Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Projection

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 25, 2013

When Marty speaks, the feeling of ennui pops up for me, but not for him. How do I understand that?  Shelly asks. I think about how that happens. How, I do not begin our conversation feeling a sense of boredom, but upon reflection, that feeling bubbles up. Am I feeling that because I have somehow lost interest, or am I feeling a feeling that he is having, but he is not aware.? This question prompts the hypothesis testing in the clinical interview. “I wonder if you are feeling ennui,” I say, as a way to test out my speculation. I shoot my idea over the bow, watching and thinking carefully about how it lands. If Marty supports this idea, then together we can conclude that the process of projection has occurred, whereby his feelings are somehow transmitted to me, and then I feel his unconscious experience of his life. If, however, Marty categorically denies a sense of ennui, then it could still be deep in his unconscious, or I could be completely, or partly off-base. Either way, my experience of being with Marty is critical information to my work in trying to understand his subjectivity. In a similar way, Connor, thirty-two, always makes me feel anxious in his presence. He makes me wonder if he experiences anxiety, on a deep level, despite his protest, that he is feeling in control and does not experience internal discomfort. “Somehow when we are together, I begin to feel uncertain about what I am saying, in a way that is not typical for me, so I am wondering if, perhaps, I am picking up on your distress.” I say to Connor, again, launching over the bow, a hypothesis based on my subjectivity. Paying attention to my internal process is an obvious, and yet fairly new, area of inquiry in psychoanalytic studies. The area known as “Intersubjectivity” speaks to this to and fro of thought from imagining the patient’s experience, to examining my experience, all going on simultaneously, to come to a question about deeply held, although perhaps shameful, feelings. This multiple layers of thinking and feeling, occurring all invisibly to the naked eye, is the challenge of both my work with patients and my teaching, as there are no right or wrongs, but only ideas which make more or less sense.

3 Responses to “Projection”

  1. Eleanor said

    Ohhhh my gosh! This cartoon is totally cool….hilarious in fact! The illustration is so “psychoanalytic” and with humor illustrates the deep complexity of human interactions. So much is beneath our level of conscious awareness and the knowledge of this is what distinguishes the psychodynamic method from other methods. Projections, counter projections, reactions to projections, reactions to reactions to projections…whatever…..need I go on. Seriously tho, I have found this kind of awareness to be quite helpful in understanding not only myself, but others.

  2. Shelly said

    There is someone in my life who constantly tells me over and over and over the same minutiae in his day to day activities, even though I tell him that I don’t need or want to hear it–that I just need to hear the bottom line. I feel boredom, frustration, and anger in that he involves me in these details in things that I don’t want or need to hear. I realize from this post that this mirrors his feelings throughout the day, but I am powerless to help him overcome them. I am frustrated that his therapist has not been able to help him stop this behavior and his need to infuse every sentence with the intricate details of every thought and interaction with others he had throughout the day. I definitely feel ennui! I get the projection you describe in this post. Now, what can I do about the behavior?

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