Monthly Archives: March 2015

Is Love a Projection?

Is love merely sexual instinct, self-interest, or a positive emotion? From a materialistic point of view, the beloved is mere matter. Any values we attribute are not inherent but projected onto the one we love. If we reduce love to sex or instincts or a feeling, love is reduced to being merely a symbol for something else supposedly more real. Then we look behind the reality of love and become blind to it. What if there is another way to look at love?


Do we choose our beloved by comparison with other products on match dot com? Or do we choose based on getting to know someone’s incommunicable preciousness? What if love is a response to inner value?


Love does not derive from self-love. That theory overlooks the transcendent dimension of love: our ability to take an interest in someone else because she is so internally beautiful. It ignores the response we have to her inner value as a person.


For instance, a narcissistic woman becomes angry when someone insults her husband. She is not angry because she loves him, but because he is an extension of herself. Thus, she perceives the insult as directed toward her.


The narcissist projects value onto him so she can feel valuable connecting to this extension of her ego. In contrast, the lover sees his beauty so clearly she doesn’t need to project onto him. She doesn’t have to talk herself into loving him because she can’t help doing so.


Is love a feeling? I don’t think so. After all, feelings come and go. They’re states of mind, not union with reality. Something as fleeting as the weather could hardly be love.


In love, I perceive your inner value as an entire person. In projection, I perceive the fantasy I want to see. But then I no longer love you but the fantasy I have placed on you.


Love also is not mere pleasure. We enjoy a warm bath, but that is not love. In contrast, love takes delight in the inner beauty of the beloved. The beauty of a Mahler symphony moves one person and doesn’t touch another. Beauty calls out from us a value-responding attitude. But the person who cannot grasp the reality of beauty remains blind to the depth of beauty in the world. Love is a response to the inner beauty known directly within the other.


Love can be reduced to being a need, a wish to depend, or sexual desire. Here love is misunderstood as an illusion based on a need in me rather than a response to the beauty in that person. If that person merely serves my need, he or she is an object I use, not a person I love.


The fulfillment of a need decreases our interest in the object, ending our movement toward it. We squeeze the juice out of the orange and toss the rind. In contrast, the fulfillment of our love intensifies our interest in the mystery of the Other, drawing us closer.


Satisfaction of an appetite is finite. Exploration of the mystery of you is infinite. We relate to you not as a thing we “know”, but as a mystery who will always remain unknowable.


When asked why we love our spouse we become tongue-tied. Kind. Sweet. True, but so inadequate. Why? The beauty and preciousness of a unique personality as a whole cannot be contained in partial details. What we say can merely point to the unsayable.


But a doubter might argue, “The beauty you see is just the result of your love.” From this materialist view, a person is a material body; values are the result of your projection. But could it be that love opens our eyes to the beauty in another person? And could it be that a devaluing attitude blinds us? What if the inability to see beauty in others is a form of psychological, even spiritual, blindness? We see how our love actualizes the potential in others that was previously dormant. The inner beauty of the beloved calls forth our response of love. And, in turn, our love brings out even more of their inner beauty.


“The value which flashes up in another person pierces my heart and engenders love for him,” says von Hildebrand. Love does not generate an illusion about the beloved. Devaluation generates an illusion that the other has no value. Then we love an image created by the mind, not the person before us. Love enables us to see the inherent value in others. We respond to their real depths, not to our projection.




Who am I without my defenses?


“I have helped a patient see his defenses and their price. But now he asks, ‘When I no longer have all these ways to hide myself and my feelings, who am I?’ I said, ‘Then you are your real and original self.’ He responded, ‘But who am I when I do not have my old way to be me. Because I do not know what you call my real and original self.’ I did not know what to say. What do you suggest?” Thanks to Iben for this interesting question!


When a patient uses defenses habitually for a lifetime, they seem as if they are his being rather than the way he hides it. The patient, identified with his defenses, cannot differentiate who he is from the ways he deals with his feelings.


If you challenge his defenses when he is identified with them, he will experience you as attacking him as a person rather than inviting him to let go of his defenses. Thus, we must help highly resistant patients differentiate themselves from their defenses.


