepy guy in the disco shirt?? Really???  Did I? Had I...?

"So I just want you to know I know what you're all about and I'm DONE with you!!"

And she slammed the phone down.

The back of my throat burned as tears surged down my face. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. Was I that person?? Was I some vicious, destructive femme fatale? A fledgling Marquise de Merteuil determined to control and exploit everyone around me?

Um. No.

I was an insecure, earnest 17-year-old desperate to be loved and accepted.

But I didn't know myself well enough to be able to stand against her definition of me. For days and weeks I cried buckets, barely able function, feeling as though my innards had been ripped out and stomped on. How could my perceptions be so completely different from the story she was telling me...?? It made no sense....

If, indeed, I had had any self-awareness at all at that time, any ability to unpack that stinking load of horseshit she had dumped on my virgin ears, it would have been very clear:

She kept saying, "you knew" and "all your fault" -- about people and situations where I did not and could not have had any knowledge -- as she repeated, "I know all about you" and "I know who you really are"...

Of course she didn't; she didn't know me at all. Nor was she capable of doing so.

But such is the case with projections. To a narcissist, everyone and everything is a extension of themselves with no perspective or even life of its own. They believe the world sees and knows as they know, so in her mind of course I "knew all about" her, when the real me hadn't a clue.

Something inside of her was undermining her life, perhaps damaging her relationships. For all I know, there was no real damage in the relationships of her friends and her sister, but she was likely projecting her own inner state onto them too. And since she clearly could not bear to hold herself accountable for any of this discord -- real or imagined -- she needed a scapegoat:


"She wanted you and couldn't have you," observed my psych-major pal, "So she had to destroy you. Simple as that."

Years later, I came to know a mutual friend who confirmed that, in fact, Alice's life had been out of control, as she grasped towards unavailable people and things in her field of aspiration -- just as I had been doing, actually -- which is perhaps the similarity that had really brought us together.

But I was 17 and she was 23.

My friend described her as being sexually confused: occasionally bisexual, dating men, but in frequent pursuit of straight women. He told me about one in particular whom she deemed her "best friend," and whom she would manipulate with carefully doled out praise and criticism.

Many, many years later, visiting the psychiatric wing of St. Vincent's Hospital, I saw her. She smiled at me sheepishly, and turned away quickly. I wondered if she had realized the damage she had done to me...

Part of me wanted to scream, "You crazy fucking bitch! Do you realize you fucking traumatized me when I was a kid?!?"

But I didn't. I imagined she was probably there for treatment of some sort, so perhaps she was fixing whatever had been wrong in her life. And if she was, then she may have had some awareness of the pain she'd caused me and others.

And if she didn't, then my attacking her wasn't going to change anything.  All it would do was confirm her projection of me.

And I knew: That's not who I was.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Assault by Projection, and Other Weird Adventures in the New Year

Last night I went to the birthday party of a musician who is an especially beloved member of the bellydance community.

The place was packed with dancers and musicians (some of whom had seen my solo show show the Sunday before), so there were a few discussions about it and I handed out flyers here and there to friends and friends of friends.

I also laid about 10 flyers on the counter near the bar (which is where people usually put promotional stuff), and three on the bar itself.

But most of the time, I was dancing along with everyone else. At one point, I picked up a votive candle and began dancing with it in my palm. Since the candle was little more than wick in oil, it was tricky to balance it perfectly to keep the flame from going out -- which it finally did.

I went to find a match, but a shortish young guy in a white button-down shirt gave me a freshly lit one. “Thank you!” I grinned, and returned to the floor.

About an hour later, a man from the table where I’d first taken the candle complimented me on my dancing and raved about how much they liked the woman who had performed professionally that night. He loved that, although she was “older,” she was truly ageless when she danced... The group was dumbfounded by her beauty and grace, because they did not know what to expect from a bellydance event (the guy I was talking to had met the birthday boy casually a few weeks before and agreed to swing by).

So I told them that this was the very topic I address in my solo show -- about how beautiful and empowering bellydance is -- that it isn't a dance of seduction (as is often portrayed) but of owning one's own strength, power and grace … They asked about my performance dates and I ran back to my bag to get some flyers and handed them to the guy and his friends.

Within seconds, the very guy who had given me the candle while I was dancing rushed up to me and barked, "I want you to stop handing out flyers! You put them all over the bar. You've been doing this all night, and you have to stop!" And he returned to the bar.

I thought about this for a minute... If I had been indiscriminately laying them on tables and forcing them on people I didn't know, then he might have a case. But I hadn't been. I was giving them only to people I knew, or people who had expressly asked for them.

