Swing and a Miss: Gaslighting, Projection & Introjection

Much has been made recently of gaslighting, and it’s a very important concept to keep track of, boundary policing being of paramount importance especially in those who have multiple relationships. Here’s a good essay on gaslighting: http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2011/11/02/on-gasslighting/

Briefly: Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which the target is continually forced to question their own sanity. This can be through small incremental changes to their environment and/or through the abuser’s constant questioning of the target’s memory, feelings, and/or judgement.

The thing that’s so damaging about gaslighting as a form of manipulation isn’t necessarily that it’s insidious (although it is) or the devastating hit to your self-worth because of the constant psychological invalidation (although it happens).

The worst part is that it weaponizes trust, one of the most precious social forces. And what floods in where normal, healthy trust (vital to achieving fulfilling relationships with other human beings) once lived? Fear, anxiety, and dread.

The aftereffects can be quite pervasive.

A lot of what happens with abusers is that in trying to manipulate your version of events, they use projection of their own feelings hoping you’ll meet them in the middle and scoop that up and inappropriately introject their projection.

Introjection is a far less widely known psychological concept than projection, but essentially it’s projection in reverse. With projection, you move negative qualities about yourself onto other people as a way of avoiding dealing with them. With introjection, you are picking up what others are putting down, whether it belongs to you or not. Introjection is commonly referred to as “taking too much ownership” of situations.

When an abuser starts projecting at you, they throw things out there at you that belong to them and hope you pick them up and claim them. This can happen so fast that it’s violent and disorienting, a lot like having a softball thrown at your head. A lot of people’s first reflex is to catch the damn ball. This is especially true if you care about the thrower and have no reason to suspect they’re up to no good.

The trouble comes when after gradually accepting more and more you eventually get a whole bunch thrown at you rapidfire, some hit you in the head, and then after everything is said and done, and you’re trying to express how uncool that volley you just took was, you’re told that all the balls belong to you now and that you had it coming.

Even after you figure out what has happened, removed yourself from the situation, and had time to reflect and process about what went wrong and when, it’s still difficult to get back to your old sense of calm. Sure, through your experience, you’ve learned to duck out of the way, to swat the ball back, hit it out of the park, or catch it and then most importantly to LET THE THROWER KNOW IT’S THEIRS and inform them of the consequences if they ever throw a ball at your head like that again. And probably you stick to them. And that’s good.

What’s more difficult to deal with I’m finding, however, are the false positives.  You are constantly worried that people are about to throw something at your head. You live in dread of that.

Hypervigilance is exhausting. There’s an emptiness where the trust was. You want to feel that again. After several years, I think mine is finally coming back, but it’s never as quick or as perfect as I would like.

Sometimes it makes me think taking the occasional fastball to the head would be easier than forever waiting for it to happen.

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