Stuck On Projection

Being in the grocery aisle of a busy supermarket on a Saturday is not my idea of fun.  Less so when I passed by a mother and her two little boys, aged approximately 7 & 9, sweetly standing by the side of her trolley.  ‘If you say that again, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap’, I heard her say to one of them loudly.  She repeated the statement just to make sure all customers heard. ‘Me and yer dad love that cake, we used to eat it all the time when we were little’.  Her irrational outburst seemed to me to be completely disproportionate.  The vocal humiliation and threat in the company of complete strangers was the punishment for the little lad simply saying, he didn’t like cake.  All I could think of was how much her son needed psychological protection – from her.

I would like to be able to tell you that that was the end of the event but oh no.  Within seconds she continued on a stream of sentences so all could hear, ‘where’s the bread, stop doing that, these jeans are really annoying me, I’m going to throw them out when I get home, move over there’.  Around the next aisle, I heard her say to the poor oldest lad, ‘go and stand over there by the fridge’, whilst she instructed the other child that he could continue to ‘stay by the trolley’.  Such is the content of split projections, where one child is revered as good and the other child condemned as bad. I looked at his dejected little face. I looked at her jeans stretching at the seams.  He had done nothing wrong.  In five year’s she will wonder why he has absolutely no respect for her, why he is causing havoc, but I won’t.  It was his mother that was causing a scene.  And she was stuck on projection.

Projection is where someone psychologically defends themselves against their own unconscious impulses by attempting to deny their existence, whilst attributing them to someone else.  Lots of people project but as a general guide, the more and louder the projections, perhaps the greater the internal conflicts.

If I was analysing her, and I bet she really wishes I wasn’t, I might offer the theory that the son took the blame and full force of her own unpalatable internal beliefs that she was fat and unloved. Being in a supermarket, putting cake and bread in her trolley, it was the mother whose anxiety grew to unmanageable proportions, wondering what others around her might think.  By saying that he didn’t like the cake, she probably heard and internalised that to mean that he didn’t want to turn out like her, or to receive her style of saccharine love through the mouth, when it was his little heart that needed feeding.  The penalty for an inferior love unrequited, was to be frozen out by the devastating disapproval of the matriarch.  But that’s just my theory!  The damage, however, was done and it makes me feel really sad for the son to say, that that will not be the last time she uses him as her unconscious dustbin either. 

I mentioned in a previous article that the goal of Psychoanalysis was to encourage people to project less and once you can see the dynamic in others, it often helps us tailor our own  behaviour.  It should be said that not all projections are negative but the expenditure of energy is what has always fascinated me.  Should we have a plentiful store, then maybe it’s not an issue – well not for us anyway!  But if our store is depleted by low self-esteem, then expenditures at magnitude are nothing but an energy haemorrhage in the happening.

Perhaps I should stay out of supermarkets on a Saturday?  Perhaps I should not see, not hear, not think, not analyse and not write about it?  But then maybe, just maybe …  somewhere a little child now an adult will have just learned, that it was never really them that was disapproved of, but simply that their parent was unconsciously stuck on projection.

by Carole Sawo