Are you in a destructive relationship or projecting?

destructive relationshipHow do we know if we are in a destructive relationship or projecting? Sometimes, we can feel our partner makes us feel worthless, unlovable or unwanted, when in actual fact these feelings could be triggered in us and get projected on to the partner, for causing us to feel this way.

In a hypothetical example, Mary was upset that her partner did not return her call all day when she had something important to tell him. When she told him that she felt he was inconsiderate and not caring, he told her that she was wrong and stop having a go at him. He says he was in meetings all day and did not get a chance to check his phone. All of a sudden her partner was seen to be the bad person, who does not care about her or puts her down. When he did not call back it triggered Mary to feel how worthless she felt when her parents ignored her when she was reaching out to them, or needed them. She felt she was a burden to them and that they had no time for her. As a kid she was berated for showing them her needs and was made to feel wrong or else she was told off. So she shut down all her feelings, so that she would not feel this way.

Often, we forget where the painful feelings come from, since they remain buried deep inside, in order to protect against the pain, because they feel so intolerable and make us feel bad or worthless. When Mary’s partner triggered her feelings, they became so intolerable, and the only way for her to cope was to discharge all of these bad feelings on to him, so she did not feel this way. He was blamed for causing her to feel worthless and bad. As a result, her partner felt attacked, told off, not good enough and berated. He started to feel what Mary was feeling deep inside. Her feelings were projected onto him, so he started acting them out towards her. All of a sudden he became the person who attacked her back, to ward off these feelings inside of him. As a result, he become the bad person who does not care and puts her down, he acted out her projection and became like the parent who told her off and dismissed her feelings. This is called projective identification, when the receiver of the projection feels induced to act in accordance with the projection. So, Mary could see this intolerable part of her in her partner, and disowned the feelings inside of her.

Projection can occur when a person feels unwanted feelings, usually triggered, and defends against these feelings by discharging them on to someone else. So, instead of feeling bad about oneself, we see others are bad instead. We see the intolerable part of ourselves in others, by projecting them out for safekeeping. As a result the triggered person can momentarily feel better, in order to get rid of these feelings. But the feeling remains buried deep inside and continues to distort the way they feel and see others.

In this example of Mary, her partner was seen to be doing something bad to her, she tried to convince him of this, so then he felt bad about himself, causing him to act this way. By taking on the negative projection and behaving this way towards her, it proved he was behaving badly towards her. So he felt attacked and attacked back, confirming to Mary that he did not care about her. In her partners childhood he was blamed for things he not” done, so he was triggered by Mary.

When partners trigger each other and project onto each other, the relationship can end up becoming destructive. Each projects their wounds onto each other, reacting defensively towards each other, unable to see each other clearly. They see each other through their projected lenses, causing them to behave negatively towards each other. They inevitably end up reliving their wounds with each other, so the relationship becomes destructive for each of them, despite the fact they love each other. These are very common dynamics for the couples I see at couples counselling Melbourne.

Signs you’re in a destructive relationship

What are the signs you’ve had enough of a destructive relationship or projecting? Often, a person does not know if they are upset because they’ve been treated badly, or projecting. How does one determine if they are projecting or wanting to leave a destructive relationship?


destructive relationship

Narcissistic abuse

Sometimes, a person can actually overlook destructive treatment from their partner because it was the only way they received love as a child, so it feels normal. Since they may feel bad about themselves and blame themselves for everything, often they end up taking on board the negative projections of a narcissistic partner. They may overlook abuse in a relationship because they believe things are their fault and somehow they deserve it, the same way they felt as a child when they internalized that things were their fault. So they put up with mistreatment in relationships, feeling that its normal and they feel they deserve it. A person with narcissistic personality disorder can project their inadequate feelings on to their partner and blame them for everything, and often the partner will wear the projection as if there is something wrong with them, because deep down they believe this, which keeps them trapped in a domestic violent situation.

How to deal with a destructive relationship

How do we know if we are projecting or being treated badly in a relationship? Ask yourself how much of this feeling is towards your partner and how much belongs to your past? Stop and pause, do not react. Get in touch with the actual feelings, so you better understand them. Once we determine what belongs to us and what belongs to others, we can be clearer about how to address the relationship. It is not wise to blame our partner for feelings that pertain to our past. Instead, we can let them know when we are triggered. If there is mistreatment, then usually there is some kind of evidence, such as affairs, abuse, gaslighting, violence, control, lies, etc. If so, you have reasonable grounds for how you are feeling, and need to address these issues or take better care of yourself by not putting up with mistreatment.

Projecting defends against underlying bad feelings within us, or feelings towards past caregivers, by projecting these feelings onto our partner. For instance, we can see our partner as the person who abandoned us, instead of the parent. We attribute our feelings to have been caused by our partner, instead of addressing these feelings within us or where they came from. Counselling Melbourne can target the underlying feelings so they can be worked through and not get in the way of our relationships.

As a relationship therapist Nancy Carbone has a M Soc Sc (Couns) at Counselling Service Melbourne.  If you want to overcome destructive relationship patterns contact Nancy on the enquiry form or call 0449 861147 for an appointment. You can sign up on her newsletter for more tips and relationship advice

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