Saturday, May 20, 2017
Presidential Projection Extraordinaire
People tend to find the concept of projection fascinating. And, in the psychoanalytic world, it’s a rather complex idea. I use several of Trump’s recent tweets to exemplify what is meant by projection.
As a background, the field of psychoanalysis is just over 100 years old. It was started by Sigmund Freud just as the 1800s came to an end. Freud grew to international prominence with the publication of his book, The Interpretation of Dreams.
Mental health professionals continue to debate the meaning of the word psychoanalysis. Simply put, psychoanalysis offers theories of mind and of practice. The latter consists of a type of talk therapy in which the psychoanalytic practitioner brings internal, unconscious dynamics into the light of day.
What are psychodynamics?
They cover a broad range, but include unresolved, internal conflicts like competition with a father or sibling, discomfort with degrees of gender identification (e.g. I see myself as a “girlie man), or guilt over success. They also include unmet needs or deficits, like yearning for the love you never got or for the parental guidance you never received.
During the first half-century of psychoanalysis, mind or clinical practice assumed a one-person psychology viewpoint. In other words, the psyche tended to be viewed as a single unit, like a hydrogen atom. Since the mid-20th century, most psychoanalysts incorporate two-person, field, or inter-subjective ideas in their thinking. It comports much better with post-modernism and even contemporary trends in physics, like relativity theory or quantum mechanics.
For example, persons have individual character traits. Some may tend toward the emotionally unstable; others may be somewhat sad and pessimistic. Two-person psychologies always consider these in terms of context.
A person with borderline personality disorder, which psychologist Theodore Millon called the unstable pattern, might display greater stability in the presence of a loving other, or even while working with an empathically attuned psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapist.
With the advent of two-person psychology thinking, the effect of the other receives greater attention.
How does this relate to the concept of projection?
In the one-person models, projection is considered a communication sent one-way, usually through nonverbal behaviors, cues, or signs. Passive-aggression offers a clear example. When persons often run late, forget tasks, or otherwise behave passive-aggressively, they typically elicit anger in the other. They project out their anger.
Innumerable examples exist. You might feel extremely angry towards your spouse but, unconsciously, you project the anger onto him or her, viewing him or her as angry at you. This is called a persecutory projection.
Less often, ego maniacal persons may project their inflated self-image onto others, considering them having as admiring, even idealizing them.
As a licensed psychologist and marriage, family and child therapist, I am ethically precluded from conducting psychological analyses on anyone I have not personally examined. However, and as I have noted in other posts, Donald Trump provides screamingly obvious examples of projection.
Moreover, the idea of universal human rights overshadows any specific, professional ethics code. I fear Trump’s impulsiveness, lack of political experience, emotional insecurity, and other personality deficits pose an imminent danger to the world’s citizens.
Speaking of projection, I harbor a fear about writing I have never before experienced. I consider this another example of Trump’s dangerousness. Threats to freedom of speech, even in this country, are growing in intensity. Journalists, bloggers, other writers are often imprisoned in Turkey, Russia, and other autocratic nations.
How long until such persecutions occur here?
One final note before giving presidential examples:
The concept of two-person psychology allows consideration of the true complexity of interpersonal relating. Using Trump as as an example, he ignores his advisors, fails to share information with them, and has a remarkable dislike for the media. Therefore, a problematic feedback loop begins. The media reacts to him, he reacts to them, and so on in a circular fashion.
I am not introducing two-person psychology as a way to cut Trump some slack.
I think it only fair.
Ah, yes, one more point. The formal psychoanalytic term for projection is projective identification. Basically, the word “identification” is added to the phrase to describe the process through which one must identify with the projection for it to work.
For instance, I might feel like someone is following me. However, if they are not, and they do not feel that way, they did not receive the projection. I have projected it, internally, but it has had no external effect. (Extreme believers in two-person models would argue it always has an interpersonal impact, but that takes me down another complex rabbit hole.)
Finally, then, I provide three recent examples of Trump tweets, followed by a brief psychoanalysis of them.
On April 27th, Trump tweeted:
Nobody but Donald Trump will save Israel. You are wasting your time with these politicians and political clowns.
Notice in this missive, also evident in the two examples to follow, Trump shows two well-established characteristics of primitive mental functioning: grandiosity and contempt.
I mean, really?
Henry Kissinger failed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So did John Kerry, Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, and all other secretaries of state, or presidents, since Israel became a state in 1948.
Maybe Trump will. I doubt it. He knows how to order subordinates around. He knows how to borrow vast sums of money. He knows how to build, rent, and control properties, often exploiting contractors in the process. But he has no experience in diplomacy or governing.
Trump’s grandiosity is breathtaking.
As for the contempt, it seems self-evident. He speaks to his followers with disrespect by suggesting they would waste their time. He denigrates his colleagues with the phrase “political clowns.”
Most human beings learn basic self- and other- respect in kindergarten.
Trump did not.
Regarding the concept of projection, this tweet shows him projecting his grandiosity onto his followers. He also projects his obvious contempt for them. The projection process is clear whether using a one or two-person psychology.
On May 12th, he tweeted:
Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future “press briefings” and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy.
Some commentator has said rather hateful things about Trump, accusing him of using a pacifier and tweeting from his crib. While this person might have descended to the same level of immaturity as Trump, his descriptions seem accurate.
Trump behaves like a spoiled, entitled baby.
Frighteningly, he calls the first amendment into question here. Reacting to the legitimate questions raised regarding obvious lies and misstatements by Melissa McCarthy (of course I know it’s Sean Spicer), he blurted out this tweet enwrapped in his blankie. He questions the first amendment by putting quotation marks around the phrase press briefings.
In terms of projection, Trump projects his hurt and anger at being confronted with his pathological lying. He threatens to cancel a longstanding means of communication between the governor and the governed. Let’s hope it’s an empty threat.
On May 18th, Trump tweeted:
This is the single greatest witch hunt in American history.
What about the McCarthy era, or the Nixon one?
What about the actual Salem witch hunts?
The congress, the senate, and now a special counsel investigate him, particularly the ties between him, his campaign, and Russia. He is being investigated, not hunted.
Here again, then, Trump projects his own insecurity, even paranoia. He also projects grandiosity.
Witch hunts happened. They were beyond horrible.
But the only witch hunt occurring is the one Trump imagines.
When not terrified or enraged at his behavior as president, I sometimes feel sympathy for the man. Deep inside, he is almost certainly not a bad person. Like many with primitive emotional wounds, he is wounded. He lacks mature ways of managing those psychic injuries.
I also feel appreciative, as I noted earlier this week, at his offering such now-globally transmitted examples of the concept of projection, projective identification, and primitive mental functioning.
Submitted while sweating about Trump’s behavior in conjunction with the So Cal heat,
Freud, S. (1955). The interpretation of dreams. J. Strachey, trans. London: Hogarth.
Millon, T. (2011). Disorders of personality. New York: Wiley.
United Nations. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. Paris: UN.
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