One day I was regressing a little, and watching Justice League (TV Series 2001-2006), a cartoon show about a superhero team including, among others, Superman and Wonder Woman. In that episode Superman and Wonder Woman were fighting a villain that used magic. He created a flash of light as a distraction. When the light faded, Superman and Wonder Woman found that their team-mate had vanished, and instead they were facing a monster. Only the viewer audience could tell what actually had happened. The spell that the villain had cast caused each of them to perceive the other as a monster. Each assumed that the monster before them had done something to their team-mate, and so they began fighting. Both thought they were defending themselves from a monster. Each tried to force the “monster” to tell them where their teammate was, and neither was able to understand the other because of the spell. All they heard were garbled attacks. They fought on in this manner for some time, until Superman happened to spot their reflections in the water below, which pierced through the illusion. He pointed it out to Wonder Woman, which broke the spell.

This struck me as a good metaphor for how people in relationships are sometimes fighting with their own projections rather than fighting with the actual other person. Person A in a relationship, let’s call him Clark, perceives certain things as attacks due to his past relationships and personal buttons. When his partner, Diana, happens to do these things, or, better stated, when Clark perceives her as doing these things, he perceives an attack and defends himself. Diana is completely unaware of these buttons. She may sometimes be unaware that she did or said the things that Clark perceived as attacks; sometimes she may not even have done it despite Clark’s perception that she did.

Now, imagine that the reverse is also true, that Diana is also perceiving attacks from Clark and responding to them defensively. So, you have two individuals perceiving attacks and defending themselves AND actually being attacked by the other who thinks that they are defending themselves. If they are lucky, one can see past their own projection to see the pattern of misperception. Say Clark notices that this is going on. He may, with great effort and self-control, avoid the temptation to “defend” himself, either from the perceived attacks or from Diana’s “defenses,” in order to name what he is seeing and not simply react. No easy task.


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“Our theories are wedged and controlled as nothing else is. Yet sometimes alternative theoretic formulas are equally compatible with all the truths we know, and then we choose between them for subjective reasons. We choose the kind of theory to which we are already partial; we follow elegance or economy.”                – William James


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