It is common that we tend to expell the part of ourselves that we found unacceptable onto others
A professional client of mine described an incident in which his client showed mistrust on his scheduling and thought he manipulated her. He actually was a very honest and trustworthy professional and a very competent practitioner. He felt very upset about a minority of clients mistrusting him. He told me that nearly all of his clients appreciated his professionalism and he questioned why these minority of clients showed mistrust on him as he intended to help them wholeheartedly. It is interesting that my professional client also felt worried that he might have done something wrong in his practice causing the mistrust of a minority of his clients. Is it really his wrongdoings or is it something going on inside these minority of clients?
One of the ways we could explain the phenonmenon my client experienced is a psychoanalytic concept developed by Melanie Klein. She explained that we tended to have the tendency to disavow what we cannot accept in ourselves and attitributed to others. This process is called projective identification. In the case of my professional client, those minority tending to mistrust him was usually those with perfectionistic and self-critical tendency. These clients were someone who thought they were inadequate and being not good enough given their proven success in some aspects of their lives. They were also striving very hard to achieve perfection as human beings. Given my professional client’s humble attitude, he might be easily chosen as a target for projective identification. In fact, some of these clients were from very well-off and might be unable to accept their own inadequacy. When untrustworthiness was being projected to my professional client, he suddenly questioned whether he had done something wrong. This self-attribution might be a process of projective identification in which he took in what was projected onto him. In fact, it might be a process inside his minority of clients with tendency to expell unacceptable aspects of themselves.
Projective identification is an unconsicious process. The one who projects might not realise that one is projecting his or her unacceptable aspects onto others. For instance, a father-in-law disliked his daughter-in-law’s dressing nicely in a lunch gathering with him. He criticized her as being too loud and arrogant for wearing so brightly. In fact, later in a family gathering, the father-in-law himself wore red color and did not realise that he was also wearing brightly sometimes. However, the daughter-in-law felt herself being a not-good-enough member of the family after the criticism made by the father-in-law. Both the father-in-law and the daughter-in-law were unaware of the process. This repeated cycle might cause long-term relationship rupture in the family.
If a person learned to be aware of one’s own projection and to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings on getting in touch with the unacceptable aspects of oneself, their feelings are taken back to themselves and others are perceived as a holistic person with both good or bad. As a result, this person can accept good and bad qualities co-exist in others. In the above example, if these minority of clients of my professional client could take back their unacceptable aspects of themselves, they might be able to see the reality that my professional client did not try to manipulate them. Of course, for these minority of clients, this is a painful process and needs courage and insight to go through this journey. It is important to know that this is a common unconsicous process. We might also have it on our own relationships with others. It is common humanity to have difficulty to face our unacceptable parts. In fact, we all have unacceptable parts that we would like to expell.