I was not going to stand for being bullied and accused of doing something that I had not been doing.

So I strode up to Mr. Manager and said, "It was completely inappropriate for you to embarrass me in front of those people. I gave them the cards because they ASKED for them, and for no other reason. I have not been ‘handing them out all night.’ I have been giving them to friends only. You have no right to accuse me of doing something I wasn’t doing!! So FUCK YOU!"

I went back to my table and stuffed $40 in the billfold for a $30 check and went to the bathroom. I was in there for barely a minute when I heard a booming knock at the door.

When I got out, the manager huffed, "I want you to pay your check and leave!!"

"Excuse me??" I said.

"You are being very rude and are talking down to me and are using obscene language," he babbled, "and I want you to pay your check and leave!"

Then we went back and forth more about the flyers -- about whom I had given them to, when and why. "Well, I've removed all your flyers from the bar,” he pronounced, “They're torn up. Destroyed. Gone. They're in the trash. So pay your check and leave."

The waiter came back with my change. "Keep it," I mouthed, then turned to the manager. "I HAVE paid my check."

"Then get your things and get home safely."

"But.... " I added.

Now, even though I had planned to leave, now that this gentleman was digging in his heels and bullying me yet more, it was time for him to learn that my heels were longer and sharper.

"I am not ready to leave." I jutted my chin and went back to my table.

He bristled. “I want you to leave. So get home safely.”

"Well, I’m not going. So I guess you'll just have to call the police."

"OK!" He sniffed and went off to another area of the restaurant, presumably to call the police. I gathered my things and started making my goodbyes. But as I passed by the bar, I ran into a guy I'd been speaking to earlier who asked me to stay a little longer.

"I don't know," I grimaced, "This manager is kind of flipping out. He said he has called the police to have me thrown out."

"What?? Why?"

"For handing out flyers."

"But you know everyone here!"

"Yes.. I know. The guy's a nutcase."

"Oh come on.. the police aren't going to come. They have better things to do than indulge this fool."

And I realized, my friend was right. I wasn't being disorderly. He had no legitimate complaint against me. If the police were REALLY bored enough to show up, I would just say that the manager and I had had an affair a few weeks before, that he was bad in the sack and I had dumped him. And now he was getting his revenge.

But most likely, I knew, that would not be necessary. And it would have been kind of cruel on my part -- although not undeserved -- and I don’t like being cruel.

Anyway. It was clear he had no way to get rid of me. I knew it, and he knew it.

So when the manager finally strode up to me and said, "The police are on their way,” I responded, “Well then, I guess I'll just have to wait for them." And took off my coat.

Then I looked at him very level (or not so level since he was quite a bit shorter than me), and said, "You are a child and a fool. You need to learn how to pick your fights."

I tossed down my coat and my friend bought me a beer.

And then my friend said, "You know, I think maybe that guy likes you."

At first, this seemed quite crazy to me... but then I realized … maybe not....

This sort of thing has happened to me a lot... men find me attractive, but maybe not approachable. They assume I will reject them, or I am not the sort of woman they are usually attracted to, and so they get angry at themselves for their attraction.

And this brings out some very strange behavior in them.

It is as though they experience me -- albeit unconsciously -- as having some kind of power over them, so their response is to attempt to exert power over me. Sometimes it can be playful or not-so-playful teasing, but often enough it is vicious to the point of ruthlessness.

I thought about the evening. He had been watching me dance attentively enough to replace the candle. And he must have been watching me continuously when I was speaking to the birthday boy’s friend. I had not handed out any flyers in nearly an hour at that point, so he must have been waiting to pounce....

I looked over to where he was standing. The bartender was giving him a bear hug.

At the end of the night, having polished off my beer, I blew a kiss to this poor, sad man. "I love you!" I said, almost sincerely.

I was kind of grateful for the incident ... In the past, when I have been the object of these kinds of negative projections, I have folded. I've accepted or apologized and taken it all on myself. “Oh I’m so sorry for being the horrible person you are telling me I am (but which, actually, I am not...).”

Or worse, I've found myself living out their projections... as if their perception of me suddenly became my reality, that I could not help but live out (like when a person calls you crazy, you just end up seeming more crazy as you try to insist you are not crazy).

But now, because this ridiculous man had attacked me so strangely and inappropriately, he had given me the chance not only to stand up against the projection, but to completely disprove it in my own actions and the reactions of others.

I grabbed my bag and skipped off to the subway -- laughing all the way.