I have been writing grumpy posts about my lack of productivity and direction during my semi-holiday. (We are working half-days). And then not posting them because they sound so grumpy.
I had a nap yesterday afternoon, and then slept soundly for more than 9 hours. I wondered about all of this, at my fatigue and the aimlessness and also, to be honest, the sadness, and then I had what felt like a Eureka kind of moment. And the aimlessness and grumpiness and sadness felt worth it. Who knows. Sometimes that happens and the “insight” which felt so life-altering evaporates the next day.
I was reading about high conflict personalities today. I can’t remember the reason. I stumbled across it trying to find answers to questions I had about other things.
I ran across a sort of pop psychology idea about high conflict personalities and Targets of Blame. You can look it up and read about it. Not very deep, nor very scientific, but useful descriptions of observable behaviour.
Targets of Blame sound very similar to extrojects and the two together helped me to understand some of the dynamic with my mother and that I have seen with other people around me.
They have elements which, taken together, interest me. First of all, the extroject is relied upon as an attachment figure to meet the needs of the other person. One of these needs relates to the person’s childhood experience of not being accurately mirrored or not having the mirroring “marked.” The result is that feelings appear to be “out there.” So, sometimes this relationship with the extroject is characterized by projective identification: the individual intentionally (but perhaps unconsciously) provokes or manipulates the extroject into feeling what the other person feels.
The frightened person behaves in a frightening manner so that his or her own fear shows up on the extroject’s face, and in that way the frightened person feels less alone: the fear is now “out there” and seems real and important again.
Or, the individual uses emotional contagion to accomplish the same thing. I used to wonder why VP Ma’am used to make me more stressed when I already felt stressed: I couldn’t get anything done that would solve the problem until I calmed down again. She was exaggerating her emotions so that I would feel what she felt. This had nothing to do with making anyone safer. She felt safer, because I felt afraid, just as she did. She felt less alone.
In the situation of the Target of Blame–that role has to do with the individual’s very fragile regulatory skills, but probably also a history of emotional or physical victimization, so that they have experienced chronic, ongoing danger as a consequence for wrongdoing. Shame and guilt then become frightening and one way to cope with a source of fear that you can’t escape, which is the situation you are in as an abused child or domestic violence, is to distance yourself from the danger psychologically.
That’s the case, I think, with parts. I won’t be punished–it’s not me having those feelings or that experience. It’s someone else. In the case of the Target of Blame, it’s a real person who has committed the “crime” and not an imagined part of the self. They are there to project wrongdoing onto and then to punish in the place of the endangered self.
I was thinking about all of this and thinking what all of that might have been like for me as a child, because I think my mother did all of that to me. The sense of badness partly comes from being a Target of Blame and then is reinforced by the “bad” things I had to do: that becomes connected in a child’s mind. It’s easier to understand that than to understand a parent’s emotional triggers.
I think this also creates massive anxiety and an obsessive kind of watchfulness: Is my parent okay? And am I being punished? Did I just commit some kind of sin? Did I open myself up to blame just now? How am I being perceived?
You never know when you will become the lightning rod for your parent’s rage over their own unresolved losses.