For this patient, we might say, “These defenses are not you. They are the way you hide your feelings and yourself from others. They are like a grimy coat you put on. We see the coat. But we never get to meet who you really are underneath. Would you be willing to take off that coat so we can see who you really are underneath?”


If he asks, “Who am I if I don’t have my old way to be?” we can’t answer that question. We don’t know the answer for it will be revealed only in the living reality of becoming himself without his crippling defenses. Rather than respond to the content, you can respond to his unconscious therapeutic alliance:

Th: “Would you like to find out?”

Th: “Would you be willing to let go of this old way so you can find the new you  underneath?”

Th: “The caterpillar wonders what he will look like as a butterfly when he comes out of this cocoon of defenses. Would you like to find out?”


If his questions remain, you could address the transference resistance dimension.

Th: “Do you notice how you ask what will happen if you let the wall down rather than let it down now here with me? What is the feeling here toward me that makes you put up this wall of questions?”

Th: “You invite me to relate to a hypothetical man who might appear in the future. But then we will just have a hypothetical relationship and hypothetical therapy. What is the feeling here toward me that makes you put up this wall of the hypothetical man?”


This patient is only somewhat identified with his defenses. He sees his defenses and their price, and he can intellectualize about them. Thus, his identification is fairly weak and can be countered by mobilizing the unconscious therapeutic alliance and some challenge:

Th: “Would you like to find out who you really are underneath this cocoon? So what can we do about this façade you are putting up here with me?”


In his case, identification serves as a defense. In fragile patients, identification often results from a failure of defense.


Fragile patients require more extensive restructuring work. Let’s look at how to build self-observing capacity so they can dis-identify with the defense.


A patient with bipolar mood disorder.

Pt: “I hate myself.” [She is identified with the defense of self-hatred.]

Th: “You are aware of something in you that wants to hate.” [This helps her observe and be with her defense rather than act it out.]


A patient projects onto her therapist and suddenly says,

Pt: “I have to leave.” [She is identified with the impulse and identifies the therapist with a projection from which she must run.]

Th: “You are aware of an impulse in your body. Where do you notice that impulse in your body, if you were to describe it in words.” [This encourages the patient to observe and describe an impulse rather than identify with it.]


A patient floods with anxiety.

Pt: “I feel terrified.” [She shifts from describing her anxiety to identifying with it. If you say, “you are feeling afraid”, she will flood with anxiety because you are encouraging identification.]

Th: “You’re aware of something inside you that gets terrified of this feeling of anger.”  [This shifts her from identifying with to observing her experience. Help her be with rather than drown in her experience.]


Shift the fragile patient from identifying to observing her experience. Use phrases like:

“There’s an awareness…of sensations in your body…of an urge within…of something inside you.” Help the patient be in relation to a defense such as self-hatred rather than overwhelmed by it.  When the patient appears to be overwhelmed by a feeling, most likely she is overwhelmed by a defense.


To help the patient observe her defense you could say:

Th: “Can we acknowledge that there is something inside that has a hating urge?”  [Saying, “Do you notice how you want to hate yourself?” would only deepen her identification with the defense.]

Th: “You’re aware of an urge inside you that wants to hate.” [We don’t say it’s an urge “to hate you.” By saying “an urge to hate”, we leave an opening for the rage to go other places.]

Th: “You’re aware of something inside you that wants to hate.”

Th: “You’re aware of something inside you that hates anxiety.” [Help the patient see that the hate is directed toward some aspect of her (a feeling, anxiety, or defense). Now she can see herself in a less global fashion. She sees a relationship (something within her hating something else: the implicit object relation being enacted).]


Help the patient compassionately witness her defense rather than identify with it. Before she can observe the defense, any comments on it or its price will not help. Once she can witness the defense, then ask, “I wonder what feelings are coming up here toward me underneath that thought?”


Take home point: we can never know who the patient will become without his defenses. We can never know in advance the mysterious potential of the person hidden underneath impersonal defenses. That is what is exciting and frightening about therapy.