The asset of the knowledge of projection & coping style formation

Updated: Jul 12, 2018

The way a person translates the effect of an external event on him/ her conveys their internal world. It involves the colouring of the external event through their interpretation. A consistent “at-the-expense-of” interpretation informs us as listener, or the projected upon, that the person is delivering their developmental trauma onto our doorstep. Mostly when it is directed at us they interpret us as the cause of their discomfort. This is especially so in intimate relationships, but also at work, with colleagues, friends, etc. When the inter-translator statement is activated & delivered it carries an element of victimhood (e.g. “Life is unfair.”). It was written during early-life & resurrected in later-life. Such inter-translator statements with their repetitive stance sound something like, “Life is not good to me,” “Great things never happen to me,” “People cannot be trusted,” “I always end up in trouble,” “I am not good enough,” etc. The developmental trauma has settled into these types of acquired beliefs.

Unfortunately because we feel the victim of the world with such acquired belief, we do not understand that it is our responsibility to look within & to heal the lurking demon. In our interpretation it is the external world that is at fault. So few heal, they are of the opinion that some external thing needs to change for them to feel better.

And then comes the next process of development that we call our coping style. An inter-translator carries within it the answer for the person on how to behave so that the uncomfortable experience of “Life is not working successfully” is neutralised by selectively rearranging interpersonal strategies on what does work. In other words it can be the trail & error realisation that “People will love me if I make them feel good about themselves”. It carries with it an interesting implication, for though we may believe that we are the victim of our circumstances, another part of us goes into action to engage with the external world in such a manner that we feel most at ease. This is the initiation of the coping style where we select from our internal resources of personality traits that which leads to the most favourable results. In this particular above instance we may develop the Pleaser coping style so that our feeling of not feeling loved will be replaced by the sense that we have a place in the tribe. For that is what we favour most, to fit in & experience that on some level we are contributing.

Coping styles develop within our first 9 years. The internal arranging of possibilities of our personality traits is largely in reaction to feedback from our environment. They are ignited when we become aware of our social context, which is about after 2-years-old. Our coping style’s main function is to protect us from the internal struggle with our trauma that is projected outward. So we try & regulate the external world because of our internal dysregulation.

A note here is that we have a natural disposition to be in flow (not balance – complete balance is not good) within our space of tolerance. This space of tolerance is our best avenue to exist & stay alive. When a fright reaction sets off a dysregulation out of our space of tolerance, it will automatically regulate back to flow. Trauma dysregulates this dispositional regulated state. The powerlessness implied in trauma means that we do not automatically regulate back to a flow state. In other words the internal dysregulation carries with it an element of “not being in control”.

This is where the coping style is so good, for it controls external life & keeps us as safe as possible from the projected fear of “not good enoughness”. As long as the coping style succeeds we are in good shape. The problem is that it can be hard work to maintain this state of management. It slowly burns our resilience, especially those with coping styles in service of others.

Ultimately though we cannot escape our projection, no matter how effective our coping styles. We cannot escape that which is within & which still needs to complete the original fight/ flight sequence. Due to the location of the trauma in our primitive brain structure & our resulting contaminated perception, it is not possible to logically over-rule the internal disconnection through a decision that we are putting it behind us. Our logical brain region with its executive functioning sits in a different part of our brain. In order to heal our external world we need to heal our internal world, but mostly we know that not. The inter-translator will resurface in its quest to complete the original incomplete fight/ flight reaction. This unfreezing & integration of the old incomplete sequence is the simultaneous healing of the trauma. It stands to reason that when we heal internally, the compromised coping style will release its necessary hold on the external world & the rest of our personality potentials will be able to flow spontaneously in relation to our external world. Our avenue of choice has been opened. It means we are not stuck in a previously pre-arranged coping style that functions as a default pre-cursor to all encounters.

- Dr JO Steenkamp

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